Data Portability Testbed Just another weblog 2016-07-11T19:41:04-05:00 en 1.0 <![CDATA[Bent Plywood!]]> Thu, 08 Jul 2010 15:18:00 +0000 I LOVE bend plywood!!! It is absolutely gorgeous. In my humble opinion, it is the perfect medium to express modernity and simplicity, with the often-lacking-in-other-modern-design-mediums warmth. And I think the world needs more of it! I designed and built this pet bowl stand 5 years ago, as a Christmas gift to my husband to use for his beloved (late) cat, Gorby.

I like the idea of holding the bowls in different ways within the same frame. This concept – holding one bowl from the top and the other from the bottom – informed the entire design.

I would like to develop a whole series of beautiful bent plywood pet products. I have sketched some initial (read: rough!) ideas I’d like to share with you. Your backing of this project will bring these to life.

More product idea updates will come tomorrow! Until then, pass it on. (and give us feedback if you have it, we’d love to hear it!)

4cd6fe89dabe9d264c0003d5 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[A Metal Bowl Stand]]> Thu, 08 Jul 2010 15:32:00 +0000 Now that I’ve shared with you my affinity for bent plywood, here is another bowl stand with a completely different twist.

My good friend Tim Haley (of Tangible Design, inc.) collaborated with me to produce this gem. The following images are renderings of what we would like the final product to look like. We currently have a prototype, which is still at the welder.

These are just two of the color combinations we hope to make available:

In this design, the metal is clear-coated and left “au-natural,” and orange felt is wrapped around the bottom edges, creating a soft boundary for contact with the floor. The felt also adds some visual interest with contrasting color and adds a different textural component.

Here is another color combination we hope to produce.

This bowl holder is extremely sturdy – it is made of steel and has significant heft, which will keep it stationary while pets eat from it. It will also become a permanent fixture in its kitchen. Who says pet products have to be ugly and hidden away when guests come over? If pets are members of our family, then their furniture “counts” just as much as ours does.

4cd6ff56dabe9d2b13000040 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Felt!]]> Thu, 08 Jul 2010 15:37:00 +0000 Felt is another material we’re interested in incorporating into pet products. We used it a bit on the bowl stand concept I posted yesterday, but here it is in a completely different context.

Felt is a beautiful material, no doubt. But it does not have a lot of tensile strength. We’re experimenting by combining it with nylon webbing to produce some original collar concepts. This one is Big Hearts Fund themed, with the white stitching reflecting the iconic EKG “heartbeat” rhythm.

Here is Lucy modeling. Isn’t she a pretty dog?

She got a treat for sitting so nicely for this shot.

And for you kitty lovers out there, I’ll add this – our little photo shoot was not without its fair share of curious intrusions.

Clearly, a fun time was had by all. Hold your breath for a kitty-cat centered update tomorrow!

4cd70054dabe9d2b130001b6 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Kitty Collar]]> Fri, 09 Jul 2010 16:16:00 +0000 Seems the cats were getting jealous of all the attention Lucy’s gotten lately. That could only mean one thing – time for some kitty designs!

I decided to use a snap for closure as an experiment. Since many cat collars utilize a “quick release” closure mechanism (incase Kitty gets stuck on something), I thought a regular old snap would do just about the same thing. Think of it as a safety feature!

I experimented with different textures by using the smooth cotton upholstry fabric in combination with the felt. As you can see, I think the “heartbeat” stitching may continue to show up in our work.

Oh, forgot to mention! This collar could also be used on small dogs, and the final would be made with several snaps for adjustability.

Let us know what you think!

Hallie clearly likes it:


4cd70132dabe9d2b130001d0 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[We Need Your Support!]]> Wed, 14 Jul 2010 11:56:00 +0000 We need to raise $3,200 in the next 17 days for the kickstarter project, or we get no money!

That’s right – we get nothing if we don’t reach our goal of $8000 by August 1st.

For those of you who have pledged, I’m asking you to try to find at least TWO friends to pledge. If you pledged under $100, see if you can get those two friends to MATCH your pledge. If you pledged over $100 (because you love me!) and you don’t think you can find two friends who can match your pledge, can you at least find two friends to give what they can?

The way that most kickstarter projects succeed is NOT from a few large pledges… it is from a huge volume of people giving just a little bit (think $5, $10, $20). Every little bit helps, and no pledge is too small.

Additionally, I am offering “yummy!” surprise incentives for those of you who find friends to pledge! You will receive one yummy surprise for each friend of yours who pledges.

Let’s ROCK this!!!

4cd701dadabe9d2b130001ea open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Operation: Postcards!]]> Mon, 19 Jul 2010 18:05:00 +0000 Today and tomorrow we are passing out postcards to local establishments (coffee shops, pet boutiques, veterinary clinics) in an attempt to spread the word about the Kickstarter project.

We are 12 days away, and we need $2,360 to reach our goal. Thanks to all of you who have pledged so far! Please, continue to encourage your friends to pledge. We can’t do this without you!

If you would like to pass out postcards in your area or give some to friends, please send your name and address to christy =at= bigheartsfund =dot= org.

Keep spreading the word!

4cd70290dabe9d2b130001f4 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[3 Days and Counting!]]> Thu, 29 Jul 2010 13:40:00 +0000 Thank you everyone for the outpouring of support in the past few days! I notice many friends, friends’ parents, and even some people I don’t know who are recent supporters – here’s to you, and thanks!

We have 3 days left to raise a little under $500! There are 61 of us backers. Three have increased their pledges by $25 or more. That means, of the remaining 58 of us, if we can all find one friend to give $10, we will make it (and go even a little bit over!)

It’s the final stretch! Let’s make this happen.

Oh… and ps: If we meet our goal, I am looking into having little BHF dog tags made (which can also be used as key chains!) No matter how much you pledge, if we reach our goal, everyone gets 2.Cheers!

4cd702c0dabe9d2b130003e2 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[WE MADE IT!]]> Fri, 30 Jul 2010 08:40:00 +0000 We are officially over the top with $8,255! Watch out world, here come some awesome new pet products!!!!! Cannot thank everyone enough. Great work!

4cd702e5dabe9d2b130003eb open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Prototype #1]]> Tue, 10 Aug 2010 14:53:00 +0000 Last week we received the prototypes of the metal bowl stand we’ve been developing, and I’d like to share photos of our progress with you. This is one of the items we will be developing with help from our generous backers.

And here are some other views (sans bowls!) for your enjoyment:

Front View

Side/Top View

Obviously this prototype is still unfinished raw metal. Also, it is in 2 pieces which need to be welded together. The two pieces are for stability and visual interest. It also increases the weight of the product to keep it from sliding on the floor when the dog eats from it.

We are looking into painting and powder coating options for the final finish. Earlier posts show computer renderings of some colors we are considering – I’ll post my favorite color combo again so you can use your imagination with the photos of our current prototype!

Also, the gray wrapped around the bottom edge will likely be a waterproof treated felt material, or some kind of silicone/neoprene. This will create a soft, non-scratch barrier for contact with the floor, as well as provide visual interest with textural contrast.

Will keep you all updated as progress develops! Cheers!

4cd7038bdabe9d2e9600001a open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[An Education in Paint]]> Thu, 19 Aug 2010 14:37:00 +0000 We took our metal bowl holder prototype to the painter/powdercoater today. We are having two samples painted – one in a navy blue, and one in a light blue textured paint. Turns out the light blue is also antimicrobial paint… SCORE! Another potential selling point!

We are looking at ways to cut manufacturing cost of this product. Those of you who like materials and processes may find the following interesting: turns out spot welding will be cheaper and easier to perform than the bead welding we used on the original part. Additionally, you may notice in this picture that the bowl holder is missing the “shelf” piece that runs beneath the bowls. Taking this piece away is one potential solution for decreasing weight and manufacturing cost (read: welding cost).

We also found a potential new metal former today who uses primarily CNC cutting machinery (as opposed to the waterjet cutters we used previously). He suggested various ways to decrease weight without compromising structural integrity, and is making us another less expensive prototype. Another thing that makes him awesome: he is right next door to the painter! Bottom line, if we use these guys to produce our product line, all they have to do is walk across the hall for painting and finishing. No shipping between facilities! Fantastic. They were also happy to help us and give us a tour of their facility – not bad. And finally, when we carried our dog bowl prototype into the facility through the office, the secretary barked at us. It was awesome.

So as you can see, things are progressing! Stay tuned… I hope to be able to post pictures of the painted prototype soon enough.

4cd70402dabe9d2650000041 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[It's Here!]]> Tue, 24 Aug 2010 17:51:00 +0000 Got the light blue prototype today and applied rubber to the bottom edges – I’ll let the images speak for themselves. Suffice it to say I’m ecstatic.

So now what are the next steps, you ask? Well, we’re working on finding a bulk supplier for the stainless steel bowls (anyone know of one!?). We’re also finding a way to make the seam where the wrap-around rubber meets look “seamless.” And lastly, Tim is scaling up this prototype by a few inches to accommodate larger bowls and larger, taller dogs. On the first run, we’d like to have two sizes available. We have the second color combination chosen; more pictures will be posted by the end of the week. Stay tuned…

4cd704e3dabe9d2650000059 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Status Update]]> Wed, 08 Sep 2010 16:14:00 +0000 Even though I don’t have any pretty pictures of new products to show you today, I wanted to update everyone on our recent progress. And give you a sneak peek at t-shirt and hoodie design! We should be seeing these in the next couple of weeks:



I will leave the color of the t-shirts a surprise :)

In other exciting business-y news, our tax-exempt application is basically complete. I am now searching for some good pro-bono legal help to look it over before sending it into the IRS. I got turned down by the Chicago Economic Development Law Project this afternoon because their mission excludes helping animals. Of course I tried the argument that humans ARE animals, but alas it was to no avail. The good news is that the attorney I talked to was extremely helpful and suggested several other places I could call, including the Chicago Bar Association. Anyone out there know where we could find some pro-bono help?

My board member Melissa and I are taking a seminar next week on writing comprehensive business plans for non-profits! I know it sounds riveting. I’m sure we will learn a lot, and Big Hearts will surely benefit from our effort to learn more and network!

Finally on the product front – the metal bowl stand designs (in 3 sizes!) have been finalized and we are simply waiting on price quotes from our manufacturers. We hope to place an order within the month! Which means, those of you who are excited to own one just may get your chance this fall!

Now, to get to work finishing those hand drawn thank you cards I still owe most of you…

4cd70622dabe9d2e86000013 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[They're coming...]]> Fri, 10 Sep 2010 16:33:00 +0000

Thirty-four little Lucys will be invading the USPS sometime next week, making their happy way directly to those of you who pledged to our kickstarter drive.

4cd70676dabe9d2e8600001d open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[So Many Things to Celebrate]]> Fri, 01 Oct 2010 15:13:00 +0000 The shirts are here! We have hoodies and T’s – if you selected it as a reward, you should already have yours, or it will be arriving in the mail shortly. (Or if you are my friend and you live in Chicago, I will personally hand it to you the next time I see you.)

Exhibit A: Lucy models my sweatshirt, proudly wearing the image of herself. What a narcissist.

Exhibit B: “This is my good side.” Seriously. She actually said that.

Here is a list of MORE things to celebrate about:

  1. The metal parts for the bowl stand have been ordered, as of today! Manufacture is OFFICIALLY UNDERWAY!
  2. The stainless steel bowls themselves have been ordered, as of today!
  3. The Cardiovascular Institute might be interested in our cause and subsequently in helping Lucy, thanks to the good work and endless generosity of my father’s cousin, J. (I am shipping her three shirts later today to give to some researchers she knows there).
  4. Our 501©(3) application is well underway and in very good hands, thanks to the outstanding work of our dedicated lawyer, who I was so lucky to find just two short weeks ago. Cross your fingers our status gets granted… it’s looking hopeful that we will be officially tax-exempt by the end of the year!
  5. Plans for our first fundraiser have begun! Stay tuned and clear your calendars the first two Thursday +/or Friday evenings in November, as it will most likely be one of those four nights.

And lastly, please let me know if you didn’t get a t-shirt or hoodie but now would like one… if enough people want them and place an order with me, I will order more.

Have a great weekend! And Happy October :)

4cd7074bdabe9d2e8600002f open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[A Touching Story About the Healing Power of the Human-Animal Bond]]> Tue, 05 Oct 2010 11:46:00 +0000 The mystery of life, death, and a yellow cat

This is one of the many reasons why the Big Hearts Fund exists to help animals in need: they give so much to us.

4cd7078cdabe9d2e86000035 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Sneak Peek]]> Tue, 12 Oct 2010 16:23:00 +0000 Here is one current idea for marketing our bowl stands in stores, while promoting our tax exempt mission – to raise funds and awareness about heart disease in dogs and cats.

The second card reads:

… 20–40% of all dogs suffer from some form of heart disease

… caring for a pet with heart disease can easily cost owners upwards of $2500/year

… 100% of the purchase price of this product goes to The Big Hearts Fund, a non-profit that helps pets with heart disease get the veterinary care they so desperately need

… with this purchase, you are helping. Give yourself a pat on the back (or a scratch behind the ears!). You deserve it.

4cd7082fdabe9d2e9600003f open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[So This Is What's Going On]]> Thu, 04 Nov 2010 21:03:00 +0000 Look what I did this week:

There has been so much going on and so little blogged about, I would be ashamed of myself… except that instead of sitting behind a computer 24/7, I’ve been sewing (obviously). Every single one of these “heartbeat” collars and leashes are – and will continue to be – handmade by me. And generous kickstarter backers – if you chose them as a reward, yours are being shipped to you TOMORROW!

These collars and leashes will be for sale on our website in the next couple of days. Also, you will notice that our site will change at this point – my brilliant husband, Chris Drackett, is bringing our site up-to-speed. There will be several new things:

  1. A store in which to buy these items, which will support our organization
  2. A large educational section about the most common types of heart disease found in dogs and cats (research by yours truly)
  3. An extensive section of resources designed to help owners of pets with heart disease give their pets the best care they possibly can

Stay tuned… !

4cd70923dabe9d2e86000049 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[New Site & All You Ever Wanted To Know About Heart Disease]]> Sun, 07 Nov 2010 22:06:00 +0000 It has been a VERY productive weekend here at the Big Hearts Fund headquarters – check out our newly updated and spruced up website! New features include:

  • A brand new section where you can learn all you ever wanted to know about canine and feline heart disease.
  • A resource section for owners of pets with heart disease. We do everything from help you find a veterinary cardiologist near you, to telling you how to make your own homemade low-sodium pet food, to directing you to current studies about heart disease being conducted in veterinary medicine – this section really has it all.
  • A list of all the special people who have helped support us this far – a list of all our generous kickstarter backers (thank you, thank you, thank you!!!) and the companies who have been helping us along the way. Find your name on this list in the About section.

Take some time to peruse the newly added features… there’s a lot of them. As always, comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome.

4cd77950dabe9d11fb00008e open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Bowl Stands in Progress]]> Wed, 01 Dec 2010 16:07:00 +0000 We visited the plant yesterday where our bowl stands are being made, and we got to see them mid-process! We are scheduled to pick up the finished products Monday or Tuesday of next week, and hope to have them for sale online by the end of the week next week.

Here are some images of the flattened parts:

And here is a picture of the plant where the parts are being made:

They are sure to make wonderful Christmas presents! Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to know the instant they are for sale.

4cf6ca96dabe9d1903000034 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[The Inside Scoop]]> Tue, 14 Dec 2010 15:11:00 +0000

The bowl stands are here… kind of. You can pre-order yours today, as they are due to start shipping in early January. We missed the mark for Christmas due to some manufacturing glitches… but in product development, this happens on a regular basis. Especially with first run products.

Here are all three sizes and both colors, in the flesh! We are very happy with the way the color and finish turned out.

As you can see if you look closely, the silicon pads at the base are coming un-peeled on the inside edges. We are working with our manufacturer to fix this problem and they have sworn to find us an adhesive that is actually permanent. The problem with the current adhesive is that it apparently does not stick to paint as well as it sticks to raw metal. *sigh. The joys of learning-as-you-go. Things always take longer than expected, especially when you really want to make a deadline.

