by Meghann Garcia, managing editor
Hundreds of dogs have left their paw prints on Heather Stunkel’s heart despite however briefly they wriggled in her arms.
The lifelong dog adopter has been actively involved with saving their lives since her days as a veterinary technician in New York, her home state, when she took on the role of transport driver to help dogs on long journeys get from one point to another on the way to a new home.
Since moving to Texas, however, her role as an angel for man’s best friend has grown significantly. She serves on the Humane Society of Uvalde adoption committee and checks the city’s animal control facility almost daily. There, she takes pictures of incarcerated animals to post them on Facebook along with information about when and where they were picked up in order to reunite them with their families.
When that effort fails, she works with HSU staff to pull the cats and dogs off death row and onto rescue row, or reaches out to five rescues in New York in hopes of sparing locally unwanted dogs from euthanasia.
The latter has proved to be a great resource. Whenever she boards a plane destined for New York, her carry-on luggage is usually a pet carrier.
“This also goes for my family,” Stunkel said. “I’ve recruited almost everyone to help in some way. My sister, parents, and brother’s girlfriend have all flown dogs back with them as well.”
Sending the home-seeking pooches with ticket-carrying passengers is easier on the animals, because they can travel in style rather than in the non-temperature controlled cargo area.
“I monitor the weather closely to make sure everything looks good; for example this time of year that it isn’t too cold and in the summer not too hot,” Stunkel said, adding that most dogs have to travel in the cargo area as she doesn’t fly home often. “This of course, gets very costly. On average it’s between $100 to $150 to fly each dog out.”
While the receiving rescue programs pay for the dog’s spay/neuter, some vetting and travel, Stunkel faces the other medical costs that include their initial vaccinations, flea medication, and parasite testing/treatment. The dogs then need to be fostered for two weeks.
Once the veterinary appointments are over, and the dogs have passed the quarantine period, Stunkel and fellow animal advocate Gay Faglie rise long before the neighborhood chickens to drive the home-bound dogs to the airport before reporting to work themselves.
“We usually leave around 3 a.m. to get the dogs checked in by 5 a.m. for their 7 a.m. flight,” Stunkel said. “I get crates ready the night before and all the paperwork needed.”
Faglie, operator of Country Tails Bed and Biscuit Pet Resort, often houses dogs awaiting relocation, and Stunkel and her husband also give shelter and care to many.
While Stunkel has a reliable volunteer network in place, she fundraises often, utilizing the GoFundMe website and online auctions to help with expenses.
“It’s more a donation of my time, than anything,” she said, waving away a question about the expenses she incurs.
Her reward is hearing success stories, of which there are no shortage. Since 2013, when she rescued a puppy found at the side of the road, she has sent nearly 250 dogs to new homes in New York.
“If there is a dog that I feel would be a good candidate, then I get photos and reach out to my contact at each rescue. The rescue will then put out a plea to their foster homes to see if anyone is open,” Stunkel said. “The New York rescues help local dogs in need, but due to great spay/neuter campaigns and spreading the word about adoption, they don’t have many unwanted litters or strays.”
Her most recent struggle has been the attempt to help seven puppies stricken with parvo recover for relocation to foster homes in New York. Local photographers volunteered their services to set up holiday portraits for people and their pets in exchange for a $5 donation to offset medical costs.
The effort raised $600, and five of the seven puppies recovered.
“Stephanie Atkinson is always helping me fundraise and brainstorm ideas,” Stunkel said of one of the photographers who volunteered time for the holiday photo sessions.
Anyone who would like to donate plastic airline crates – Stunkel often runs short, as it takes a while to get them back after sending foster dogs out of state – small/medium collars, puppy pads or money may contact her at email@example.com.
To follow her efforts of ensuring all pet owners find out if their pets have been incarcerated, search for “Friends of Uvalde, TX Animal Control” on Facebook, then “Like” the page and request notifications to see new photos and other information.
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