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Dog Rescuer Forced to Hang Up the Leash

MY TURN - Scrambling “to put together our pennies,” small dog rescuer Bonnie Sheehan sadly began this month to hang up the leash, pack up her dog crates and save her remaining 60 small canines by moving them across the country. It was not a departure she wanted, but was forced into due to dwindling pet adoptions that once helped her keep the doors open to continue her non-profit rescue, Hearts for Hounds, in Long Beach.
“I’m not crying,” said Sheehan who has saved thousands of the small creatures such as poodles, pugs, Tibetan terriers and found them loving homes. “I am not going to have a defeatist attitude.

We’ve got plans and we’re not afraid to change. But we are going to be flying by the seat of our pants.”

Sheehan settled on Virginia after contacting several pet rescues there that indicated small canine adoptions were still flourishing, unlike here, where the economy has taken a deep toll on humans and animals alike.  She plans to leave mid- December and currently is still adopting out – but not taking in any more dogs.

Part of the reason for her departure is she could no longer bark up the $7,000-a-month kennel bill.
If Sheehan is not crying, I am. When Hearts for Hounds was financially healthy, Sheehan and her team purchased dogs from shelters the day they were scheduled to receive the needle of death. Sheehan’s team cleaned them up and made them beautiful, getting rid of mange, ticks, fleas and restoring their health.

My 82-year-old mother’s dog, Dara, was one Sheehan swooped in and saved. The cuddly and loving Havanese has brought my mother so much joy and light that I can’t help but wonder how many more Dara’s are on death row. My family has since adopted two more dogs from Hearts for Hounds, a bearded collie-poodle mix and another Havanese.

Due to Sheehan’s crises, she asked the thousands who adopted from her to send in $10 each to Hearts for Hounds to help make the move.  Only $800 trickled in.

Instead, Sheehan borrowed about $8,000 from a close friend to close the deal in October. She purchased an 11-acre piece of property  in Huddleston, Virginia –near Blacksburg.

It includes a moderate house, a shack and a small shed. Initially, Sheehan looked at the location with her friend, Pam King, and realized it would be impossible to pay the asking price of $169,000.  
Sheehan’s Virginia realtor “who always was on top of things,” however, notified them immediately when it was sharply reduced to $84,000 and a deal was cut.

The desperate action to move came after Sheehan noticed her popular adoptions – that once found homes for about  17 dogs a weekend begin to dwindle, first dropping to three, then to one – and then to none in the past four months. It was then the rescuer realized drastic measures were necessary so she could house the canines she still cares for, including the 18 “duds” so fearful of people they are unadoptable.

Those dogs will always live with Sheehan, she said.

Heartbroken to close her Long Beach doors  after running  the rescue for 15 years, she said she still needs donations to focus on the work ahead that needs to be done at her new kennel. She will obtain a full time job, she said, to help pay for it.

“We have to build a fence and we have to get a kennel permit,” she said. “We also have to have a business license to become a non-profit.”

Once a successful fashion consultant, Sheehan landed in rescues accidentally after becoming lost in the Los Angeles Garment District.

There she spotted a group of men using a bloodied pug as yo-yo, relentlessly dropping the small canine into the snapping teeth of a pit bull that was ripping her apart. A screaming Sheehan leaped out of her car yelling “give me that dog.”

The men threw the pug, dripping in blood, at her. The next thing Sheehan knew she found herself racing in her brand new BMW with baby blue seats to the veterinarians, getting splashed with blood along the way.

The good news: Daisy, the pug, survived and became her mother’s companion.

That day changed Sheehan forever. First she began as a shelter volunteer fixing and cleaning dogs up for adoption, but  was devastated when she returned the following day to find the canines had been killed.

That’s when she started Hearts for Hounds and led thriving adoptions for years – often at Alamitos Farmer’s Market in Long Beach.

The heart wrenching change prevents Sheehan from buying and saving any dogs from the shelter. “Those days are gone,” she said.

With the move, she plans to take on a full-time job and was delighted that King, a long time friend who has helped her with the rescue for years who had no plans to move to found Virginia, suddenly fell in love with the state’s beauty – and then spotted a home that fit her perfectly.

King purchased it and is about 45 minutes from Sheehan’s new kennel where she will continue her volunteer services.

The two are astounded by the coincidences such as the property falling by $65,000 – to a price that fit the budget  and that King, who wasn’t searching, stumbled on a home that had the colors and requirements she wanted.

Both women are already geared up to find ways to make money to support the kennel besides working full time.

“We are not going to sit around and wait,” Sheehan said. “There are a million things you can do. You just can’t sit and wait.”

The friends are already preparing to start an on-line bakery service called Le’ Delectable, which will feature an old Italian Biscotti recipe, a shortbread recipe King received from her mother-in-law in Scotland and Sheehan’s  mother’s chocolate brownies with pistachios.

Each piece will have a dog tag replica and all the proceeds will go directly back to Hearts for Hounds.
Sheehan is not new the food business either. From 2005 to 2006, she took a break from her dog rescue and opened the Celtic Café in the Jefferson National Forest, also near Blacksburg.

A friend ran the non-profit while she was gone, but Sheehan decided she missed her dog companions too much and returned to Long Beach.

Despite that the dog rescue currently doesn’t look bright, Sheehan said “We are counting our blessings rather than dwelling on the nightmare.”

Sheehan can be reached at (562) 597- 9587. Because she is frequently swamped, call several times. To see what she has for currently up for adoptions, visit www.heartsforhounds.com.  Donations can be sent to Hearts for Hound Kennel  at 1356 Obispo Avenue, Long Beach.

(Diana Chapman is a CityWatch contributor and has been a writer/journalist for nearly thirty years. She has written for magazines, newspapers and the best-seller series, Chicken Soup for the Soul. You can reach her at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or her website: theunderdogforkids.blogspot.com) –cw

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CityWatch
Vol 9 Issue 91
Pub: Nov 15, 2011

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