Rest assured, we will ship Lucy Bowl Stands when they are nothing less than perfect. In January. Order now before we sell out – free shipping through the holiday season!

4d07e1e4dabe9d4ed4000155 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Happy New Year!]]> Sat, 01 Jan 2011 12:19:00 +0000 Sending Happy New Year wishes from all of us here at the Big Hearts Fund!

May you always be warm, no matter how cold you surroundings might be:

May you always have a cozy spot to return to:

May you frequently give yourself permission to drop everything and play:

And finally, may you relish in the unadulterated bliss of unconditional love.

Hoping for a productive, fulfilling, and joyous 2011.

4d1f701edabe9d1eac000005 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[The Very First Big Hearts Fundraiser!]]> Tue, 04 Jan 2011 11:04:00 +0000 YOU ARE INVITED!

Come help us celebrate and kick-off the Big Hearts Fund! Money you contribute at the event will help us subsidize veterinary care of pets with heart disease!

The event will be held Friday, February 4th from 7 – 10pm at Bad Dog Tavern, a dog-friendly tavern in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago.

Our silent auction promises to offer spectacular goods, services, and packages from many local businesses. Enter our 50/50 raffle for a chance to win half of “the pot,” which people will contribute to as we drink, eat, and make merry well into the evening!

Come! Be a part of something exciting. Feel good about the way you spend one chilly February Friday night.

Hope to see you there!

4d235565dabe9d360b000014 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[A note about The Very First Big Hearts Fundraiser!]]> Mon, 10 Jan 2011 14:22:00 +0000 Purchase your tickets on or before Friday, January 21st, and be automatically entered into the drawing for a chance to win the 50/50 raffle at the event!

Click here to view the official invite and to purchase your tickets.

Capacity at the venue is limited to 100 – we cannot guarantee that there will be tickets available at the door. Of additional note, please be aware that unfortunately, because the venue will be serving food, this event is for 2-legged creature attendance only. Stay tuned for future events sure to include our 4-legged friends!

Hope to see you there!

4d2b6bdfdabe9d47e500002b open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[February is National Pet Dental Health Month!]]> Thu, 13 Jan 2011 12:28:00 +0000 We know that dental health has almost nothing to do with cardiovascular health. However, all of this information is under the umbrella of “preventative care.” (see below!)

Fact: Preventative care is the NUMBER ONE THING that will save you from unexpected and costly veterinary bills.

Fiction: Preventative care is hard.

Truth: Preventative care is so easy. Doing something as simple as brushing your pet’s teeth for a minute (or less) each day can save you hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in the long run. (Think fewer teeth cleanings, which can easily run upwards of $600/year).

Here is a video put out by the American Veterinary Medical Association that tells us why pet dental hygiene is important, and details about how to adopt a tooth-brushing regime.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m making an appointment TODAY to have both of my cats’ teeth cleaned in February. Our veterinary office runs a special in February, $40 off each cleaning. Your vet might have a special in February, too. Check it out! And avoid those high-cost future vet bills…

4d2f4628dabe9d567400001d open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[WE ARE TAX EXEMPT!]]> Thu, 13 Jan 2011 21:06:00 +0000 Please excuse the horrible quality of this picture, I took it on my phone.

4d2fbe2bdabe9d3dfd0000cf open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Get Your Tickets!]]> Mon, 17 Jan 2011 08:34:00 +0000 Make sure to get your tickets to our upcoming fundraiser – this is the last week to buy and get a free chance to win the 50/50 raffle at the event!


4d3453d7dabe9d056d00010c open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[One Year Ago...]]> Thu, 27 Jan 2011 18:25:00 +0000 … my husband and I learned that our sweet little lab Lucy was born with a significant heart defect. One year ago today, I had no idea how much that little piece of news would change my life. In fact, if anyone had the ability to look into the future and had TOLD me about The Big Hearts Fund, I would have laughed and said something like: “There’s no way I could ever do something like that.” Yet here we are.

The thing that fuels this organization is the belief that some people out there will now have a place to turn to when they get similarly devastating news. The Big Hearts Fund is not only a place where owners can find resources about how to care for their sick pets, but also is an organization they can support in order to channel their grief so that they do not feel powerless over the diagnosis. (Yes, I am very aware that I have just described myself!) Maybe it’s my degree in psychological counseling kicking in, but it is a known fact that helping others overcome what you have experienced is the best way to process and integrate a traumatic event. Yeah, I do think that finding out someone you love is sick is a traumatic event.

As I write this, I wonder if some people reading may be saying to themselves “Oh come ON, it’s just a DOG.” Have you ever had a dog? If you have, then you will understand.

Dogs look at us with loving and honest eyes, all the time. No matter what.

On the very deepest level, isn’t that what we seek in all relationships? Even the relationship we have with ourselves? Complete acceptance. Unconditional love. Non judgement. Forgiveness. My childhood dog Murphy (pictured above) deserves the credit for teaching me all of this. I believe it is the human condition to constantly struggle with completely and unconditionally loving and accepting ourselves. If you look at it this way, its no wonder our relationship with dogs as companions goes back thousands of years.

I recently learned that dogs are the only other animals that understand what it means when a human being points at something. Even primates, our closest relation in the animal kingdom, do not react to pointing. Dogs also read our facial expressions and body language. They understand (probably better than we do!) exactly what we are feeling, the moment that we are feeling it. You can lie to another person about how you’re feeling – but you can’t lie to a dog. Our relationship goes back so far, and runs so deep, that they have actually EVOLVED to understand human beings.

I feel like I’m gipping cats by emoting about dogs. Cats are completely different than dogs, but also emotionally smart companions – my cat Sgt. Pepper (usually referred to as Miss Poo Poo) silently follows me around, and runs to me meowing if I ever raise my voice. She sleeps next to my head, every night. If I’m ever restless or sleepless at night, she crawls up onto my chest. The vibration of her purring and her heartbeat reverberate through my body, soothing me back to sleep. She is my shadow, always in the background like a little grey-and-white guardian angel… and sometimes also a horrendous little demon. But then again, she IS a cat, and I love that about her. At least she’s honest. That’s more than I can probably say for most people.

My pets make my life complete. Scientific studies say they lower blood pressure and generally promote our health, both mentally and physically. The American Veterinary Medical Association says that 63 percent of ALL households in the United States have a pet, and about 75 million dogs and 85 million cats are owned in the United States. It is no wonder so many people choose to share their homes with animals.

Those of us who own pets know intrinsically how valuable their lives are. The Big Hearts Fund believes that all dogs and cats have a right to proper veterinary treatment, regardless of the financial status of their owners. Please help us raise money and awareness for dogs and cats with heart disease. They deserve to have good lives, because they add so much value to ours.


4d421c9bdabe9d0f3c000998 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[A Great Big Thanks!]]> Sat, 05 Feb 2011 14:58:00 +0000 Thanks to all who came out for our first fundraiser last night! All together, we raised $5,404.00 – which is equivalent to the cost of about 12 echocardiograms! The Big Hearts Fund Board of Directors Katie, Melissa, Kaitlin, Brandi, Des and I all agree, it was a smashing success. Thank you especially to Chad, owner of the Bad Dog Tavern, which turned out to be just the perfect venue to host our event!

We saw many old friends, and met some new ones. I would personally like to extend a special thank you to some of our guests from the Chicago pet community, including Dr. Justin Allen, the veterinary cardiologist at AETC, his lovely wife Kim (also a veterinarian), and his two gracious technicians Michelle and Gina. We were also pleased to meet Tina Wallace, the founder of BARC (Barriers Against Repeated Cruelty), and two other BARC board members Len Mayersky and Jody Haile. We were also pleased to once again see Suzy Thomas, founder and director of Realtors to the Rescue. The Big Hearts Fund is excited for what the future holds in terms of collaboration with these other great organizations! Thank you for your support.

Thanks to EVERYONE for braving the cold, the horrible post-snowpocalypse traffic, and the difficult post-snowpocalypse parking situation! I personally couldn’t have been happier with our turnout!

If you came out, (or even if you didn’t and you just spread the word to your friends) or you donated – please take a moment to commend yourself for doing something good. Let it warm you up for just a couple minutes.


It is a really good thing you all just did. And you can count on The Big Hearts Fund to share with you every heart-warming tale about the owners and pets we help treat with your money. It is not only our leadership, but mostly your generosity that will make our good work possible.

4d4dc358dabe9d7214000055 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[My Furry Valentine Contest!]]> Mon, 14 Feb 2011 11:10:00 +0000 Have a picture of YOUR furry valentine?
Send it our way, along with one reason why your dog or cat makes the best Valentine, and we’ll post it on the website! The person with the best reason gets a free Big Hearts Fund t-shirt!

Here’s mine:

Lucy is the best Valentine because she does not withhold kisses, even if I am crabby!

4d59641adabe9d606300002d open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Furry Valentine Submissions!]]> Mon, 14 Feb 2011 16:01:00 +0000 From Melissa Hedlund:

“Chachi is my Furry Valentine because he is the best listener ever and is secretly a Packers fan (even though his Dad thinks he’s a Bears Fan) : )”

From Susan Drackett:

“Chloe is the best Valentine since she always wants to be right by my side and she was born on Valentine’s Day 3 years ago! Not to mention the fact that she let me put this scarf on her for her Valentine photo shoot!”

From Sarah Recker:

“Frankie is the best because no matter what silly outfit he has to wear, or how many pictures he has to pose for, he still loves me!”

From Hilary Meurer:

“Maple is the best valentine because she steals the baked goods right out of my hands, before they have a chance to go to my hips.”

From Andrea Knepper:

“Scout and Lucy are the perfect Valentines because they give double the loving!”

From Hilary Berghausen:

“Gizmo is the best valentine because he lets me be the big spoon! (Look at his version of monorail cat).”

From Melissa Scaglione:

“Charlie is the best valentine because he always make me smile, even on the dreariest of days. :)”

Keep ’em coming, guys!

4d59a753dabe9d31d100004d open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Want to Know About Our Application for Aid?]]> Tue, 22 Feb 2011 12:54:00 +0000 As you can probably imagine, developing The Big Hearts Fund’s Application for Aid is a tedious task wrought with potential pitfalls. Some of the questions I’ve been asking myself are: Just how do you objectively assess who really needs help? And, in the case of multiple applicants, who needs help the most? To answer these questions, I’ve turned to other organizations who are doing the same thing in hopes of learning from them. There was only one problem with this – I can only find two other organizations in existence that help current pet owners pay for vet care. Why are there so few organizations that do this, you ask? Likely answers: 1) needs-based assessment is tricky and tedious and usually scares people off, and 2) most of the grants/funding available to animal-related non-profits are reserved ONLY for shelter and rescue organizations.

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to have a phone conversation with Jacki, founder of IMOM (In Memory of Magic). IMOM helps pet owners and shelters fund emergency veterinary care for pets who would otherwise have to be euthanized within 10 days of the diagnosis. If you visit IMOM’s website, you will see for yourself that their application process is extremely thorough and streamlined. It is very likely that our application process will require similar documents from owners and veterinarians.

Here is a little preview of what our application will likely resemble.

From Owners:
The biggest piece of information we will need is some proof of income. Required documents may include:

1) The most recent federal income tax return,

2) The last two bank statements from all bank accounts for you and your spouse/partner.

Obviously with these documents, all social security numbers and account numbers should be blacked out before they are sent to us. We would have to destroy all documents that come to us without these numbers blacked out.

Additional forms such as social security statements, unemployment benefit letters, food stamp approval letters, or copies of most recent pay stubs may be required of applicants who do not have federal income tax returns. Basically, we will be looking for any reason to accept each application. (Thank you especially to IMOM and Jacki for the added insight in this area!)

From Veterinarians:

1) Completed form signed by the vet stating the name/breed/age of pet to be treated, the specific heart disease diagnosis (if an initial echocardiogram has already been conducted), the necessary treatment being recommended, and the prognosis for the pet upon treatment

2) An itemized estimate for treatment, with cost broken down by procedure, for which this owner is applying for aid from The Big Hearts Fund.

As it says in our “about” section, we hope to begin accepting applications for aid sometime this spring. As always, we’ll keep you posted when the finalized application is up and running! Insight, comments, and questions are welcome.

4d640e0ddabe9d0e31000245 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[So what's going on with the bowl stands?]]> Thu, 24 Feb 2011 12:24:00 +0000 Here’s the story: the bowl stands that were made in December did not meet our quality standards for a number of reasons, as illustrated below:

Holes cut for the bowls were too large. Which when in use, cheapened our beautiful concept by creating an obnoxious rattle-trap.

The adhesive used for the silicon was not permanent.

The edge quality wasn’t to our specifications. See those little “tabs” in the radius of the cut-out? This is left over from the punching process. Our manufacturer did not clean up the edges to our specifications before painting.

The manufacturer says there is nothing they can do about this, as the punching process in this gage of metal creates this rough edge finish. Which is frustrating, because it didn’t look this way on our original prototype.

We are doing several things right now to fix these problems and ensure that the product we release into the market meets our quality standards, ultimately because we care a whole lot about YOUR satisfaction with our product.

1) We have gotten quotes from laser cutting and water-jet cutting manufacturers to fix the edge finish problem. Due to cost, it is likely we will be choosing the laser cutting process. Tolerances on the V.2 design are tighter on the bowl holes, eliminating the “rattle-trap” effect.

2) We have located a permanent adhesive for the silicon! This adhesive, paired with a lower durometer (softer) and thinner silicon, has fixed the peeling problem. Versions of the bowl stands with these modifications are in testing as we speak with some of our resident doggie testers!

Meet Rolf! Happy new companion to Lisa & Don Lehman.

Rolf is enjoying testing the blue bowl stand with grey silicon. So far, the silicon is sticking, and Rolf is satisfied.

And here again is Charlie, cute little guy belonging to Big Hearts Fund Vice President Melissa Scaglione and her fiance Peter. Charlie is testing the white bowl stand with red/orange silicon.

And here is Charlie, sharing with his friend Romy the Westie!

We promise to keep you updated as work on these progresses. We need all the help we can get! To make a donation to help us speed up the manufacturing process (we are also trying to begin accepting applications for aid!) please visit our donations page, or shoot me an e-mail:

4d66a24ddabe9d38f7000001 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[More Health Benefits of Owning Pets]]> Wed, 23 Mar 2011 08:22:00 +0000 Here is an interesting article about the health benefits of owning pets, originally posted by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Check it out! “Pets can reduce stress, cholesterol, obesity”

4d89f497dabe9d2a28000001 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[A Little Friday Fun >^.^<]]> Fri, 25 Mar 2011 11:32:00 +0000 Ever wonder how your pets see the world? What exactly would a “cat’s eye view” look like? And, what would it be like to peek those pesky whiskers 24/7?

Check out this video entirely filmed by CATS! Thanks to our cat-obsessed board Secretary, Des, for showing this to me :).

4d8cc4aadabe9d63e70000be open open ^.^<]]> publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Take Heart!]]> Mon, 28 Mar 2011 12:45:00 +0000 As of Saturday, board certified veterinary cardiologist Dr. Justin Allen of AETC centers here in Chicago, has accepted our offer to become the very first member of The Big Hearts Fund’s Veterinary Advisory Board! We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Allen to the BHF family (which will be officially happening at our next Board of Directors meeting next month), and have high hopes that our working relationship will enable us to help an even greater number of pets with heart disease.

The primary role of our Vet Advisory Board will be to advise the Board of Directors on questions concerning veterinary matters. In short, they will be helping us maintain the medical information published on this website, and consulting with us regarding the applications for financial aid we will be receiving from pet-owners-in-need and their veterinarians who recommend treatment.

I had the pleasure of sharing lunch (literally! we traded sandwiches) with Dr. Allen last Wednesday, 3/23 at Lula Cafe in Logan Square. We had met previously when he, accompanied by his lovely wife Kim and two AETC cardiology technicians, attended our fundraiser in February. However, Wednesday was the first time we had a chance to sit down and have an uninterrupted conversation.

Aside from trading many fun and funny personal stories, I learned that there are only about 300 veterinary cardiologists in the entire world, and about 100 currently working in the United States. Until talking with Dr. Allen, I assumed that most of the applications for aid we may initially receive would be for pets needing diagnostic echocardiograms (around $500 each). Dr. Allen supposed we may also receive several applications for readily available surgical interventions for common disorders, with a bill of around $3000-$5000 each.

