Man’s best friend has a new best friend, and her name is Annie Blumenfeld. After her family adopted Teddy, a shaggy dog who survived heartworm disease, Blumenfeld founded the nonprofit Wags 4 Hope when she was in eighth grade. Today, as the organization’s president, she raises awareness about heartworm disease and overall pet responsibility, and paints dog portraits to raise money for shelters and rescues across the country.
NYMM: What is Teddy’s story?
AB: Teddy was rescued from a high-kill shelter called Bark in Houston, Texas. He had heartworm disease, and he was highest on the list to be euthanized. Teddy was rescued by Houston Shaggy Dog Rescue. He had to be stabilized in a crate with arsenic injections.
NYMM: How did he inspire you to found Wags 4 Hope?
AB: I wanted to learn more about heartworm disease since one million other dogs also have it in the United States, and it’s completely preventable. I wanted to raise awareness, and, around the same time in eighth grade, I was selling a shaggy dog painting, and people were very interested in it. With my art, I would raise funds for shelters, rescues, and animal medical needs.
NYMM: What was it like to start an organization at such a young age?
AB: Not being a veterinarian, it was kind of difficult to convince people how important it was. I’ve really used my age to my advantage in asking for donations. People might feel more compelled to help a teen who wants to make a difference.
NYMM: You proposed a bill about heartworm disease and dog licensing. What was that like?
AB: It started with talking to the state veterinarian and then writing to my state representative to propose this bill [HB-5422]. I testified at the State Capitol, and, at first, it didn’t technically pass, but I worked with the Connecticut Agricultural Department leader to change the dog license. This is a form saying that, every single year, across the state of Connecticut, pet owners have to register for their dogs. It now says “Heartworm disease is preventable. Please talk to your veterinarian.”
NYMM: What do you want pet owners and children to know?
AB: Heartworm disease is completely preventable, and your dog should be on the chewables 12 months each year. I actually do local workshops with pet responsibility crafts, so I just share about how these children can really take care of their animals properly.
NYMM: As a recent high school graduate, what’s next for you?
AB: I’ll be going to Cornell University. I’m hoping to have Wags 4 Hope clubs in different colleges, first establishing one at Cornell and then spreading it, and to do more large-scale fundraisers. I’m thinking of 5k runs and bike-a-thons.
NYMM: What are your hopes for the future?
AB: I’ve been working on having each state also look to change their dog licenses. I’m thinking of spearheading pet responsibility crafts – giving resources to elementary school students and middle school students about how they can properly take care of their pet and just establishing that mentality at a young age of how important it is.
Teddy is healthy and happy today, and, thanks to Blumenfeld, so are many other dogs. Watch Blumenfeld speak to legislators below, and keep up with Wags 4 Hope on Facebook. If you want a portrait of your “furbaby,” shoot Blumenfeld an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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