- Written by Diana L. Chapman
13 Sep 2011
MY TURN - Fourteen years ago while lost in the Los Angeles Garment District, Bonnie Sheehan spotted a bloody-red mass flying up and down like a yo-yo from behind a fence. She blinked to register what she was witnessing.
Then it dawned on her; she watched as a group of men egged on a pit-bull to snap, tear and bite to death a pug yanked around by one of the men. A red rage surged through Sheehan, a successful fashion consultant at the time.
“Give me that dog! Give me that dog!” she shouted looming out of her car like a mad woman. “It was disgusting what they were doing. They threw her to me. She was probably only eight pounds.”
Now, she was racing to her vet, blood soaking her designer clothes, the pastel blue leather seats in her new BMW and her high heels—hoping she could save this dog’s life – not knowing it would upend her own. Her fashion consulting life was out; her life as a dog rescuer was about to begin.
Since that horrible day, Sheehan’s non-profit Hearts for Hound has marked and repeated success and found homes for more than 17,000 plus small dogs —often taken from shelters and nearly at death’s door.
This year the flagging economy struck hard at her work. She’s now seeking to make drastic changes so she can save the remainder of her 60 canines. Perhaps, she believes, the thousands of folks who adopted her dogs will come rescue Hearts for Hounds. A $10 donation from each person who adopted from her could save everything.
"It's just so dark now," Sheehan said. "Now I'm only adopting one dog a week."
That tiny pug launched Sheehan into a new lifestyle that shifted from one end of the leash to the other. Sheehan shucked her Armani skirts, glittering sunglasses, lucrative salary and BMW, and entered the animal rescue world.
Today, she sports sneakers, simple T-shirts and a filthy SUV with a “Puppy Chow” license plate that carts around hundreds of small dogs. Her salary is meager at best.
The money she acquires immediately goes back to the dogs and to run the $7,000-a-month lease for the Hearts for Hound’s kennel.
Before the economy crashed, Sheehan and her six member team became known locally for about 15 years for purchasing and rescuing dogs from shelters the day they are scheduled to be killed.
They clean them up, remove mange and ticks, give them all beauty parlor treatment and find them new homes.
“I always say they (the dogs) are like the homeless,” she said. “You clean them up give them a bath and they look healthy again.”
The group has a 97 percent success rate in placing dogs like Amy, a four-year-old Russell Terrier mix; Buttons, a 1 1/2-year-old terrier-mix; Porter, a 2-year-old Wheaten terrier mix; and Sylvester, a 1-year-old poodle – all of whom, due to Bonnie, were taken off death row the day they were to expire.
Before the recession, she matched 15 to 20 dogs with new homes each weekend; Now the number has dwindled to three or four during her Saturday and Sunday adoptions.
From the beginning of Sheehan's dogged odyssey she was successful when it came to adoptions. The pug, Daisy, was saved and became her invalid mother’s companion. Daisy lived for many years after.
It was Daisy’s peril that first moved Sheehan to volunteer at shelters, but she found it heartbreaking with endless examples of healthy animals being put down who had just been readied for adoption.
“I’d show up the shelter and ask: ‘What happened to this dog or that one?’” the Long Beach rescuer said. “They’d say: Euthanized. Euthanized.”
The rescuer once spent hours picking ticks and fleas from a three-year-old German Shepherd she named Sarah. Sheehan had found a potential home for the shepherd, “who only needed a couple of days to recover and relax.” She gave Sarah a soothing bath before she left.
When Sheehan returned the next day, she was shocked and angry that Sarah was euthanized. That’s when she started her non-profit.
Despite her disgust with some shelters, she did learn something while volunteering for them. A big dog owner all her life until the Garment District rescue, Bonnie said she learned her own fallacy was believing small dogs were adopted quicker than large dogs. She now found herself drawn to smaller dogs.
“They won me over,” said the short-haired determined blond who has been a vegetarian for 30 years and comes from a family of six. “At one point, I was getting out 12 dogs and I finally had to rent a kennel.”
Her small dog adoptions is what led me to Sheehan. My mother, at 80, finally made an announcement – she wanted a small pooch after my sisters and I had begged her for years to adopt one. Excitedly, I began calling rescues, but each turned me down because I lived in LA. My mother lived in Napa and they couldn’t do a home inspection.
Frustrated, a friend referred me to Hearts for Hounds website. When I got Sheehan on the phone, she told me she would find a match. She knew by instinct, she said, who would be good owners and didn’t need to visit any households.
On a sunny day, my husband and I drove to the Alamitos Farmer’s Market in Long Beach where Sheehan does adoptions every Sunday at 10:30 am.