Time to find grants and kick up more fundraisers!

Thank you to Dr. Allen for your time and humbling dedication to the pet community – spending day-in and day-out caring for animals in your practice and then joining up with The Big Hearts Fund in your free time, I believe, raises you dangerously close to sainthood. We are so thankful for you, and that people exist who are so dedicated.

4d90c2d6dabe9d5299000017 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[A Great New Resource for Cardiac Education!]]> Wed, 30 Mar 2011 11:43:00 +0000 I happened upon the Cardiac Education Group website yesterday, and couldn’t wait to share it with the Big Hearts Fund community! The Cardiac Education Group are Veterinary Cardiologists who aim to bring greater knowledge of cardiology into regular veterinary practice. The site is geared toward veterinarians seeking to further their own understanding of canine cardiology, but even as a layperson I found the information useful and interesting.

Perhaps my favorite part was listening to the heartbeats and seeing the EKG rhythms of hearts with various problems. Lucy’s heart sounds most like the mitral valve regurgitation, although I have not been told she has an arrhythmia. The other difference is that in Lucy’s heart, regurgitation is caused by deformation of the tricuspid valve, not the mitral valve (see illustration).

I also found the following quote so hopeful, and right in line with what we experienced when Lucy was diagnosed with Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia. The vets in our regular office told us Lucy may go into congestive heart failure (CHF) within 6 months. It wasn’t until we saw veterinary cardiologist Dr. Michael Luethy that we gained more hope for her future.

“Myth: a diagnosis of heart failure is a death sentence.
One of the major differences between a cardiologist and a generalist may be how they view heart failure prognosis. Many generalists are less optimistic about the dog’s chances of survival, whereas cardiologists tend to view CHF as a chronic condition requiring long term management strategies. Of course, the prognosis depends on the severity of disease at diagnosis, but many cardiologists have CHF patients that they have been managing for years. Viewing CHF as a chronic health problem that requires occasional adjustments in medications when the condition worsens or when complications occur al- lows us to be realistic with owners about the goals of therapy. Although we are attempting to prolong the patient’s survival, the most important goal that we discuss with the owner is maintaining a good quality of life for their dog in CHF. Work- ing with the owners, our job is to do what we can medically to allow the animal to maintain its appetite and energy level and to continue to function and interact with the family. Improve- ments in our abilities to treat heart failure have allowed many patients to continue their happy home life for months to years after a diagnosis of heart failure.” (Here is the link to the article Common Misperceptions About Diagnosing Heart Failure on the Cardiac Education Group Website).

You can now find the Cardiac Education Group website listed in The Big Hearts Fund resource section.

4d935d99dabe9d69ad00007a open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[This is One Lucky Dog]]> Fri, 01 Apr 2011 12:15:00 +0000

(Click on Image for link to the article on!)

Here’s to hoping “Human Grade” medicine becomes more readily available for animals… especially our friends with heart disease.

4d96094edabe9d663c0003d9 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[SPRING SALE!]]> Wed, 06 Apr 2011 08:03:00 +0000 All handmade collars and leashes in The Big Hearts Fund store are 30% off with free shipping for Spring! We are featuring our new, Special Edition BLUE large collars and leashes as part of this sale.

Let us know if you like the alternative color, and what colors YOU might want to see in the future!

4d9bd7c3dabe9d24a4000070 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Non-Profit ain't nothin' but tax status, y'all.]]> Thu, 07 Apr 2011 13:01:00 +0000 This colloquial and utterly brilliant statement was made yesterday by Jeffrey E. Faulkner in his presentation I had the pleasure of hearing at the “Self Generated Income: Surviving or Thriving, A Strategic Path To Sustainability and Mission Enhancement” day-long conference at the Axelson Center for Non-Profit Management.

Mr. Faulkner is the President of Ways to Work, a unique economic empowerment program that helps working poor families solidify position in the workforce, build financial literacy and capacity, and attain self-sufficiency. His organization provides small scale loans to working poor families, and then supports them in learning how to manage that money.

What does this have to do with The Big Hearts Fund? Well.

The entire conference yesterday was focused on how Non-Profit businesses in today’s tough economic environment should explore self-generated income as an essential revenue stream for the future. We heard from several speakers, all of whom were directors of successful organizations that have embraced this idea (Ways to Work, Seguin Works, The Cara Program). I felt encouraged that The Big Hearts Fund is beginning with a business model that includes the sale of well-designed products to fund the charity. Because from what we heard yesterday, charities that have become “addicted” to government hand-outs (grants) are going to be SOL when this new federal budget passes.

I could go on and on about how great I thought this conference was, and how inspiring it was, and how many great ideas I have for our annual meeting/board retreat etc. etc. But I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say that the biggest thing I took away was this: “Non-Profit” does not mean “For Loss.” Non-Profit ain’t nothin’ but tax status… The Big Hearts Fund is a business that in order to do the most good, must have a sustainable way to operate in the black.

On that note, the order for the bowl stands has been placed as of today. The laser cutter estimates a 5 – 6 week lead time… but I can tell you, definitely, that THIS IS IT. We WILL have these out to you, this summer.

4d9dfc0cdabe9d30e2000047 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Friday Fun >^.^<]]> Fri, 08 Apr 2011 13:05:00 +0000 OMG. I love cats!


4d9f4eb6dabe9d715a0003eb open open ^.^<]]> publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[End of the Day]]> Wed, 13 Apr 2011 16:52:00 +0000

It’s been a long day, but as long as I have my trusty platypus and my bone I am a happy girl. Oh wait! Now that you’re looking at me… does that mean it’s DINNER TIME!? OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY!

4da61bcddabe9d1515000016 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Press!]]> Fri, 22 Apr 2011 11:42:00 +0000 Thanks to Cindy over at AETC (thanks Cindy!) my blog post about Dr. Allen joining our Veterinary Advisory Board has been posted on the Grayslake Tribune! Woo hoo press exposure!

4db1afdcdabe9d1dd7000004 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Read what Dr. Allen has to say:]]> Fri, 22 Apr 2011 13:41:00 +0000

“When I first heard about the Big Hearts Fund, I was excited for a number of reasons. The hardest part of my job is delivering the news that a beloved family pet has heart disease. It becomes even more difficult when, for financial reasons, a family cannot perform the diagnostics or therapeutics necessary to address (or even cure) a heart disease. Proper medical care is expensive for animals and humans, and a lack of widespread inclusive insurance programs has created a large group of people who very much want to help their pet, but aren’t able to do so. On the other hand, there are some wonderful people who want to help these families; unfortunately, there has been a divide between those who can offer help and those who cannot afford the help their animals in need. The Big Hearts Fund is a great way to bridge that divide, allowing those who wish to help a safe, accountable and effective way to do so. I look forward to being a part of it.”

Thanks Dr. Allen! We look forward to working with you, too.

4db1cc4cdabe9d313100002e open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Bowls On The Way!]]> Wed, 18 May 2011 11:45:00 +0000 Yesterday we picked up our beautifully laser-cut and formed bowl stands from Prince Industries and transported them to Britt Industries for painting!

All I can say is, I wish we had found Prince first. They are organized, efficient, do quality work, and above all they do what they say they will do. It took us a year to finally get a product we are satisfied with, but I’m so glad we did. Starting the manufacturing process over again, though frustrating, has allowed us to make minor tweaks to the original design, helping us bring you a higher quality product. The bowl stands will be IN YOUR HANDS if you have pre-ordered, and FOR SALE ONLINE in the month of June!

4dd3f798dabe9d2a0f0015b5 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Pet Heart Disease in Health News!]]> Thu, 19 May 2011 07:52:00 +0000 “Researchers report congenital heart disease is the most common cause of death in newborn dogs and puppies under one.” Read More

The more I read about the prevalence of heart disease in pets, the more I wonder why we don’t hear more about this? Finding this kind of statistic strengthens my resolve to raise public awareness. The more people realize that heart disease in pets is this prevalent, the more pets we can potentially save.

4db5e941dabe9d6862000035 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Friday Fun!]]> Fri, 20 May 2011 16:18:00 +0000 For your enjoyment, here is Lucy and our Vice President Melissa’s dog Charlie playing at the Montrose dog beach earlier today! It was Charlie’s first time in the water; we are so proud of him!

Lucy and Charlie At The Beach from Big Hearts Fund on Vimeo.

4dd6daeedabe9d0c9900025a open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Mitral Valve Degeneration (MMVD)]]> Wed, 25 May 2011 14:25:00 +0000 Thanks to Dr. Allen, the Veterinary Cardiologist heading up our Veterinary Advisory Board, the medical information on our website is being updated and added to! Check out the latest under Valvular Dysfunction: Mitral Valve Degeneration. Thanks for your help, Dr. Allen!

Incase you missed it, read what Dr. Allen has to say about his decision to become involved with The Big Hearts Fund.

4ddd5862dabe9d7539003adf open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[We've Been "Dooced"]]> Thu, 26 May 2011 10:16:00 +0000 Last month, I wrote a letter and sent two Heartbeat collars to Heather Armstrong of, the hilarious and wildly successful blog that has been written about in Forbes Magazine, The New York Times, CNN, and tons of other places. Heather does speaking engagements all over the country, and she has written/edited two best-selling books, It Sucked and Then I Cried, and Things I Learned About My Dad In Therapy. You can read more about Heather and her story here.

Among other things, Heather posts a picture of her patient and adorable dog Chuck every single day (often with things balanced on his head and/or snout): The Daily Chuck, and has been doing so since the inception of in 2001. Here are pictures of Chuck taken over the past two weeks. Notice anything familiar?

Heather, if you see this, THANK YOU! WE LOVE YOU! Chuck and Coco are very lucky dogs to be part of such a fun and loving family.

4dde7709dabe9d429d004d03 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Dogs At Work Increase Productivity]]> Tue, 31 May 2011 08:56:00 +0000 “Having pooches underfoot might seem to some like a distraction, but advocates of animals in the workplace see quite the opposite. Dogs in the office foster friendlier, more collaborative work environments. At G5, this includes dogs posing as mascots for the company’s various divisions. “Everyone rallies around the dogs,” Hobin says."

Read more

4ddfa787dabe9d06220028ed open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[The Lucy Bowl Stands are Here!]]> Wed, 01 Jun 2011 09:56:00 +0000

Lucy, Tim and I spent the day yesterday with Tom Petroff at his photography studio in the West Loop. Here are just a few of my favorite images, to commemorate such a joyous occasion and a huge milestone for BHF:

We are so excited to finally have these bowl stands available to you after a whole year of waiting! Remember – all of the proceeds from purchases at our store support our important mission: to raise funds and awareness for dogs and cats with heart disease.

4de5e888dabe9d1ee2000213 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Friday Fun 6/3/11]]> Fri, 03 Jun 2011 08:43:00 +0000 As those of you who know me personally know, I recently returned from a 2-week trip to Japan. I have been meaning to post these pictures since I got back: I met some cute furry friends while I was there!

4de8e5fddabe9d7bd000012b open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Help Us Get to H.H. Backer in October!]]> Tue, 07 Jun 2011 10:44:00 +0000 Now that we have the bowl stands in hand, we need to sell them so that we can start our financial assistance program for owners and pets-in-need!

Fortunately, the largest pet products trade show in the country, the H.H. Backer trade show, takes place right here in Chicago October 14 – 16! You guys, this is HUGE. The Big Hearts Fund needs to attend, and here is why:

  • Pet product vendors from ALL OVER THE UNITED STATES will be present, meaning we have the potential to sell our products not just in Chicago and on our website, but in stores everywhere. This is absolutely essential if we hope to raise enough funds through sales to support our charity!
  • The Big Hearts Fund will gain NATIONAL EXPOSURE for pets with heart disease in just one weekend, with the most influential people in the pet community in the entire United States.

We here at BHF feel very strongly that we cannot miss this incredible opportunity for growth. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is essential to our success as an organization to attend this trade show. Everyone who is anyone is the pet product community will be there.

We desperately need your help to get there. The cost of a booth at the show is $1800. After funding product development and our general operations, we have our few remaining funds allocated to helping pet-owners-in-need pay for the necessary veterinary care of their pets with heart disease, as we attempt to kick off our financial assistance program. You know, the entire reason our organization even exists in the first place.

We cannot attend the H.H. Backer show without your support! I repeat: we will miss this incredible opportunity without your help. Every little bit helps. The most successful fundraising happens when lots of people give just a little bit. (ooh-ooh, just a little bit, just a little bit!)

Please contribute to our trade show fund so that we can make a difference for pets with heart disease all over the United States!

4dee4f39dabe9d0e3a003ad2 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Friday Fun 6/10/11]]> Fri, 10 Jun 2011 13:47:00 +0000 Saw this picture linked on Reddit with the following caption:

“All Dogs do go to heaven.”

4df2674fdabe9d7271002918 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Generosity at its Finest]]> Wed, 15 Jun 2011 11:43:00 +0000 Since last week when we asked our gracious supporters to help us get to the H.H. Backer trade show in October, we have received a total of $1,295 in donations! That is not chump change people; it is truly impressive! And a testament to just how many of you believe in the importance of helping pets with heart disease. To those of you who have donated, thank you from the bottom of our great big hearts!

While we are well on our way, a booth in the new exhibitor area costs $1835, which means we still have $540 left to raise.

The Big Hearts Fund has about 110 active followers and supporters. That means, if everyone who has not already donated gives just $5, we will make it to the trade show!!! We need to get our booth by the end of June, which means we have just two weeks to reach our goal.

Need a little extra incentive besides a warm, fuzzy feeling and our love forever? The first 5 people to donate just $5 will receive a free heartbeat collar of your choice! (Those of you who already donated, you will be receiving one, too!).

PLEASE, HELP US GET THERE! (Incase you missed it, here is why getting to the trade show with our products is so important to the success of our mission.)

4df8e124dabe9d2714002211 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US!]]> Thu, 16 Jun 2011 08:00:00 +0000 It was exactly one year ago today that The Big Hearts Fund was incorporated as a non-profit in the State of Illinois! We are still in our infancy, but like most infants, we have grown exponentially in a very short amount of time. While we’re nowhere near the size we’d like to grow up to be, nor are we walking without support yet, within the first year a solid foundation for our future growth has been laid. In honor of this milestone, I thought I’d make a list of all the things we’ve accomplished in our first year of operation with the help of our generous supporters.

  • We incorporated as a non-profit corporation in the State of Illinois and registered with the Charitable Trust Bureau.
  • We have built a solid Board of Directors made up of five spectacular individuals (Melissa, Des, Katie, Brandi, and me), and we are adding two more dedicated and passionate people next week (Kaitlin and Laura) to grow our board to seven directors!
  • We raised just over $8000 in the Big Hearts Fund kickstarter campaign to start our organization and fund the product development that will sustain our charitable foundation for years to come.
  • We organized and threw our first successful fundraiser on February 4th at the Bad Dog Tavern, just two days after the worst blizzard to hit Chicago in 35 years. And we still had a spectacular turnout, raising just over $5000 with over 20 local businesses donating goods and services to our silent auction.
  • We found an amazing attorney (hi Juli!) with a passionate interest in animal law who worked tirelessly with us on the lengthy and complex application for 501©(3) tax-exempt status with the IRS. We turned in the application Thanksgiving weekend 2010, and were awarded our 501©(3) status by the IRS in February 2011.
  • We developed two lines of new pet products – Heartbeat collars and leashes, and the Lucy bowl stands. The bowl stands took a year of development. They are finally here, and we couldn’t be happier about it! I feel a little weird even taking credit for this, because the bowl stands would not exist if it weren’t for the dedication and generosity of my good and talented friend Tim Haley. His expertise in the field of Industrial Design, persistence with manufacturers, and the steel will to keep pushing me forward with this project is really why the bowl stands are available to you today. If you want to thank anyone for this, please, thank him!.
  • We developed an application for financial aid for owners-in-need of financial assistance when their pets are suddenly and unexpectedly diagnosed with a heart condition, requiring treatment they can’t afford. Trust me – developing this application and deciding on qualifying criteria was not an easy process. We have begun distributing this application on a very small scale until it is fine-tuned enough to distribute nationally online… and until we have the man (and woman!) power to process an influx of applications. Oh – and the most important part: until we have raised enough money to be able to help anyone in a substantial way!
  • We passed a resolution to adopt a Veterinary Advisory Board, and elected Dr. Justin Allen, DVM, DACVIM (that’s fancy letters for “Doctor of Veterinary Medicine” and “Veterinary Cardiologist!”) as head of this board.
  • We designed and developed the website with the help of good friend Hilary Meurer, talented designer of Muffinman Studios, and my wonderful husband Chris Drackett, the best web developer I know. We also compiled extensive information for the Heart Disease: Information and Resources sections of the site to help owners understand their pet’s diagnosis, and learn how to care for their pet with special needs.

