When actor Lou Wegner was 14, he found out what really happens to unwanted pets at shelters. While volunteering at Baldwin Park Animal Shelter in Los Angeles, he was saddened that so many people saw their pets as disposable — and that the only way to escape death in the overcrowded shelter system was through rescue or adoption. Instead of letting it go, the intrepid teen decided to do something.
“I wanted to let my generation know that these animals had feelings, cried, were sad, felt abandoned and alone,” Wegner says. “I wanted my generation to not see their pets as disposable.”
His desire to educate his peers about pet responsibility, shelter adoptions, and the importance of spaying and neutering led him to found Kids Against Animal Cruelty in 2010. Using social media, Wegner began to spread the message to other young people that “these animals depended upon them for their very lives.”
Now 18, Wegner serves as national youth ambassador for the American Humane Association and has received numerous philanthropic awards for his work. Kids Against Animal Cruelty has more than 50,000 members, with chapters in 16 states run by kids and teens ages 10 to 21. Global chapters are slated to open in Belgium and Greece. The group also has numerous celebrity supporters, including Denise Richards and Betty White.
According to Wegner, the organization promotes “kindness to each other, the animals, and our planet through our positive work with animal shelters, animal control, rescues, and shelter volunteers.” They spread educational messages about pet responsibility via social media, and they regularly speak at schools.
“I believe that we should all be taught to be kind at the youngest age possible,” Wegner says.
Wegner learned about kindness and the importance of animal rescue from his parents. When he was three, he attended Jack Hanna’s Summer Youth Zoo Camp — and he went back every year for eight summers. Wegner then spent two summers at the Ohio Wildlife Center, where he learned about endangered animals and the importance of conserving natural resources.
“I learned about preservation, conservation, recycling, and extinction,” he says. “I quickly learned that many of our Earth’s animals were in danger. I learned that we could not turn our backs.”
Last year, Wegner found a creative way to bring his message to the masses. He attended senior prom with his friend Emily Capehart, an actress and Kids Against Animal Cruelty’s West Virginia chapter president. The couple decided to “double date” with a pair of shelter dogs — Janice, who was on death row in Los Angeles, and Ollie, who was facing the gas chamber in West Virginia.
“I made badges with photos of Janice and Ollie, and we wore them in our corsage and boutonniere,” Wegner says.
The story garnered attention from CNN, and Wegner was invited to be a guest on the news station, where he discussed federal legislation to end gassing in shelters. The results of the attention were better than Wegner could have hoped.
“Because of the CNN segment, Janice and Ollie were adopted, and the Raleigh Humane Society in West Virginia no longer uses the gas chamber,” he says.
Unfortunately, Wegner has learned that he cannot save them all. Another function of Kids Against Animal Cruelty is networking on behalf of shelter pets, and there is frequently not enough time to save them.
“The most challenging work with Kids Against Animal Cruelty is networking animals that die,” Wegner says. “Some shelters are so full that we only have days. My heart breaks for the animals that we cannot save. We still champion these incredible animals even when the odds are against us. It’s tough.”
Despite this heartbreak, Kids Against Animal Cruelty has still managed to find loving homes for countless animals scheduled to die. This is what keeps Wegner going when times get tough. He says the most rewarding part of his work is “finding forever, happy homes for animals who were abandoned by their families and scheduled to die.”
In 2014, Wegner hopes to continue to spread his message of kindness by adding more state chapters and increasing his group’s global presence. When it comes to animal rescue, he has learned that where there’s a will, there’s a way — and that even when a problem seems overwhelming, every single person’s efforts help.
“I have learned that one person can make a difference,” Wegner says. “That nothing is set in stone. Follow your passions and your dreams; anything and everything is possible.”
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