Annie Blumenfeld is just 17 years old, and still in high school, but she’s also the President of Wags 4 Hope, a growing animal welfare non-profit she founded when she was in the eighth grade. Inspired by her beloved dog’s agonizing battle with heartworm disease, she created her organization to raise awareness of the condition and funds for the medical needs of shelter animals, using her own dog and cat paintings to champion the cause.
After the loss of their Polish lowland sheepdog to cancer, Annie and her family spent three years looking for a new furbaby to add to their Blumenfeld clan. They searched pet stores, rescue shelters, newspapers, and private dog breeders, but, ultimately, it was Google that led them to Teddy, a two-year-old shaggy dog that had been rescued from a high-kill shelter in Houston, Texas.
It was love at first sight for Annie, and it was also the moment that would change her young life in ways she could have never imagined.
Before a perfectly happy and healthy Teddy bounded onto her doorstep in Connecticut, Annie came to learn about his incredibly rough start to life back in Texas. While in the loving care of the folks at the Shaggy Dog Rescue, an antigen test revealed that he had heartworm disease, a serious illness that can result in severe lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage, and even death. It’s caused by a parasitic worm that’s passed through the bite of an infected mosquito. Once in the bloodstream, the worms travel to the dog’s heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels, wreaking havoc as they go.
What’s more, heartworm disease requires expensive treatment (multiple vet visits, blood work, X-rays) that can be difficult for dogs to recover from or even survive. The treatment can also be potentially toxic to the dog’s body and cause serious complications, like life-threatening blood clots in the lungs.
“In Teddy’s case, he had to be given two injections of arsenic and remain in a crate, and he had to be inactive and carefully monitored for a couple of months,” Annie shared with WYSK. “It broke my heart to learn that my dog had endured great pain.”
Through learning about Teddy’s harrowing ordeal and researching the disease on her own, Annie got a fast and furious education in the devastating effects of heartworm, including the potential benefits of using monthly, vet-prescribed preventatives for dogs that are at high risk.
Fortunately, Teddy made a complete recovery, and found the forever home he deserved with Annie and her family. But the fate of countless other shelter dogs with heartworm or other diseases is not always the same. Annie told us, “Many shelter animals will never see the light of day again because of their condition.”
Knowing this, Annie, the then eighth grader, embarked on a tireless mission to raise awareness of heartworm disease by founding her Wags 4 Hope organization in 2012. She said, “I wanted to make a difference and help save all the other innocent dogs that are at high risk,” and decided to use her own artistic skills as the main fundraising vehicle for the budding non-profit. With that, Annie got to painting her favorite subjects – animals – and the funds started rolling in.
So how does her Wags 4 Hope work? “I sell custom dog and cat portraits and give all of the proceeds directly to shelters and rescues,” Annie explained. “The money is used to help pay for the animals’ medical supplies, until they find their forever homes.” She pays for all the canvases, paints, and brushes out of her own pocket, and buyers can choose where the proceeds from their Annie original go. “I am very flexible and can donate to someone’s favorite animal organization, rescue group, or shelter.”
Over the last three years, Annie has sold over 225 paintings, and has raised nearly $37,000 for animals in need of medical supplies.
As if that’s not impressive enough, the compassionate and industrious teen also speaks out about heartworm disease and pet responsibility every chance she can get. In addition, she designed an educational flyer that’s in use in all 50 States, as well as parts of the UK, Australia, and West Africa.
As a sign of her unwavering commitment to her cause, Annie even co-created a bill with her state representative to make it so heartworm education was part of the Connecticut Dog License, the official paperwork required to adopt a dog. Thanks to her efforts, Connecticut is now the first state to include a heartworm awareness message among the traditional pet responsibility requirements, like rabies vaccinations.