You know how they say “It takes a village to raise a child?” Well, in sticking with our metaphor, none of this would have been possible without the support of everyone reading this. Every friend. Every donor. Every family member. Every spouse and partner. Everyone who ever “liked” us on Facebook. But most of all, none of this would have been possible in the first place without our pets and the powerful connection we share with them. A connection so deep and so important that it has driven this organization all the way from its inception.

I can’t wait to see where we’ll be a year from now! I hope we will have plenty of stories about the numerous people and pets we’ve helped. Until then… here’s to another productive year!

4df91315dabe9d4be300778d open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[And So It Begins]]> Mon, 20 Jun 2011 12:35:00 +0000 This little girl’s name is Sammie. She is a 10-month old French Bulldog. And, she has been diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect consisting of four abnormalities that affect the heart’s ability to pump enough oxygenated blood to the body.

I received an e-mail from Sammie’s owner on Friday asking if we knew of any surgical interventions available for her, saying that he is “desperate to help her.” It broke my heart. But it also made me excited, because a) Sammie’s owner clearly cares a lot about her, b) he found The Big Hearts Fund online, and c) we can help. Dr. Allen forwarded a promising lead today of a cardiologist in the midwest who has performed several surgeries on Tetralogy of Fallot cases. I also urged Sammie’s owner to contact Colorado State University seeing as they are the only institution on the U.S. who readily offers open heart surgery for dogs and cats. I also encouraged him to contact some of the other great Veterinary Teaching Hospitals right here in the midwest.

Michael if you’re reading this – good luck to you and Sammie. She is very lucky to have you!

4dff8804dabe9d7804006855 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Introductions!]]> Thu, 30 Jun 2011 07:52:00 +0000 I’d like to introduce you to our two new board members, Kaitlin Bishop and Laura Youngberg!

A little background: this past Saturday, June 25th, was our annual meeting and board retreat. Highlights include kayaking on the Skokie Lagoons with Northwest Passage, taking part in a revitalizing vision and strategic planning session led by Corinne Pierog of Sustainable Leadership Solutions, and installing two lovely new board members. These past few days following the meeting have been very busy as we attempt to sort through our goals and objectives and assume responsibility for each one. Suffice it to say that we have a lot to accomplish in the next three months before the trade show, and it won’t be slowing down anytime soon!

Kaitlin has been working with us since September 2010. She came to BHF after having suffered the unexpected and devastating loss of one of her Argentinian Dogo pups, Opie, to an arrhythmia earlier in the year. Needless to say, Kaitlin is very dedicated to our mission and she has been an invaluable asset to us ever since she began working with us! She draws on many skills from the creative arena – she is a professional dancer, and participates not only in the creative performance aspect of her non-profit dance company, but is also involved with its business relations and event planning. In addition to helping us organize our very first fundraiser back in February, Kaitlin has also written a dynamite first grant proposal for BHF, which was sent to the Banfield Charitable Trust earlier this week. Kaitlin and her fiance Mike have two adorable Argentinian Dogos, Jax and Louie, whom they constantly shower with love and attention and refer to as “the boys.” Additionally, if you ask Kaitlin about her boys, she will enthusiastically tell you hilarious stories for hours-on-end!

Laura comes to us as a friend of Christy’s, hailing twelve years of experience working for non-profit organizations. She has participated in organizational development, financial oversight, staff management, communications creation and production, event and fundraiser planning, leadership training facilitation, and collaboration with organizational stakeholders in her various positions over the years. Needless to say, she is a huge asset to BHF as we “ramp up” for our second fiscal year. Laura and her husband Chris have two little boys, a four-year-old and a 6-month-old, and an 18-year-old kitty named Hippolyta, named by Chris in her youth for the energetic queen of the Amazons in Greek mythology. Now she is less a fierce warrior than an expert bed-sleeper! Laura’s 4-year-old son is also pushing his parents for a pair of twin rainbow kitties… we’ll see how soon his wish is granted!

Welcome Kaitlin and Laura – we are so glad to have you both on board. Already fiscal year 2012 is promising to be an exciting and busy one.

Here is a picture of Laura, Katie, Brandi, Melissa, and Des after kayaking: (not pictured: Christy and Kaitlin).

4e0bc58fdabe9d313c000bec open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Update on Sammie]]> Wed, 06 Jul 2011 14:47:00 +0000 Remember Sammie, the French Bulldog with Tetralogy of Fallot whose owner was looking for resources last month?

I received a very sad piece of news this morning. Sammie’s owner told me that she did not make it through her surgery.

To say that I am sad would be an understatement. I had such high hopes for this little girl – she was so lucky to have responsible, loving owners who did everything they could to help her, including reach out to us here at BHF and then invest in her surgery.

Perhaps the most uplifting thing that can be gleaned from all of this is that Sammie’s owner expressed a desire to stay involved with BHF and be of help to others going through the same thing. This is one of the reasons The Big Hearts Fund exists. It is a widely accepted notion that one of the best ways to overcome a devastating or traumatic event is to take action and help others who are in the same situation. I told Sammie’s owner that I hope he can find some comfort in knowing that he did everything he could possibly do to help her. She was very lucky to have him.

Not only is heart disease hard on the pets who have it, but it’s also really, really hard on their owners. Pets are family members and when they hurt, so do we. This is why our mission is so important – no one should have to go through this alone. Raising awareness about the prevalence and cost of canine and feline heart disease has the potential to make a huge difference in the lives of so many.

4e14bba0dabe9d5434000105 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[DOUBLE Friday Fun 5/27!]]> Thu, 07 Jul 2011 12:06:00 +0000 NOTE: The slow loris video that used to be posted here has been removed for a very good reason. Did you know that Slow Lorises are nocturnal animals, and that the one being “tickled” in the video is stunned by the light and not reacting out of a defense mechanism? In addition, the way that they become pets is pretty heartbreaking for any animal lover. (Read more here). I want to make it clear that we here at BHF certainly do not condone animal abuse of any kind. If you were offended by this video, I would like to extend my sincerest apology to you and I hope that you will forgive me for my ignorance in posting it.

That being said, please continue to enjoy the sleepy kitties!

Dreaming Kitten:

Love it!

4ddee2f9dabe9d4803000451 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Welcome!]]> Thu, 07 Jul 2011 12:17:00 +0000 I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of our new visitors and followers after the nice shout-out dooce gave us yesterday (thank you, Heather)! Thank you to everyone who has written to me, commented on posts, and/or ordered our products. We are so grateful for the overwhelmingly positive response – and we are doing our best to keep up with your e-mails and product orders. And by “we,” I pretty much mean “I,” since I personally handle all e-mails and product packing and shipping at the moment… we are a very small, very young business!

I told Lucy that I am shipping her face “all over the world!” with all of our new orders (surprise surprise, she’s on our product tags!). I thought you might enjoy her response:

Thank you everyone for your support – there is power in numbers! We will be able to do so much more for pets with heart disease because of your support.

4e15ea2bdabe9d70fb001d11 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Friday Fun 6/7: "I love cats!"]]> Fri, 08 Jul 2011 13:41:00 +0000 … “I love every kind of cat! I just want to hug them all…”

Who else can relate to this feeling!?

4e174fd0dabe9d40ca00345b open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[The Real Faces of Heart Disease: Coker's Story]]> Tue, 12 Jul 2011 10:34:00 +0000 In the past week, a really amazing thing has happened. Since The Big Hearts Fund was mentioned on last Wednesday, I have received e-mails from people all over the United States that want to connect with us because they have dogs or cats with heart disease. I would like to share some of their stories with you. Today we begin with Coker and his human sister Mary Clare.

The story goes something like this (you can also read the original version on Coker and Mary Clare’s mom’s blog, found here): Kerri and her two daughters were cruising along in their golf cart one day. The next thing they know, a furry wet bundle (Coker!) came running out of the woods and up to them, jumping into their cart. Kerri did everything she could to try to find the owner of this Golden Retriever mix puppy with a short tail, including calling the local Humane Society, calling every vet in the area, and calling all of the neighbors. When nobody claimed her and the girls became attached (Mary Clare called her ‘Fuzzy’), it became obvious that Coker was to be a part of their family, and they took her to the vet to make it official.

It is at this point that this story becomes miraculous. Mary Clare, Kerri’s younger daughter, was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome in utero and has had three open-heart surgeries in her short four years of life. So Kerri was already very familiar with cardiac terminology when the vet told her: “You have a special needs puppy here.” Kerri’s vet told her that Coker had a very loud murmur, indicative of a serious congenital heart defect. They took Coker to a specialist, and are currently setting aside money for her care and possible future surgery. In fact, on Mary Clare’s fourth birthday this past June, they asked for donations towards Coker’s future surgery.

Coker’s mom Kerri wrote to us with no clear idea of where to turn next. BHF was able to help Kerri find some resources in her area where she may be able to obtain an echocardiogram for Coker in order to determine a specific diagnosis. We hope that our resources and information pages will also be of use to them as they learn how to care for Coker, their special heart puppy. Even though Coker’s diagnosis and future are unclear right now, one thing is very, very clear: Coker (literally!) jumped right into the perfect family.

4e1c6991dabe9d3989000c1d open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Wanda and Cosmo]]> Mon, 18 Jul 2011 10:53:00 +0000 … are ready for their walk!

Sent by Anne Marie in Dallas, TX. Keep sending pictures everyone, we love them!

4e245806dabe9d62a4001e3a open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Back from BootCamp]]> Wed, 20 Jul 2011 12:51:00 +0000 “The only safe ship in the storm is leadership.” – Faye Wallerton, former CEO of Planned Parenthood.

Last week, I spent three intensive days in the New CEO BootCamp program at the Axelson Center for Non Profit Management. I came away with three major things, 1) a sore hand (from writing furiously for 8 – 12 hours straight each day! Can you have arthritis when you’re 30? Because I think I do), 2) 35 new best friends who are also new in their positions as Non Profit CEOs, and 3) a plethora of amazing resources!

What you cannot tell by reading this post in its current state is how many times I have started, deleted, and re-started everything past the second paragraph. Apparently there is not just one but several ways in which I could bore you with detailed information about what I learned! But who wants that? I could also bore you with my extensive “to-do” list and “90-Day Action Plan.” But who wants that, either? After hours of struggling with this, it finally came to me over a Subway sandwich (nothing like sustenance to inspire!) that I should do what I do best: I will write to you from my heart. DUH.

The overall reason I applied to the BootCamp program was because I need support. And the program offered that – not only in the practical knowledge gained from three intense days of panel presentations, but in the fact that I got to meet 35 other new CEOs. I realized that everyone has to learn what they’re doing. Everyone needs support, and everyone has challenges. Everyone has questions. Everyone has to learn how to be a leader (“Good leaders are made, not born.” – Drucker). A lot of people come to their position as a non-profit CEO from other professions and a variety of backgrounds. All organizations, no matter how large or how established, must constantly re-invent and re-evaluate themselves to grow with the changes in the world and to avoid being left behind. All of these organizations start just like BHF has started – with a founder and a “working board” learning how to navigate the white waters together – the white waters that never recede.

Over the course of three days and 27 hours, we heard from multiple panelists and presenters on 15 different subjects related to the business of running a non-profit. I was one of only two BootCamp participants in our class of 35 representing an animal-related organization. I was self-conscious that my other 33 CEO peers would think BHF’s mission was less important than their human social-service related missions and that we might feel unable to relate to each other. I was proven wildly wrong when several of my fellow classmates sought me out during our (very few, short!) breaks to talk about their pets, and how important that connection is to them. Being a non-profit CEO is a very stressful job, and the connection many of us have with our animals might be some of the only times in our lives we can feel some relief. Pets ground us. Also? One of the panel presenters, when it was my turn to speak my name, the name of my organization, and our mission statement, exclaimed: “Oh how wonderful! Let’s talk afterwards – my cat has a heart murmur.”

I hope that because I attended this program, you – our valuable and cherished supporters – will believe even more strongly in the potential of The Big Hearts Fund to make a huge difference in the lives of dogs and cats with heart disease. What BHF has gained in it’s first year of existence is truly a life of it’s own. We – supporters, donors, board members, and your humble executive director alike – are all just vehicles, called upon to nurture and feed our organization with good, wholesome knowledge (and a little bit of faith!) so that it can do what it was always meant to do: change lives.

4e26f657dabe9d56e000b5a5 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Come See Us at Wigglyville Saturdays in August!]]> Tue, 02 Aug 2011 14:09:00 +0000 Hey Chicago fans! Representatives from The Big Hearts Fund are going to be at Wigglyville Pet Boutique in boystown the first three Saturdays in August raising awareness for pets with heart disease and selling our products!

(click image to see store address and hours)

Wigglyville has also been so kind as to choose The Big Hearts Fund as their charitable partner for the Fromm charity for the month of August. This means, 6% of all sales of Fromm food at Wigglyville for the month of August will go to BHF! Spread the word – it’s never too late to start feeding your pet healthier food :)

4e384e35dabe9d433000c737 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Join Us for a Doggie Day of Play!]]> Thu, 04 Aug 2011 08:20:00 +0000 Support the Big Hearts Fund as we raise awareness and funds for canine and feline cardiac disease, while your pooch runs around with 30 furry friends, splashes in the pool, and goes home tired.

Enjoy yummy snacks (for owners too!), contests, prizes, and Big Hearts Fund merchandise!

When: Saturday, August 27, 2011
11:00am – 1:00pm

Where: Pet Care Plus – K9 Oasis
1328 W. Lake Street

The West Loop’s premiere boarding and daycare facility, offers over 1,500 sq. ft of play area as well as Chicago’s only in-ground doggie swimming pool!

Who: Dogs, Dog Lovers, & the Big Hearts Fund

How: $20 for 1 Dog Lover + 1 Pooch
$5 each additional Pooch
$15 for 1 Dog Lover only

Click here to view the official online invite and purchase your tickets!

4e3a9cb9dabe9d6888002dce open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[The Real Faces of Canine Heart Disease: Scout's Story]]> Mon, 22 Aug 2011 14:39:00 +0000 It wasn’t long after my first Golden Retriever succumbed to Cancer that I found myself rolling around in the grass with my oldest son and two adorable male Golden puppies. One was chunky and one was kind of thin and scrappy looking. I was drawn to the skinny one mainly because of his expressive face. As soon as we brought him home he easily settled in as if he had always lived with us. I have two sons who were 6 and 9 years old at the time and they were thrilled to have a puppy in the house. We decided to name him Scout.

Scout, 8 week old. Just look at that cute little face!

Scout, playing in the backyard.

Scout was not an easy dog to train. I thought he would never get house trained. I would take him outside on regular intervals and it seemed he would hold it until he got back inside and then find his favorite spot on our stairs to do his business. After he received all of his vaccinations I decided to take him on walks on our local trails and parks. On some of walks I noticed that he would just sit down and refuse to move. I thought this was just part of his stubborn nature and never imagined he could have something wrong with him. Then one day I was walking him and he seemed to have a type of small seizure. This happened while he was pulling on his leash to go and meet other dogs. It looked like he just lost his breath from being too excited. I told this to my vet (at the time) but they didn’t seem to think that there was any problem. However, he was diagnosed with Red Mange and put on some very strong medicine. His coat was not fluffy like most Golden’s. It was coarse and wiry so I began to bathe and groom him frequently until his coat began to get luxurious and soft.