She greeted us and showed us some potential matches. First on the leash, came Katie, a quirky, leaping Schnauzer mix. She was much too wild for my mom.
Then came darling, whiskered Linus, an absolute bundle of goodness who was quickly adopted by a middle-age couple.
At last came Dara, a not-so-cute silver colored dog shaved down to the nub. Sheehan had snatched Dara out of the pound –despite calls from the staff that the dog was dead. She refused to believe it, she said, until she heard it from the vet.
When the veterinarian came in, he ruled Dara, a Havenese mix, was more than alive.
Now, holding Dara in my arms, I could feel her love swamp all over me as she nuzzled deeply under my chin. My mom now calls her “sweetie,” “little girl” and “the best dog I could ever have.”
Because of Dara, we later turned to Sheehan again. My family added a wild baby Baxter, a bearded collie-poodle mix.
And we encouraged my sister Leslie that she needed another dog before her beloved dog, Spark, died from cancer. Sheehan matched my sister with Lilly, also a Havanese pup taken from some illegal breeders. Lilly was only 8-months-old and she already had three pups by the time Sheehan rescued her; they all died. Lilly and Leslie are now like two peas in a pod and are weirdly alike.
All this got me to thinking about the dog rescuer, and all the work she and her volunteers do. Day after day, they save little dogs that look more than-down-and-out. Some look like they’ll never get back up on their paws again.
These are the creatures Sheehan and her team drag out of shelters, pay the fees to obtain them, and the expenses to care, feed and treat them before finding new homes. Due to recent financial struggles, Hearts for Hounds had to stop this practice and work on adopting the group's current clutch of canines.
On occasion, Sheehan admits she finds herself stuck with dogs she realizes will never find homes due to fear of humans – even though they love other canines. Her crew calls them “duds,” but the duds have found a good home at Sheehan's kennel training others to socialize with each other. Those include a couple of Chihuahuas, some poodle mixes and a Jack Russell terrier.
“They don’t trust anybody (human),” Sheehan said. “They just love other dogs. They teach them how to trust each other.”
While she skated at first through the mucky economy, the last several months have forced her to consider buying an inexpensive piece of property back east –where pet adoptions are still thriving – to save some 60 dogs she still has and her non-profit.
She figures if each person who has adopted from her donates $10 she can do this easily.
I support Sheehan’s move. Her insurmountable successes which are mostly by “instinct” have led her to pet adoptions where she stills hears back from people to this day. Amongst the pride-and-joy stories she could line on her trophy wall are two in particular.
One starts with a Northern California family who spotted Tara, a Tibetan-terrier mix on the Hearts for Hounds website. They had a young son with medical conditions and he became captivated with Tara’s photo.
The family flew down to see if Tara was a fit. Once the youngster met Tara, Sheehan said, it was a clear the two already loved each other.
Tara went off with her new family.
Within a week Sheehan received a call from a grateful mother.
Her son, the mother told her, had gone into cardiac arrest. Tara had been left outside his bedroom and went into a wild fury, charging and slamming herself repeatedly against his closed door. The family rushed in discovering his seizure.
“Tara saved my son’s life,” the mother told Sheehan, who wasn’t the least surprised knowing the power of itty-bitty animals.
A second story was of a powerful Newport Beach attorney. He showed up at the adoptions acting oddly. He never had a dog, he announced. His social graces upset the volunteers so much, that they asked Sheehan to turn him away.
But Sheehan watched him. Suddenly, he scooped his hand in the cage, picked up a Tibetan terrier – and kissed him. That was all the answer Sheehan needed to know he would make a good owner.
A year later, she was adopting her pooches at a spot in Newport Beach when the attorney arrived with his dog in tow offering a $500 bottle of champagne to the rescuers. The attorney took his dog to the office every day.
“’This dog changed my life,” Sheehan said he told her. “People talk to me now when they wouldn’t even approach me before.’”
“ Now, that was just precious,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan can be reached at (562) 597-7137. Because she is frequently swamped, call several times.
To see what she has for currently up for adoptions, visit www.heartsforhounds.com.
Besides cash donations, Hearts for Hounds needs blankets, toys including old stuffed animals, food and cleaning supplies. Donations can be sent to Hearts for Hound Kennel at 1356 Obispo Avenue, Long Beach.
Tags: dogs, puppies, dog rescue, dog rescuer, animal shelters, saving dogs, Hearts for Hounds, adoption, dog adoption, puppy adoption, saving dogs, animals, saving animals, euthanized
Vol 9 Issue 73
Pub: Sept 13, 2011