When we first met Annie Blumenfeld of Fairfield, Connecticut, in August 2013, she was a 15-year-old high-school sophomore. Her then-2-year-old dog, Teddy, had been rescued by Houston Shaggy Dog Rescue and had heartworm disease.
It was heartbreaking for her to watch Teddy undergo such a long, painful, and expensive treatment process for a completely preventable condition.
Annie wanted to educate herself and make a difference. She founded Wags4Hope to do exactly that and remains its president two years later. Through the nonprofit, she continues to spread heartworm disease awareness and also supports shelter dogs’ medical needs, including heartworm disease, until they find their forever homes.
Blumenfeld is now a 17-year-old senior who is set to graduate, but is still just as driven and passionate about spreading heartworm disease awareness.
We recently caught up with Blumenfeld, who told us that she has since testified before a legislative committee at the State Capitol in Connecticut. Because of her advocacy, all dog license forms in the state come with a heartworm disease awareness message, which she personally designed. Blumenfeld also paints custom portraits of dogs and cats, and she donates all of the proceeds from the sale of her artwork to help animals in need.
Dogster: Tell us how you came to testify about spreading heartworm disease awareness.
Annie Blumenfeld: I reached out to the Connecticut agriculture department, since they are in charge of dog licenses. Every year in every single state, pet owners have to register their dog.
When I was registering Teddy, I noticed that they had a rabies vaccinations box on there. I thought that if a heartworm disease message were included on that form, it would dramatically increase awareness. So I wrote a letter to my state representative and met with the agriculture department. I testified at the State Capitol in January 2014, and it got passed in December 2014.
How is Teddy doing these days?
He is very bouncy, and he likes to play and go on long walks.
There was a time when he wasn’t so playful.
No, Teddy came from a high-kill shelter. He was rescued by Kathy Wetmore of the Shaggy Dog Rescue. We were looking for a dog for some time after my Polish Lowland Sheepdog had died of cancer, and we came across Shaggy Dog Rescue. Kathy rescues dogs who have severe medical conditions.
The work that Kathy puts into rescue really astounds me since she has a full-time job, she fosters dogs, and she goes into difficult, emotional circumstances and takes them. This is what really inspires me, too.
Tell us about Teddy’s heartworm disease.
Kathy knew he had heartworm. She took him to the veterinarian and kept him for a month. He was slowly given small amounts of arsenic to kill the worms. He was quarantined in his crate because he couldn’t move, and he had to stay in a crate to keep calm and stabilized so he could get better. His treatment made him weak, and he went through all of this all because his owners neglected a completely preventable disease. Some dogs don’t even survive the treatment. Every single year, a million dogs have heartworm disease, and that led me to start Wags4Hope to raise awareness about it.
How did you get Teddy?
Teddy came on a truck bound for Connecticut.
Teddy came in on Rescue Road?
Yes. When Teddy was finally okay, he traveled for three days on Greg Mahle’s truck headed to Danbury, Connecticut. It was a long treatment for Teddy, and once he stabilized, Greg brought him to Connecticut. We got to meet Greg at the truck. We didn’t have a sign [to greet Teddy for his “Gotcha Day”]. We didn’t know since it was our first rescue. When we brought Teddy home, he came in already stimulated, and he took over the house. He was very calm and just a very sweet dog.
Tell us how you raise money through your artwork.
I grew up drawing, but I didn’t go to many art camps. I do custom dog or cat paintings, and I do individuals or two dogs in a painting. All people have to do is send me an email about their animal and attach a photo to the email. I ship it out, too.
I have sold 300 paintings, and I donate some. I also donate for silent auction. If a rescue or shelter approaches me and needs a painting and they give me enough time, then I am happy to do one. I have donated to shelters in Los Angeles and Wisconsin. I really try to spread out, and all of the proceeds from my paintings are donated to shelters and/or rescues.
You’re going to graduate soon. What’s next for Annie?
I want to continue this for as long as I can and get more Wags4Hope Clubs across the country started, and, again, focus on the dog license. When I am in college, I want to continue this, and I also want to see if Wags4Hope can support pet owners in difficult financial situations with their pet’s medical needs. That would help decrease owner surrender.
What do you plan to major in?
I am thinking to major in business or social studies.
[Laughs] I know! Most people say veterinarian.
Is there any last thing you would like to share with Dogster readers?
Yes, Teddy has his own blog. He reminds everyone to give their pet their monthly preventative. It’s a chewable, and a year’s worth of preventative is equivalent to a week’s worth of Starbuck’s coffee runs. Treatment for heartworm for a smaller dog is $600 and a larger dog is $2,000, not to mention the pain and the time. It’s really a no-brainer.
Watch Annie give testimony before Connecticut’s legislative committee:
Read about more Dogster Heroes:
About the author: Anne Forline is a freelance writer in Bellmawr, New Jersey. She is an unrepentant foster failure. Her three rescue bunnies, JoJo, Bennie, and Nibbles, allow Anne, her husband, Steve, and daughter, Cara, to share a home with them. Anne likes to run 5Ks and has placed a few times in her age division. She is also a certified teacher who homeschools Cara. Anne makes friends with all of the neighborhood dogs and keeps treats handy to give out when they pass by on their walks. See more of her work at anneforline.com, check out her Facebook page – Anne Forline – Writer, and follow her on Twitter at @AnneForline.