In the meantime I was trying to find another vet. I had been going to the same clinic for years but noticed that as soon as I would get attached to one of the vets they would leave. I wanted to find a place where the vet owned the clinic and they would always be there for my dog. After a disappointing visit to a new vet, I was starting to lose hope, when I found Dr. Brooks at Town Center Animal Hospital. I needed to get Scout neutered and we made our first appointment to visit Dr. Brooks. During our first exam Dr. Brooks sat on the floor with Scout and listened to his heart through a stethoscope. He listened and kept listening for a long time. He said, “Has anyone ever told you that your dog has a severe heart murmur?” I told him no one had brought this to my attention as a serious problem. He told me from what he could hear it was a very pronounced murmur and he let me know that he probably wouldn’t be able to undergo surgery. He sent me to the Veterinary Referral Clinic where Scout met his Cardiologist Dr. Forney. He underwent an EKG, X-ray and some other tests. The tests came back positive for sub-aortic stenosis. As Dr. Forney explained this condition to me I began to cry. I couldn’t believe my sweet young dog had such a devastating disease. We were informed that surgery was not an option because of the severity of his heart defect. He told us that surgery and medication had the same results for life expectancy. He said that the walls of Scout’s heart would get thicker and leave no room in the chambers to pump blood. Dogs with this condition could also drop dead without any warning. It was a frightening diagnosis.

Flash forward to 2 1/2 years later. Scout is on Atenolol 25 mg. (he is given 1/2 pill in the AM and the other 1/2 in the PM). It seems to be helping him. He sleeps during the day and he sleeps hard. Many times I have gone over to him to make sure he is still breathing. I never take him outside during the day in the summer (we live in the desert where it gets very hot). I take him on a short 1/2 mile walk every morning and we go at his pace. He seems to be slowing down a little but he also gets bursts of energy where he wants to play with his toys for a few minutes each day.

Scout, 3 1/2 years old.

We take life one day at a time and try not to think about the inevitable. Scout is loved, pampered and a cherished member of our family and we are lucky to have him. Every day that he is here with us, is a great day.

This story was written by Scout’s owner. The Big Hearts Fund helps dogs just like Scout, and owners just like the wonderful one who submitted this story. If you have a pet with heart disease and you would like to write your story, please submit it! Your pet’s story will help others who are struggling to understand and cope with canine and feline heart disease. Words have incredible power to inspire and heal!

Likewise, if you would like to donate to help dogs like Scout, please do so here.]]>
4e52b08bdabe9d08a200a837 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[The Real Faces of Heart Disease: Opie's Story]]> Tue, 30 Aug 2011 12:24:00 +0000 The following true story was (beautifully) written by Kaitlin, a cherished member of The Big Hearts Fund’s board of directors.

Opie……oh boy.

I should start at the beginning.

Jax & Opie came to us in December of 2009. It was destiny, really. Michael, my then boyfriend now fiancé, had been randomly commenting on wanting a dog, and I, playing devil’s advocate, would remind him of the time and responsibility. After a few months, Mike’s sister Vicki, a dog owner herself, took matters into her own hands, picked a breed she thought would fit Mike’s lifestyle, found a breeder, contacted said breeder, and sent pictures of the two remaining puppies in the most recent litter. Not wanting to make the final puppy feel bad about himself, Mike told his sister to get both of them. Vicki then took it upon herself to travel to Southern Illinois and bring the two pups home.

No meeting. No research or questionnaire or interview with the breeder. No selection based on the disposition of the parents, the lineage of the puppies, or selection based on physical attributes. Just purely first come first serve, or in our case, last come, last serve.

It was love at first sight.

The names, Jax & Opie, came after attempts at other dynamic duos: Bo & Luke, Bert & Ernie, Milo & Otis until finally, Mike had a flash of inspiration from his favorite show: Sons of Anarchy. Jax- the show’s rebellious protagonist, and his faithful best friend, Opie.

Jax, the runt of the litter, has always been very smart. The first to learn everything, Jax was house trained in 2 weeks, but when gently scolded by Michael, would run behind the couch and pee, earning himself the nickname: The Pee Monster. He was also very stubborn with Michael (another nickname: The Little Punk); there were many staring contests between those two in the early days. We actually thought he may have a hearing problem, but then realized he was just ignoring us.

On the other hand, Opie’s goal in life was to make us happy. It actually did not matter who you were, he just wanted to please you. One of my dearest memories with Opie is one night, while home alone and upset over a very bad week, I was sitting with them on the floor, crying. Opie walked up to me and licked my entire face until my tears stopped, stood in front of my face to make sure I was done, and then laid down on my legs. My terrible week disappeared, and all that was left was this big white puppy with an even bigger heart that loved me.

Opie was more obedient, but even in the very early days, we could see him watching Jax to learn new skills. Jax learned how to shake and high five. Opie learned by watching Jax. Jax learned how to fetch. Opie learned by following Jax. It was hard to tell who guarded whom, who looked out for whom, and who needed whom more. It was obvious Jax cared much more about Opie than he did about us, while Opie was happy to love on everyone. They were inseparable. In Puppy class, we would sit them across the room from each other, and they would whine and talk to each other the entire time. If one went outside to go to the bathroom, the other would whine until he came back. Rather embarrassing.

5 months flew by of raising new puppies, times two. Life was never boring. Ever. Exhausting, but never boring.

April 24, 2010. A sunny, cool, spring morning. The day started out like any other. Of course, the boys woke me up early on a Saturday, and the only thing on their agenda was roughhousing in the backyard. We’d just installed a new deck that allowed them more play room, and they took advantage immediately. Battling it out over a rawhide, Jax eventually grew bored and walked away while Opie laid down in the sun.

Michael was out of bed and had joined me on the deck. Commenting on how glad he was with the new backyard, we both looked at Opie. Michael started his sentence with, “Just look how much Opie likes laying out……..”

I don’t know why we both looked at his stomach. I don’t know how we came to the exact same conclusion at the exact same moment. It was that experience of time slowing down because you’re waiting for the moment to break, and the longer it doesn’t, the more your stomach drops.

Michael was the first to say it, “Kate, he’s not breathing…”

The moment broke and then time moved even slower and in perfect clarity. We both ran down to him, thinking he’d swallowed something or perhaps choked on a piece of rawhide, we opened his mouth and saw nothing. Knowing we needed to get him somewhere immediately, I ran upstairs to call Pet Emergency, and just as I reached the phone, Mike yelled that his hands were too big and he couldn’t reach whatever Opie may have swallowed. So I ran down and told Mike to run in and call Pet Emergency. For the first time, I sat next to him, and I saw him. His eyes were open, but blank and unfocused, and his face and lips were still a cute puppy pink. Reaching into his mouth, I felt nothing. Mike yelled down to me that he couldn’t find the number, and I knew we were taking too long. Everything was taking too long. So I yelled for us to take Opie to our own vet, only 4 blocks away. Mike ran down, pushed Jax into the house, and lifted Opie, 80 lbs, at 6 months old, into the truck. I jumped in the back to hold him steady and do mouth to mouth. I wrapped my arms around him. That’s when I felt it.


You never really think about what a heartbeat feels like until it’s not there anymore.

All the months I’d held Opie when he was a tiny puppy and carried him down the stairs. All the months I’d snuggled with him. All the months he still sat on my lap even though he was twice my size. All the moments of feeling and being comforted by, yet totally unconscious of: his steady heartbeat. Gone.

Mike was driving like a lunatic. Although I never took my eyes off Opie, I’m pretty certain Mike ran every stop sign and light in the 4 blocks to the vet’s office. Hearing a horn honk and a guy yelling, we whipped into the parking lot of the office, and a car immediately pulled up behind us with a very angry man in scrubs jumping out to yell at us. It was our Dr. Anger turned to realization, and with no hesitation, he scooped Opie out of the truck and into the office. We walked around to the front entrance, Mike in his bathrobe, no other clothes and no shoes, and walked into the waiting area, hearing loud voices coming from behind the door. We sat. And waited. And waited. Michael kept talking, panicked. I have no idea what he was saying, but I remember being annoyed at how immediately he assumed the worst. I rubbed his back, comforting myself in the fact that we’d gotten Opie here so quickly, and he was going to be ok, because the vet was going to save him. I was absolutely certain. One of the vet techs came out and took us into one of the private rooms to keep waiting, and still, I was expecting the good news. The Doc came in, “Guys I’m so sorry…………..’

It took my brain a second to realize what he was saying and what that actually meant. Opie was gone. I vaguely registered a few words, “no pulse…cpr….intravenous whatnot….full examination….necropsy…find out what happened….” Mike cried. I’d never seen him cry before. I was still quiet. Still rubbing Mike’s back. Attempting to pull us together, Mike asked what the next step was, and the Doc pointed out the obvious, “Well, you should go home and get dressed. Take your time. And sometime this afternoon, you can come back over and we’ll go over what to do next.”

He led us through the back, past Opie on the examining table. I remember the vet techs all standing around him, looking at us with sad, pathetic faces. We said our Goodbyes. I hugged him, kissed the side of his soft head, and whispered that I loved him in his ear. I could feel everyone watching me, so I pulled myself away from him years before I wanted to let go, and we walked out to our truck, still open with the key in the ignition. And we sat and cried.

I don’t remember the drive home. I don’t remember getting out of the truck, but I do remember Jax staring at us from up on the deck, where we’d left the door open. His tail wagging, but his forehead crinkled in concern. I could sense his confusion. First that Opie wasn’t there and then why we were just staring at him, crying. I looked at the clock. It had been 15 minutes since I’d first gone outside to watch the dogs play.

A lifetime had gone by in just 15 minutes.

We sat there for a good while. Jax, just kept looking at us, slowly piecing together what was going on. The day was a blur. We called some family. Some friends came over. Eventually, we took Jax with us and walked back to the vet. On the way there a cute girl crossed our path and commented on how pretty Jax was…and mentioned there were twin dogos that lived in the neighborhood that looked like him…..”Well that was us, but one of our pups died this morning..” It was so weird to say, and we felt bad for how awful the cute girl felt, but what do you do?

I don’t remember the rest of the visit. Only that Jax was very agitated and whiny. They were doing a full exam of Opie and were sending his heart to a lab for a necropsy. He hadn’t choked. There was no apparent evidence of anything.

The days and weeks that followed are also blurry. Jax mourned for a few weeks. Whining at nothing. Laying in the spots that were exclusively Opie’s. Sleeping on the bed with us (our strict rule of “No Dogs on the Bed” went out the window that first night Opie was gone). The vet called on a weekly basis for the first month regarding the lab results, the necropsy, sometimes just a chat to see how we were doing.

There were no apparent abnormalities with Opie’s heart. He’d had a murmur, but with the frequency of murmurs in puppies and the fact that he was still just 6 months old, there was not yet cause for alarm. The previous week, the boys had been neutered, and while the vet had a difficult time keeping both under with maximum anesthesia, both boys had been fine while home recovering all week. The only conclusion our veterinarian could come to was that Opie had an arrhythmic episode: an irregular heartbeat due to an irregular electrical impulse, causing his heart to stop. He felt dizzy, and laid down. The only possibility in saving Opie’s life would have been a defibrillator, an expensive and uncommon piece of equipment in any veterinary office. If his life had been saved that day, it would only have been a matter of time before he had another episode. A pacemaker would have been necessary – another rare and expensive piece of equipment for animals.

As sad as the following weeks and months were, all was not total sadness. In our loss of Opie, we experienced an outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and strangers that I will never forget. Our dog trainer, Brandi Barker, was an incredibly generous source of guidance and support. Each staff member of Stay Dog Hotel went out of his way to offer condolences and a hug, and take extra care of Jax, and they continue to take care of our dogs on a nearly daily basis.

After a month, an entirely new Jax emerged. Without his brother to take care of, he started taking care of us. A once stubborn and aloof puppy became emotive, engaging, and goofy. 5 months later, we welcomed a new puppy, Louie, into our lives. Louie also had a murmur, but we received good news when he was six months old that the murmur was gone, and at every check up, we wait to hear our favorite words “Great heart beat.”

Life will never be exactly as it was. There are things that will forever stay with me. Whenever I see either dog lying on his side, my eyes immediately drift to his stomach to make sure he’s breathing. Every time I snuggle or simply touch, I feel for their heartbeats, crisp and steady. Those little moments that I took so for granted are now an integral part of every day I share with them.

Heartbreaking as that day still is in my mind, there is comfort in several random occurrences. Mike was supposed to be out of town that weekend. Instead of spending our last night together as a family, I would have been calling him for a very sad two-hour drive home, and I know for a fact that I would not have been able to get Opie to the vet on my own. I also really shouldn’t have been there. I was running late for a pilates session. Mike would have handled the situation similarly to how we did, but I’m grateful neither of us had to go through that alone. I’m also grateful we were home and were able to do anything at all. I cannot imagine the horror of coming home to Opie in his crate, gone, or perhaps the dog walker coming and discovering him. Most comforting of all, Opie was not sick. He was not hit by a car. We didn’t watch him suffer and lose his quality of life before making a difficult decision. He was playing in the yard with his brother and got tired. So he laid down in the warm sunshine and went to sleep.

People lose their pets all the time. It is a part of life, and any time anyone brings a new animal into his life, it is with the understanding that it is fairly certain that the owner will outlive his pet. But as with everyone’s own pet, especially dogs, each comes to represent so much more than a mere companion. Opie was so much more than a dog. He was our first family. Jax & Opie brought us into a wonderful and vibrant community of dogs and dog lovers, and introduced us to parts of Chicago we would never otherwise know. They taught us what patience truly is, and what unconditional love actually looks like. Opie (and Jax) represents the turning point when Mike went from being the guy I was dating to the man I would spend my life with. He was in our lives for a mere five months, but he changed our course forever, and I will be forever grateful. It has been a year and a half since we said goodbye, but the house has always seemed a bit empty without that 80 lbs of love running around, knocking us over.

4e5d1cc2dabe9d6e0e000a50 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[New to our Store: Kumfy Koatz Heating/Cooling Harnesses!]]> Thu, 01 Sep 2011 15:10:00 +0000 Proudly announcing the arrival of Kumfy Koatz Harnesses to the Big Hearts Fund’s online store!

It was just a few weeks ago that I first met Gail, inventor of Kumfy Koatz harnesses. Kumfy Koatz harnesses employ heating/cooling gel pack technology into a comfortable neoprene harness that keeps dogs warm in winter (if you microwave the non-toxic gel pack insert) and cool in summer (when you freeze the non-toxic gel pack insert). Kumfy Koatz harnesses interested me for one main reason: their obvious applicability to dogs with heart disease because of their ability to increase comfort and quality of life. As evidenced by the picture, Lucy loves hers! Notice: she is not panting, despite the fact that it is 94º in Chicago today.

Dogs with heart disease have a very difficult time regulating their core temperature, especially in hot weather. The Kumfy Koatz harness is a wonderful solution for these special needs animals. Cooling technology helps dogs avoid overheating and over stressing their cardiovascular system, which can in turn prevent fainting episodes and fatigue.

If you purchase Kumfy Koatz harnesses from BHF’s store, 50% of the price you pay goes to support our charity. Thus, you can help your dog with heart disease AND support other pets with heart disease, all in one fell swoop!

If you are interested in learning more about the Kumfy Koatz harnesses, I invite you to also visit their product website.

4e5fe69bdabe9d224a008653 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Announcing Our Partnership with Investing In Communities (IIC)]]> Fri, 16 Sep 2011 14:56:00 +0000 We’re excited to announce our partnership with Investing In Communities! Thanks to this partnership, you can now generate funding for The Big Hearts Fund at no personal cost through real estate transactions.

Founded in 2008, Investing In Communities is a nonprofit web platform that connects individuals and businesses with socially responsible real estate professionals.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You need real estate services.
  2. Use to find a real estate professional or invite a professional to participate.
  3. You and the professional agree that at least 10% of the professional’s commission from this transaction will be donated through IIC to the nonprofit of your choice (obviously, BHF! *wink wink).
  4. The deal closes, BHF gets funding, and it doesn’t cost you a dime!

Investing In Communities’ debut distribution was in May 2010. As of July 2011, IIC has enabled nonprofit supporters to generate over $100,000 for 32 nonprofits at no personal cost.

By giving your business to a socially responsible real estate professional, you can support The Big Hearts Fund at no personal cost. To participate or for more information, please visit

4e73ab86dabe9d67750050ce open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[New Friends]]> Mon, 03 Oct 2011 15:55:00 +0000 We thought you might enjoy seeing our two new friends, purchased for use in our trade show booth. The show is coming up! October 14 – 16 at the Stephens convention center in Rosemont, IL. We will be debuting the Lucy Bowls – wish us luck!

Lucy sniffing Einstein the Lab.

Sophie the Cavalier practicing modeling the Lucy bowls!

4e8a213edabe9d28b0009f6c open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[All Packed!]]> Wed, 12 Oct 2011 10:51:00 +0000 Get Ready HH Backer show… here comes The Big Hearts Fund!

4e95b79edabe9d16fc007e22 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[So, How Did the Trade Show Go?!]]> Wed, 19 Oct 2011 15:39:00 +0000 I am very glad to report that The Big Hearts Fund’s Debut at the H.H. Backer Pet Products Christmas Trade Show this past weekend was a huge success and major milestone for our organization! We saw some old friends, and met many new ones. I am proud to announce that Paws & Claws in South Carolina will now be carrying the Lucy Bowl Stands, as well as our loyal friends at Wigglyville here in Chicago.

In my opinion, one of the most exciting things that happened this weekend was meeting the Founder and President of The Dog and Cat Cancer Fund (DCC Fund). The DCC Fund has been providing small-scale grants to cover the cost of cancer care for pets whose owners cannot afford the expensive treatment. Sound familiar? It was great to establish the connection, and see the obvious ways in which we overlap and can be of help and support to one another. But most of all, it gave me hope for the future of BHF. The DCC Fund has been in operation since 2007, and has funded nearly 100 pets!

For your enjoyment, here are some pictures of the trade show. Unfortunately, attendees were prohibited from taking pictures of anything outside their own booths. Oh, how I wish you could have witnessed as many dogs-in-strollers, grooming competitions, and best-dressed-pet competitions as I did! I am sorry to say that you will just have to use your imaginations to conjure up those stunning visuals!

The setup sequence, featuring our talented design partner Tim with Tangible, Inc. and Kristina:

The display at the opening Friday morning, 10/14:

Me in the booth on Friday:

Our Board Secretary Des, and One Happy Lucy on Saturday:

Des and Lucy ready for a nap (8 hour days of non-stop talking is exhausting, even for yours truly!)

Board Chairman and Treasurer Katie, Me, Board Vice President Melissa, and Director Laura in the booth on Sunday before tear-down.

And luckily, there are no pictures of the tear-down because that was relative bedlam. But I am happy to say we all made it out unscathed!

Once again, a great big “Thank You!” to all of our generous friends who helped us get to the trade show this past weekend (you know who you are!). We could not have done this without you!!! We are well on our way to making a huge difference in many lives. Stay tuned for more exciting updates on that front coming very soon!

4e9f3597dabe9d27eb003948 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Big Hearts Spoooooky Halloween!]]> Mon, 31 Oct 2011 12:46:00 +0000 Happy Halloween everybody! And, a great big thanks to everyone who came out to our Halloween Party yesterday. A special thanks goes out to Stay, A Modern Dog Hotel for donating their space, and to Emily Stoddard and her dogs Baily, The Dude, and Kayla, of Canine Sports Agility for performing agility demos at our event. Thank you from the bottom of our great Big Hearts!

Here are a couple of my favorite pictures. To see more, click any of the pics to view the whole Facebook album.

4eaedef2dabe9d38fd004fde open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Dogs Deserve It + BHF = Pretty Great!]]> Wed, 09 Nov 2011 16:30:00 +0000 We are pleased to announce a new exciting partnership for BHF with Dogs Deserve It, Chicago’s premier pet care service!

DDI has graciously offered to donate 5% of the sales it makes in the first three months from client referrals from BHF! This means, if you love BHF and you need dog walking, pet taxi, or pet sitting services in Chicago, sign up for a three month contract with Dogs Deserve It! And, tell them BHF sent you, because then we will get 5% of all revenue you generate for DDI! How awesome is that?

You may be wondering what is so special about Dogs Deserve It as opposed to other pet care services. We think they’re pretty great for all of these reasons (and then some):

  • All of DDI’s dog walkers wear pedometers so that you can see how far your dog has been walked every day. (i.e., You can rest assured that your dog was actually walked the decent distance, and not just a once-around-the-block!)
  • All of DDI’s dog walkers have extensive training in leash walking etiquette, which is of course force-free. At the owner’s request, they will work with your dog to achieve good leash walking behavior, sometimes using special leads, harnesses or collars as training aids.
  • They also provide a “daily adventure calendar” and “daily manners evaluation” for you to review when you get home!

We here at BHF think that our mission aligns with DDI’s in some very important ways, specifically that we both believe that dogs deserve and have a right to the best care possible, be that physical or emotional. Our companion animals deserve to be treated with respect and dignity!

4ebaff22dabe9d09b50028a9 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Wholehearted Wellness Jam 2012!]]> Wed, 11 Jan 2012 12:00:00 +0000 You may have noticed lately, some interesting activity on The Big Hearts Fund Facebook page. Well, now that The Big Hearts Fund Financial Aid Program has been unveiled, we need to work harder than ever before to continue our fundraising and growth efforts in order to reach out and offer assistance to as many Chicago families as we can. To that end, The Big Hearts Fund and The Dance COLEctive, in a mutual desire to promote family wellness, are proud to announce our first joint fundraiser, “Wholehearted Wellness Jam 2012: ZUMBATHON®,” Thursday, February 23, 5:30–8:30 p.m. at Grossinger City Autoplex, 1530 N. Dayton, Chicago. Registration information can be found here.

This two-hour ZUMBATHON—four 30-minute sessions—also features local health- and fitness-focused businesses offering complimentary services and products geared toward the health of animals and people alike. The evening includes refreshments, a silent auction, and the first 50 guests pre-registered by February 14 receive a special goodie bag.

For those of you asking yourselves how a local charity for dogs and cats came to work with a local modern dance company, the answer is: Me. Kaitlin Bishop. Board Member of BHF and Dancer for TDC. This awesome event features my two life passions: Dogs and Dance, although my dear loves Jax & Louie will be staying home for this party. They don’t need to worry though, there will be plenty of doggie (and kittie) goodies for me to bring home for them from the Silent Auction. This event also provides an opportunity for TDC’s friends, family, & audiences to meet the many members of the BHF community and vice versa. Some of you might leave this event with a newly discovered love and appreciation for modern dance, and we, at BHF, hope to make many new friends through this joint venture as well, especially now that BHF’s Financial Aid Program has been unveiled. This is an amazing opportunity to reach out and help even more people than we ever thought possible.

As you already know BHF’s young history, I’d like to introduce you to: The Dance COLEctive.
Formed in March 1996, The Dance COLEctive aspires to challenge assumptions about how dance is presented, through the use of cutting-edge choreography, innovative collaborations and inspired creative site-specific works. TDC’s vision is to become one of Chicago’s premier dance ensembles, recognized for its compelling, socially relevant and inspiring choreography. In fulfilling its mission and vision, TDC embraces collaboration as a core element of its creative process; values the athleticism, grace, power and strength of its dancers; and nurtures and promotes the creativity of emerging artists.

We hope you all can join us for what is sure to be an awesome evening of healthy snacks, prizes, massages, and ZUMBA. Don’t worry, for those of you who have never ZUMBA’d before, neither have I! ZUMBA is certainly not a requirement either, however there IS a special prize to the participant who raises the most pledges for the ZUMBATHON. You are more than welcome to peruse the many complimentary services available to you at this event, as well as keeping a close eye on your favorite silent auction items. Trader Joe’s, PEELD, and KIND have all contributed refreshments and snacks, and if that sounds boring, there MAY be some gift certificates available for various bakeries and our favorite cupcake shops in the city!

This is going to be an event to remember! Don’t miss out!!!!

4f0dd03edabe9d4514003e7e open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Is Canine Open Heart Surgery Becoming More Available?]]> Thu, 19 Jan 2012 12:00:00 +0000 East Lansing, MI—Michigan State University – College of Veterinary Medicine cardiac surgeon, Dr. Augusta Pelosi, and her team of veterinary and human health professionals performed the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s (VTH) first open-heart surgery on a 1 ½ year-old Australian Shepherd named Leo in mid-October.


4f1867e8dabe9d6d34011150 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Gearing up for V-Day!]]> Mon, 13 Feb 2012 11:00:00 +0000 Have you thought about why YOUR pet is the best Valentine ever? Do you have a cute picture of him or her? Then what are you waiting for!

Please, SEND THEM TO ME! They will be posted on our blog tomorrow and the best reason/cutest picture wins a free BHF t-shirt!

4f394f35dabe9d32b8010616 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Big Hearts Valentine's Day!!!]]> Tue, 14 Feb 2012 14:00:00 +0000 The illustrious Lulu, who’s sweetness and sensitivity make her the Best Valentine:

The magnificent Charlie, who’s cuddles make him the Best Valentine :

The suave and debonair Jax + Louie who’s stinky kisses make them the Best Valentines:

and lastly… lovable Lucy, who is the Best Valentine because she is excited that she is becoming the Big Sister to a little baby girl, due June 30!

(Incidentally, Lulu is also becoming a Big Sister to a baby girl this May!) So many things to love today. <3 Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at BHF!

4f3ac1abdabe9d776801601f open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[A Little Friday Fun!]]> Fri, 17 Feb 2012 12:00:00 +0000 A cat is barking out the window and when caught by a human being promptly resumes meowing. Classic!

4f3ea113dabe9d24680001e8 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Last Day to Pre-Register!]]> Wed, 22 Feb 2012 09:00:00 +0000

… for our biggest fundraiser of the year: the Wholehearted Wellness Jam: ZUMBATHON 2012 hosted in conjunction with our friends at local non-profit modern dance company The Dance COLEctive.

The event is TOMORROW at the Grossinger Autoplex (1530 N. Dayton, just south of North Ave. near the North & Clybourn intersection) from 5:30 – 8:30 pm! Register HERE. Come join us for a fun time dancing ZUMBA (if you so choose!), taking advantage of the free health services being offered at the event (massages, healthy snacks, nutritional consultations, etc.) and bidding on some fabulous auction items, many of which will benefit our furry best friends (read: Blum Veterinary Hospital, Stay: Modern Dog Hotel, Urban Retreat, and many more)!

Don’t miss out on this awesome event and the opportunity to show your support for dogs and cats with heart disease – they need our help.

4f450742dabe9d2227003cd7 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Cat Saves Woman's Life]]> Thu, 23 Feb 2012 10:00:00 +0000 Amazing, uplifting story! Yet another piece of evidence to validate just how important our pets lives really are.

4f467002dabe9d718c002576 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[ZUMBA-tastic!]]> Fri, 24 Feb 2012 16:00:00 +0000 A great big T.H.A.N.K.S.! to all who came out last night to the Wholehearted Wellness Jam: ZUMBATHON 2012! We had a good turnout despite the weather (apparently, all we have to do to beckon a snow storm is plan an event…) and yes, even I braved the dance floor. It was a sight to see, and it may not ever happen again. But ladies and gentlemen… ZUMBA is contagious. I dare you to resist it’s power! There may be pictures forthcoming… but our excellent event photographer Amy Hahn is finishing the images first. It will be a couple of days. If you didn’t make it out last night, you may have another chance next year!

BHF would like also to thank Grossinger Autoplex for donating their beautiful space to us! And, another GREAT BIG thanks to the amazing planning committee for this event: The Dance COLEctive board members Mishra Keller and Tiffany Leefers, artistic director Margi Cole, and Kaitlin Bishop, who is the primary link between our two organizations. It was fun to partner with you ladies and I sincerely hope it happens again!

And now, back to work putting the funds we raised to good use… raising MORE awareness for dogs and cats with heart disease and developing our financial assistance program (which, incase you missed it, has launched! You may NOW APPLY FOR AID ONLINE!)

More later. We’re longing for a walk in the snow. Can’t ignore that much longer!

4f481514dabe9d2984003f3f open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[New study about Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy funded by Winn Feline Foundation]]> Thu, 05 Apr 2012 12:00:00 +0000 We are excited to hear about a new study being funded by the Winn Feline Foundation: The Ricky Fund Project. The study will address a new way to treat and hopefully prevent the development of deadly blood clots in cats with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.

Thank you, Winn Feline Foundation… just more evidence that feline heart disease is an all-too-common occurrence that deserves our attention.

4f7dd1dcdabe9d0d9401414c open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Free Dog Heart Health Screenings]]> Wed, 25 Apr 2012 10:55:00 +0000 Attention those with Big Hearts in the Pittsburgh and DC areas! There are free dog heart screenings taking place today and tomorrow (April 25th in Pittsburgh, PA and April 26th in Hyattsville, MD)!

Veterinary cardiologists with the Chesapeake Veterinary Cardiology Associates will be providing free heart screenings in a sound-proof medical unit in Hyattsville at Heurich Park, and Veterinary Cardiologists from the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center will be providing the screenings at Heartwood Acres. They will also be available to answer your questions about canine heart disease, and how to best care for your pet. What a wonderful resource!

4f9823b2dabe9d075a00b99a open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Heartworm Prevalence Map]]> Wed, 02 May 2012 10:00:00 +0000 Curious about how prevalent Heartworm is in your area? Check out this map from the Companion Animal Parasite Counsel. And remember to give your pets preventative meds monthly!

4fa15808dabe9d4991000045 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Dog's Heart Disease Worries Owner]]> Thu, 03 May 2012 12:35:00 +0000 While browsing the internet this morning, we came across this thoughtfully written article. To sum it up, the concerned owner of an 8-year-old chihuahua/pomeranian mix who was recently diagnosed with degenerative valvular disease (a very common diagnosis in small and toy breeds) wanted to make sure the medications her dog was prescribed would not be harmful to him… a common concern for owners new to the world of canine heart disease.

We would also like to point out that concerned owners can read about commonly prescribed medications for canine and feline heart disease right here on The Big Hearts Fund’s website: Resources:Medications Overview. Concerned owners can also educate themselves and learn more about their dog or cat’s diagnosis in our extensive Heart Disease:Information section!

Dr. Fox advises the concerned owner: “With careful monitoring, blood tests and general checkups, your dog should enjoy a good quality of life with minimal, if any, harmful side effects from these medications.”

Read the original article on

4fa2c1fcdabe9d7d2a004b0b open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Bark In The Park]]> Mon, 07 May 2012 16:00:00 +0000 Oh, Monday… this is how we feel at the office today after all the fun we had at The Anti Cruelty Society’s annual Bark In The Park event this past Saturday:

A big thanks to everyone who came out to support Anti-Cruelty, and to those who stopped by the BHF table. We made lots of new friends, including this sweet 13-year-old terrier mix Nelson, who’s human Mom told us that he has a heart condition:

With the prevalence of canine heart disease, we were not in the least bit surprised to meet at least one canine friend with a cardiac condition. While the numbers for this year have not yet been published, last year’s attendance at the Bark In The Park event was estimated to be at about 5,000 participants. If we assume that 2/3rds of those people had dogs in tow, that would be about 3,300 dogs present last year. Given that 20 – 40% of all dogs are diagnosed with some form of valvular dysfunction at some point in their lives (either congenital or acquired with age), at the low end considering last year’s numbers, it can be assumed that about 660 of the dogs at the event probably had some kind of heart dysfunction.

That is why, even if your dog doesn’t have heart disease, you should care. It sure does affect a lot of animals and the people who love them.

(This is perhaps my favorite picture of the day, of BHF Secretary Des, and his new Weim friend, Blue)

If you didn’t make it out last Saturday due to the weather or something else, we encourage you to attend next year! We plan to be there again. Even in the foggy, chilly weather it was a complete blast!

4fa837dcdabe9d06160117aa open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[New tool for measuring quality of life in cats with heart disease found reliable]]> Thu, 10 May 2012 11:00:00 +0000 I came across an interesting research abstract published by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) this morning (well, at least it was interesting to me!) and thought our readers might be interested in hearing about this.

A questionnaire called the CATCH (Cats’ Assessment Tool for Cardiac Health) was developed by a number of veterinarians apparently interested in making it easier and more accessible for other vets and owners of cats with heart disease to evaluate the cats’ quality of life. A noble cause indeed, especially if one considers what generally happens when asking a cat to “please describe to the nice doctor how you’re feeling.”

This might be the hardest thing about veterinary medicine – there can be a lot of guesswork involved. Especially with cats. As anyone who has ever lived with a cat knows, they are masters of deception. Once, when my cat Sgt. Pepper (very devious!) had been walking around my house with a mystery limp, the minute I took her to the vet to have it checked out, the limp magically disappeared. Pepper showed no signs of discomfort as my vet moved her foot and leg around in various positions. We concluded that we would do nothing, and wait to see if the limp came back or disappeared. It eventually went away, and we concluded that she must have pulled a muscle or something. My vet actually said out loud: “Cats can be so frustrating.”

Cats with heart disease are generally no different than Pepper with her limp. They hide their discomfort. That is why, when I read the conclusion of this research: “Results suggested that the CATCH questionnaire is a valid and reliable method for assessing health-related quality of life in cats with cardiac disease. Further research is warranted to test the tool’s sensitivity to changes in medical treatment and its potential role as a clinical and research tool.” I became excited. And I thought, what a step in the right direction!

Here is a link to the research abstract.

4fabe8ccdabe9d69ac003b1e open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Hungry Hearts, Feed the Arts]]> Tue, 15 May 2012 15:20:00 +0000 Mark your calendars! On Wednesday, May 23rd, if you dine in or order carryout from Pizzeria Serio and mention The Big Hearts Fund or the Dance COLEctive, 25% of your bill will be donated to us!

I can personally vouch for the deliciousness of this pizza. And, it’s such an easy way to support your favorite cause.

4fb2ba9adabe9d3b60005422 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Conversations with Owners: Kinds of Support]]> Tue, 29 May 2012 15:00:00 +0000 As The Big Hearts Fund continues to grow, we are constantly asking ourselves the question: are we serving the population we want to be serving (pets, and owners of pets with heart disease)? And, how can we do this better?

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about all of the different kinds of support there are. There’s financial support, which we are embarking on through our newly launched financial assistance program. We support owners intellectually by empowering them with knowledge about canine and feline heart disease so that they might know what questions to ask their veterinarians. We also seek to empower owners through connecting them with resources – resources for how to care for a sick pet with heart disease, how to find treatment, and where else they might look to obtain even more information about canine and feline heart disease.

But there is something we are missing. Something huge. And that something, I believe, is the greatest kind of support there is: the emotional kind.

Those who have been connected with BHF from the beginning know that I started this organization because of my own personal experience finding out that my dog Lucy has a severe and chronic valvular defect. At a basic level, as I called out a year-and-a-half ago in that linked post, BHF offers a way for grieving owners to channel that grief into something positive: helping other pets with heart disease. But we are still missing something.

Ultimately, BHF would like to develop an online forum for owners as an integral part of our website. We would like the forum to be a place where owners can come and talk to other owners of pets with heart disease. But, until we have the infrastructure and funds available to design and implement this kind of web-overhaul, we are settling for the next-best-thing: the Facebook Forum.

Are you the owner of a pet with a heart condition? Have you lost a pet to congestive heart failure? Do you want to know that there are others like you, and would you like to hear from them? Then please, check out our Facebook forum.

And by all means. If you have questions or would like to tell your pet’s story on this blog, please e-mail me. We can make that happen.

4fc532a2dabe9d78c100e6e7 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Furosemide, Enalapril, and Pimobendan, Oh My!]]> Thu, 07 Jun 2012 14:00:00 +0000 Over the past few months, I have heard several pet owners express concern and fear regarding the medications that are being prescribed to their pets with heart conditions, and what the possible side effects of these medications might be.

This lack of understanding is probably not because vets don’t try to explain things. But if you’re like me, when you’re at the vet’s office with your pet you are more than a little distracted. Both of my cats are nervous and wide-eyed. Sgt. Pepper visibly shakes with terror, and Hallie constantly struggles for free reign of the room to find the best hiding spot possible. Lucy, my dog with heart disease, hides under the chairs, tucks her tail, and gives me the infamous “sad lab” face that melts my heart. There is a part of me that feels their animal fear along with them. I love them. I want to comfort them. My mind is in two places at once. And that makes it hard to process information my vet is trying to tell me. The tendency is for this information to go in one ear and out the other!

Veterinarians are also used to using medical terminology in normal conversation. Most of us owners are not! Important information can easily get lost in translation, and we’re left at a loss for what questions to ask.

Until we get home.

So, I’m going to attempt to break down some of this crazy “heart medication” stuff into language we all can understand.

The Ultimate Trifecta

The gold standard most cardiologists follow for the treatment of congestive heart failure (CHF) in dogs is a “triple drug therapy” consisting of one diuretic drug, one angiotensim-converting enzyme (ACE inhibitor), and in more recent years and depending on the diagnosis, a newer drug called pimobendan (marketed under the name “Vetmedin”).


The purpose of a diuretic is to decrease the amount of fluid the heart has to pump. Sounds pretty simple, right?

To understand why diuretics are helpful to a dog with heart disease, think of the heart muscle as a balloon. The more water you put inside the balloon, the more the balloon must stretch to hold the water. The more the balloon stretches, the weaker it becomes. Now, imagine if instead of having to expand to hold water just once, the same balloon were constantly expanding and contracting, sucking water in and out (or “pumping,” like a heart). This is an extremely simplistic way to visualize what a heart actually does, but the theory is the same. The less the balloon stretches out each time it expands – i.e., the less water it must hold – the stronger it will be, and the longer it will last.

Two commonly prescribed diuretics are furosemide and digoxin. Many cardiologists also recommend putting your pet on a sodium-restricted diet to control fluid retention.

* Furosemide (Lasix, Salix) controls fluid retention by inducing more frequent urination. One side effect is that it increases flow to the kidneys, so it is generally not recommended for pets that already have kidney problems or who are already on kidney medication.

* Digoxin is one of the oldest drugs to be prescribed for heart conditions both in human and veterinary medicine, first identified in 1779. It is derived from the purple foxglove plant. Not only does it function as a diuretic, but it also reduces pressure within the heart and increases contractibility of the heart muscle, which is a fancy way of saying it makes each heartbeat more efficient. It has complicated and multiple effects on different parts of the body, so it is important to note symptoms of digoxin toxicity which can include vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. Most dogs tolerate low doses of digoxin well, and it is often useful and beneficial for them. It is rarely used in cats. It can be prescribed as a preventative drug for the management of multiple forms of heart disease (valve dysfunctions, cardiomyopathy) as well as in dogs who have already progressed into stages of congestive heart failure.

Other commonly prescribed diuretics are Torsemide, and Spironolactone.

ACE Inhibitors

ACE stands for “angiotensin converting enzyme.” Not that anyone except a doctor needs to know that, but there it is.

ACE naturally raises blood pressure by constricting blood vessels (i.e., giving them less room to stretch open). Think of trying to force liquid from your mouth into a cup of water through a skinny coffee straw. Your cheeks, like the heart muscle, would have to work pretty hard to move that water through the coffee straw because it is so skinny and cannot stretch open (constricted). It also creates a high amount of pressure inside the skinny straw (just like high blood pressure in constricted blood vessels). What ACE inhibitors do is help those blood vessels (i.e., the skinny straws) stretch open, making it easier for fluid to flow through them. To imagine this, think of how much easier it would be to force that liquid into the cup through a McDonald’s straw! Studies have shown that ACE inhibitors can also be helpful in treating hypertension and kidney disease.

* Enalapril is a commonly prescribed ACE inhibitor. It has been shown to increase the lifespan of dogs and cats with congestive heart failure, and is the second most commonly prescribed medication behind Lasix (furosemide). Side effects may include kidney dysfunction, and the first sign of this is usually loss or reduction of appetite. If you notice this, stop the medication and call your veterinarian or cardiologist.

Another commonly prescribed ACE inhibitor is Benazepril.

Newer Drugs

* Pimobendan (also called Vetmedin) dilates blood vessels (stretches them, like the McDonald’s straw) and strengthens the heart muscle, making it easier for blood to flow and generally improving heart functioning. It has been shown to increase quality of life and lifespan in dogs with heart failure caused by mitral valve disease (common in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels) or dilated cardiomyopathy (common in Dobermans and other large breed dogs). Pimobendan has not been found useful in the treatment of cats with heart disease, most of whom suffer from the specific form called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Good news! Several studies have shown that dogs appear to feel better when taking pimobendan. Veterinarians and owners alike have consistently reported that dogs often appear to have more energy, have better appetites, and cough less when taking this drug.

Because pimobendan is relatively new in comparison to the other drugs mentioned, less is known about its long-term or adverse affects. It can sometimes be difficult to administer because of the large size of the pill. Though it is chewable, many dogs will detect it in their food and reject it because of the taste (can you blame them?). A controversial argument is that pimobendan may actually increase the severity of mitral valve damage, but this is not well documented or researched so it probably doesn’t hold much water, so to speak.

So… Now What?

Yes, your veterinarian is the expert. But it doesn’t hurt to have some foundation of knowledge for yourself. No one is a better advocate for your beloved pet than you are! Our pets need us. They need us to ask what the benefits and possible side effects of their medications are. They need us to be comfortable and feel confident when we talk to their doctors on their behalf. Never forget: YOU are the world to your pet.

Still hungry for info? You can find further explanation and review of more meds in our resource section written by veterinary cardiologist Dr. Justin Allen, head of BHF’s vet board.

As always I invite your comments, feedback, and questions! Visit our facebook page to leave a public comment or start conversation on this topic. Or, you can always
e-mail us
. We love hearing from you!

Good luck at the vet, everybody!

4fd10403dabe9d3d7d02add5 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[ Musings from the ED: The Not-So-Terrible Twos]]> Thu, 14 Jun 2012 11:25:00 +0000 As BHF wraps up its second fiscal year, I find myself in the throes of annual meeting planning. Looking back in order to assess where we are so we can figure out where we’re going has been quite enlightening, and I can’t help but be pretty impressed with the milestones we’ve passed, not only this year, but in the incredibly small amount of time we’ve even been in existence.

What are these milestones, you ask? Here are just a few:

501©3 status: Approved
Top quality, Chicago manufactured, line of pet products: Designed, Developed, & FOR SALE
Financial Aid Policy – Developed & Finalized
Financial Aid Program – Launched
Education Resource Center via Website – Developed & Dynamically Updated
Board Governance Committee – Established
BHF Policies, Procedures & Orientation Manual: In Development

While it may all seem perfectly logical to have all of the above in place, you would be surprised (as I have been) how much a few (or all) of the above gets pushed to the wayside in the operations of many non-profits. Limited time, personnel, and resources often force the most well-intentioned yet overworked people to pick and choose those practices that are most important to them, often pushing aside less time-critical matters, setting the course for a very complicated future when the foundation of the organization lacks crucial components.

It’s hard being a non-profit these days. It’s even harder starting a non-profit these days. The paperwork alone is enough to dissuade many well meaning people, but add to that: filing fees, time commitment, convincing some friends to be on your Board of Directors, creating by-laws, and then once you’ve actually received your 501©3 status (which can take months of waiting, review, follow up, additional materials submitted, and then yes, more waiting), you have to raise money, raise awareness, advertise, host & attend events (to raise money & awareness), write grants, write reports, create programs, have Board meetings (actively engaging and managing a productive Board), raise more money, file annual reports and taxes, and oh yeah, help the world through that long forgotten idea that inspired you to undertake this whole darn thing in the first place! (by the way, what was that again?)

For those organized and maniacal enough to make it through the beginning stages of the life of a charity (Cough cough, Christy Drackett, cough cough), there are the ongoing issues of Board development, community engagement, finding volunteers & interns, utilizing said volunteers & interns, hiring and training staff, managing said staff, raising money, and in the Big Hearts Fund’s case, giving away money to families & pets in need.

Which brings us to our current state: We all thought (we being the Board, Christy, and myself) that once we officially launched our Financial Aid Program, we’d be sifting through piles of applications, attempting to facilitate a complicated and emotional process while efficiently managing time and resources and helping as many people and pets as we possibly could.

To say that we launched our Financial Aid Program to over-loaded email servers and our phones ringing off the hook would be a major overstatement. We thought our biggest initial struggle would be draining our Charitable Fund too quickly. Our biggest challenge has been finding those people & pets in need! Having spent the better part of the last two years researching, networking, and having conversation after conversation with owners about their sick pets, we know the need is there. We just need to find those families and even more importantly, help those families find us!

One of the major initiatives (to be discussed at our upcoming annual meeting) of our third fiscal year will be a marketing campaign directed at veterinary offices to focus on the AWARENESS aspect of our mission. By actively reaching out to our local veterinary offices and veterinary cardiologists, BHF hopes to expand its reach beyond the friends & family who’ve helped us get so far in such a short amount of time. We want to reach those who stand to benefit the most from our mission: the families who’ve just been told their adorable kitten has a heart defect, the young couple whose puppy has a heart murmur, and the family that just said goodbye to their beloved friend far too soon, helping everyone now facing that infinite & overwhelming question of “Now what do I do?”

I hope, by this time next year, when faced with that question, our vets will have a helpful and hopeful answer, “Well, let me tell you about The Big Hearts Fund….”]]>
4fda1063dabe9d52b703419f open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Link Between Pet Obesity and Heart Disease: A Series of Conversations about Awareness and Prevention.]]> Thu, 21 Jun 2012 13:00:00 +0000 Introduction

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could prevent all heart disease in our pets? I think those of us who have pets with chronic heart conditions would agree in a resounding “YES”! If there was something I could do differently that would positively affect Lucy’s health, I would do it in an instant. Unfortunately, I can’t change the fate of my dog with congenital, chronic valvular disease, nor could I have altered her genetic makeup in-utero to prevent it. But maybe you, or someone you know, can prevent a pet from developing a heart problem with a little bit of knowledge about preventable conditions, like obesity, that often cause heart failure.

If you pay even moderate attention to the news, the “obesity epidemic” will surely have grabbed your attention recently. Even Michelle Obama has taken it on, drawing national and international attention to the growing problem with her “Let’s Move!” initiative. There’s been controversy over school lunches, and many studies linking human obesity with other serious health problems such as type II Diabetes, and our personal favorite heart disease. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention currently estimates that one-third of US adults and 17% of children and adolescents in the United States are obese. AND GUESS WHAT? These health problems are not limited to humans.

Our pets, too, are suffering from increased rates of obesity. A recent study concluded that of the nearly 170 million pets owned in the United States, roughly half (about 83 million) are overweight or obese. Many experts believe that this is because environmental factors play such a large role in creating and perpetuating this problem. And, who lives with us humans in our every-day environment, and are thusly affected by our choices, attitudes, and behaviors? That’s right – our beloved pets.

So, How Exactly Does Pet Obesity Lead to Heart Disease?

In humans and pets alike, obesity can cause hypertension (high blood pressure). Increased pressure in the arteries causes the heart to have to work harder to pump the blood through the body. Hypertension has been reported in 23% – 45% of obese dogs. In dogs as in people, the magnitude of obesity has been found to be directly correlated to the severity of heart dysfunction – meaning: the fatter the animal is, the worse the heart functions.

So, stay tuned for Part I of our continuing series on Pet Obesity and Heart Disease Prevention! Our next article will focus on what causes pet obesity, and what you can do to recognize and prevent it.

4fe3618bdabe9d3c0f0044f0 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Musings from the ED: Why We Exist]]> Thu, 12 Jul 2012 13:00:00 +0000 Often times, when people ask what The Big Hearts Fund is and what we do, upon our response of raising funds and awareness for dogs and cats with heart disease, I am met with a slightly puzzled expression and then a polite and slightly confused, “Ooohhh. Ok.”

Let’s be blunt. Unless your pet suffers (or suffered) from heart disease, chances are you haven’t given it much thought beyond giving your dog his monthly heartworm prevention medicine. That’s ok. I was the same way. Until my own puppy died from an arrhythmic episode in our backyard, I had no idea that heart disease impacted so many pets and families everywhere.

With today’s social and political environments focused on animal cruelty, rescue, and adoption, it’s easy to forget that pets with owners, responsible, loving, and earnest owners, also need an advocate and a helping hand from time to time.

The Big Hearts Fund was created to be that helping hand.

July 11, 2012 marks a momentous occasion in the life of The Big Hearts Fund: Our first successful funding of a grant request and surgical intervention of young Melanie, a Chihuahua suffering from a common congenital heart defect.

The procedure to correct this defect is simple but costly, and presented an unexpected and unaffordable expense for Melanie’s owner, Martha, before she found The Big Hearts Fund. I will let her tell you her story with her beloved Melanie (coming soon), and I am not sitting here patting myself on the back for being awesome (BHF maybe, but definitely not myself).

Instead, I find myself reflecting on this crazy journey and the various twists and turns we have taken in our very brief history. I have always believed in The Big Hearts Fund, its mission, and the people behind it. The past two years have been spent diligently working, slowly and steadily, to build a solid, centered, and sustainable organization with the potential to make a lasting impact on the lives of dogs, cats, and their humans everywhere.

When working behind the scenes, particularly in a new organization, it’s all too easy to get caught up in and overwhelmed by the nitty-gritty: budgets, meetings, legal filings, fundraising goals, strategic planning, etc. etc., focusing on our limitations and hoping that we’re working through them in order to (some day) accomplish our mission.

Yesterday, the diligence of so many was rewarded with the honor of helping to save a life, and I was reminded that yes, while we are new, we are small, and the nitty-gritty will never really go away, we can (and DID) make a difference, a HUGE difference, in someone’s life. Melanie is a tiny little pup, but she is a huge part of her human’s life, and with a little help from BHF and a very simple (albeit life-saving) procedure, Martha and Melanie now have many years of health and happiness ahead of them.

That is why The Big Hearts Fund exists. Because we never know when we (and our furry family member) will need a helping hand.

4fff1c5edabe9d219c00d49d open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[BHF's First Grant: Melanie's Story]]> Mon, 16 Jul 2012 12:00:00 +0000 Written by: Martha, Melanie’s Mom

Until several months ago, I was owned by two senior Chihuahuas – my Maggie and Molly. Sadly, Maggie passed away in April due to complications resulting from IBD. Both Molly and I were devastated. Until the day Maggie died, Molly had never been alone a day in her life. Molly has suffered from a seizure disorder most of her life, and the stress of losing Maggie exacerbated it. After a period of intense mourning, I began to think the best thing I could do to honor Maggie’s memory and to help Molly was to adopt a Chihuahua in need of a good home.

I found Melanie in an online listing where her previous owner said she just didn’t have time for her. Melanie looked so scared in her photo, and it broke my heart to see the terror in her big, brown eyes. At 18 months, she was a little younger than I was looking for, but I couldn’t resist the Grandpa Munster hair on her ears. I made arrangements to pick her up, and on June 21st I brought her home. She was so frightened; she hid under my bureau for most of the night. Finally, seeing Molly on my lap brought her out of her hiding spot.

It’s when I picked her up and cuddled her against my chest that I first had an inkling that something was wrong with her. Rather than a nice thumping heartbeat, I felt a continuous whooshing vibrating through her chest. I took her to the vet the next day and got some awful news – Melanie had a grade 6 heart murmur on a scale of 1 to 6. X-rays showed significant heart enlargement, and the vet said congestive heart failure and death would occur in weeks or months. She recommended I take her to a veterinary cardiologist for a more detailed consultation and prognosis and to see if there were any medications that could prolong her life.

One week later we were at the cardiologist’s, who diagnosed a congenital heart defect called PDA, patent ductus arteriosus. My elation at hearing it could actually be corrected with surgery was quickly dashed when he mentioned the cost – anywhere from $3,500 to $5,000. I went home in tears because although I now knew there was a possible cure, I knew without a doubt that I did not have the money for the surgery, nor would I have much time to save up because Melanie needed the surgery in the next few weeks.

Most dogs with PDA die before the age of 12 months. It was already a miracle that she was still alive at 18 months old. I feared I might have to just allow her to live out her very short life and make it the best I could for her. I quickly decided I couldn’t just give up and as much as I didn’t want to, I asked friends and family if they could help out for her sake. I also began a frantic search for financial aid. I applied to several societies that offer assistance to pet owners who cannot afford vet bills. They were all very kind and responsive; however, I was told that with the difficult economy, donations were down and they were unable to help. One of the societies recommended I contact the Big Hearts Fund, which I did via the online form.I heard back almost immediately from Laura, who told me she would be handling my case. She was wonderfully patient and helpful in walking me through the application process.

The Big Hearts Fund was my last hope. When I heard I had been approved for a grant, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders! The very next day, Melanie was scheduled for the procedure. I’m thrilled to say she is lying beside me on the couch as I type this (she is not so thrilled to be wearing an e-collar to keep her from chewing at her stitches!). She is already like a new dog. I went from thinking this poor little puppy was going to be dead in a few weeks to the cardiologist telling me she now should have a normal life expectancy!

Words cannot express my appreciation and gratitude to the Big Hearts Fund and its supporters for making this miracle possible. I’m so incredibly touched that a group of strangers would help me and my dog. You’ve made a huge difference in my life, but you GAVE life to Melanie. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

You are true heroes.

50044f7cdabe9d1753039b56 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Letting Go & Saying Goodbye ]]> Wed, 25 Jul 2012 14:25:00 +0000 The following was written by Laura Youngberg, BHF’s Interim Program Director.

This week, my husband and I made the decision to say goodbye to our 20 year old cat, Hippolyta. In the last few weeks she had been getting progressively weaker, and when she could no longer use her back legs, we knew the time had come to let her go. My husband and his mom picked out Hippolyta from the Evanston Animal Shelter the Christmas after he graduated from college. She was named “Jingle” but he changed it to Hippolyta, the name of the Queen of the Amazons in Greek mythology and a character in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream.

When I met her five years later, Hippolyta still liked to chase paper balls and climb to her perch on the top of the tallest bookshelf. She did not, however, like me, or my cat, Sabrina, so when her “dad” and I got married we had to create a demilitarized zone between sections of our apartment to keep them from fighting. It took her five more years before she voluntarily let me pet her. I was always given the “stinkeye” as the one who took her place as queen of the house. Over the course of her 20 years of life, Hippolyta was with my husband as we got married and moved in together, moved to larger and smaller apartments, condos, and finally a house, welcomed two children, and generally lived our life together in a happy, loving home. At the core of that house was Hippolyta, and she really was the queen.

It has been hard to see her get weaker with age, and to deal with the inevitable side effects (our floors may possibly be permanently permeated with her pee), less able to chase paper balls and climb bookcases. But what struck me this week is how lucky we are to have had her with us all these years, and that this is what the work of the Big Hearts Fund is all about. BHF is here to help pets live long happy lives in homes with their families, when those lives might have been cut short by heart disease. It is a gift to be able to share ten, fifteen, twenty years of your life with your pet, and that is the gift that the financial aid grants and education provided by The Big Hearts Fund are really about.

I wanted to share the story of Hippolyta’s end of life with you because, in a way, it is the life we hope for all of our pets: Many years, beloved, and at the center of the home and family life. When the time comes, here are some things to think about in giving your beloved pet the blessing to let go at the end:

• What will be the pet’s quality of life during treatment? How much will the treatment extend his life?

• How will the cost and time requirements of treatment affect your quality of life? Will your ability to care for your other pets or family members be adversely affected?

• Is your pet in pain? Will the treatment cause additional pain?

• What will be best for your entire family in the longer term?

When you know you have done the best to give your pet a long life in a loving home, hopefully you will find peace in helping them make the final crossing.

50104833dabe9d777d0215a3 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Musings from the ED: Growing Pains, Strictly Business?]]> Tue, 07 Aug 2012 12:00:00 +0000
“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business” Michael Corleone, The Godfather

“Business is always personal. It’s the most personal thing in the world!” – Michael Scott, The Office

In our summer newsletter, sent out shortly after our annul meeting at the end of June, I commented on the fact that up to that point, our Financial Aid Program had been launched with little (to no) fanfare. Well, per usual, I spoke too soon. The following week, our Application in-box flooded and has not let up since. Within three weeks, we surpassed our monthly funding goal and maxed out our quarterly funding limit. We will begin disbursing funds again on September 1, 2012.

Before I continue, I will say that our Financial Aid Policy was initially developed, and will continue to be amended as needed, to facilitate the most efficient and fair process possible. In the past 2 months, we have learned so much about what works and what works better, developing strategies to extend our reach to help as many families and pets as possible.

However, I’m going to be blunt. Giving out financial aid to help dogs and cats (and by extension, their families) is awesome. Seriously. Having experienced the loss of a puppy to heart disease and still being able to FEEL the hopelessness of that experience, it is beyond rewarding to help others going through a similar situation. More than I could have anticipated. On the flip side, reaching our quarterly funding limit is not awesome (to put it nicely). We are still receiving applications on a daily basis, and the range of requests as well as the stories of those making the requests is incredibly vast and more often than not, incredibly sad.

The more applications we receive, process, and approve, the more grateful I am that I am not directly evaluating incoming applications (our Program Director does that) nor am I a voting member of the Board of Directors. As the ED, it is my duty to support the Program Director and assist in managing the Financial Aid Program, all the while keeping my eyes on the larger picture of the organization as a whole and working to increase future sustainability, in other words, keep my eyes on the bottom line.

This is where two famous quotes from two very different Michael’s comes to mind.

In my previous life, working in the financial sector in a job that solely served to pay my bills, I definitely subscribed to the Michael Corleone Philosophy of Business. It’s not personal. There is a job with specific needs and requirements. If you cannot meet those needs, someone else will. Nothing personal. It’s strictly business.

Since working with the Big Hearts Fund, first as a Board Member and now as the Executive Director, I find myself gravitating to the Michael Scott Philosophy. Having a personal investment in the mission of the organization for which I work and experiencing significant personal fulfillment out of the tiniest accomplishments on a daily basis is beyond anything I ever hoped for my professional life. I don’t dread Mondays. I don’t live for the weekend. I don’t mind working at 11 o’clock at night.

On the flip side, because I am so personally invested in the mission of my organization, every applicant, every story, every animal in need affects me more than I can sufficiently prepare myself for, and I lose sleep on a regular basis trying to figure out how we can help everyone that reaches out to us.

The truth is, we can’t. Maybe some day, but not right now. We are still young and growing, and as much as my heart is invested, my head has to prevail. I’m definitely not Michael Corleone anymore, but I cannot be Michael Scott either, not if I want to help BHF become the organization it can be, to be the organization it needs to be.

Where that happy medium lies, I’m not sure. Every day is a new day, a new learning experience, and a new step forward in the work of BHF, and hopefully, navigating the sometimes tumultuous waters of trying to make a difference in the (animal) world will continue to lead us into a brighter future.

Please Note: BHF is 100% dependent on the generosity of our current and potential supporters. You can help us help others by DONATING TODAY.

5021578fdabe9d7a80018921 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[The State of Pet Health: Prevention Prevention Prevention]]> Tue, 14 Aug 2012 10:00:00 +0000 As our Financial Aid program rolls forward and we continue to receive applications for aid on a daily basis, it has been a fascinating experience to see the types of requests we receive. I have been particularly struck by the frequency of requests for aid in treating preventable diseases, affordably preventable diseases. As with most preventable health issues in humans, it is much more affordable to prevent many animal diseases (including forms of acquired heart disease) than it is to treat those diseases. The prevalence of preventable heart disease has been the subject of Christy’s blog series on Pet Obesity (on hiatus as Christy is on maternity leave), and is further explored with some startling statistics in Banfield Pet Hospital’s State of Pet Heath 2012 Report.

Banfield Pet Hospital is the nation’s largest animal health care provider with 800 hospitals in 43 states. The 2012 Report offers an analysis of over 2 MILLION dogs and nearly 430,000 cats detailing highly preventable chronic diseases: obesity, arthritis, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and heart disease. As I don’t want to simply regurgitate the report’s findings verbatim, you can check out the report yourself, HERE. I would, however, like to point out a few startling statistics that only reinforce the need for ongoing and proactive preventative care for our pets.

Since 2007, the number of cases of overweight and obese dogs has increased 37% and the number of cases in cats has increased by 90%. Why is that significant? Well, as it does in humans, obesity is an underlying cause of many major health problems:

42% of dogs and 40% of cats with diabetes are also overweight.
40% of dogs and 37% of cats with arthritis are also overweight.
More than 40% of dogs with high blood pressure are overweight.
61% of dogs with hypopthyroidism are overweight.

What is also interesting here, is that based on a survey of more than 1,000 Banfield clients with dogs and 1,000 clients with cats, 76% of dog owners and 69% of cat owners believe their pet is at the right weight. Clearly, there is a disconnect somewhere, and I believe that lack of education on the significance of a healthy lifestyle for dogs and cats is a key factor, as well as simple knowledge of nutritional requirements for our furry friends. The states with the highest rate of obesity in dogs and cats are Minnesota, South Dakota, Oklahoma (dogs), and Utah (cats).

In its report on heart disease, the 5-year trend in cases reported remains quite stable, and the prevalence of cardiomyopathy in cats has actually decreased by 14% since 2007. However, according to its survey, nearly 4 out of every 5 dog owners were unaware that vomiting, dental disease, and weight loss can be attributed to heart disease nor were they aware that aging leads to a greatly increased likelihood of developing a heart condition. The findings of both the survey and the report further demonstrate the need for regular veterinary check ups – at least once annually, however the report does suggest that semi-annual check-ups are ideal for maintaining good health and identifying any problems or conditions as early as possible, particularly in the case of cats, who hide symptoms until many diseases have progressed beyond a treatable state.

That was a lot of statistics and facts. It can seem overwhelming and frankly, a little dry, but as animal healthcare continues to advance, it becomes increasingly apparent that just like humans, maintaining a healthy lifestyle of proper diet and lots of exercise is the key to helping our canine and feline friends stay happy and healthy for many many years. Furthermore, as expensive as specialized veterinary care can be for heart conditions, arthritis, kidney disease, etc., preventative care is also vital for helping to ease the financial strain these acquired conditions can cause. It is so simple: a couple daily walks, limit treats, avoid giving table scraps, and a couple visits to your vet each year, can keep everyone happy & healthy for many years to come.

502a6ac6dabe9d2236032c6b open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Soapbox Time with the ED: More than an Owner]]> Wed, 12 Sep 2012 12:00:00 +0000 As mentioned in previous blog posts, upon initially learning that I work for a non-profit organization that raises funds and awareness for dogs and cats with heart disease, I am generally met with puzzled expressions, and then a polite “Oh, how interesting,” followed by more puzzlement.

In the world of non-profit and charity work, particularly at networking events, fundraisers, or professional development workshops, it is easy to be intimidated by other organizations, in terms of size, experience, and missions. I can almost see the questions dancing around in people’s heads, “Dogs? Heart disease? Isn’t there something else more important? People dying in Africa? Poverty? At-risk children in America?”

In response to those (completely imagined) questions, I have a story to share with you.

There is an amazing organization here in Chicago that sponsors the (often emergency) veterinary care of homeless animals, Trio Animal Foundation. Nearly a year ago, TAF posted a story that has stayed with me to this day, and comes to mind every time someone asks why I am so committed to dogs:

In December of 2011, TAF received a call about a homeless mom and her puppies that were found by a Chicago police officer. This mom, Antler, as she was later named, was seen by the officer wandering into an abandoned building. Following Antler all the way up to the attic of the building, the officer discovered that Antler had a litter of five puppies, which she’d been keeping safe and contained in a suitcase. The officer was touched that this homeless, helpless animal with absolutely no resources and clearly no one looking after her, was both loving enough and smart enough to know she needed to keep her puppies sheltered and secluded in order to keep them safe. The officer contacted a local intake facility, which then contacted TAF for assistance in caring for and housing the family. After taking the family to the vet for exams, TAF learned that Antler had recently sustained a very serious injury indicative of being hit by a car.

She was HIT BY A CAR, and yet, she was so dedicated to caring for her puppies, she found them shelter and went about taking care of them as any mother, human or animal, should.

I get goose bumps every time I think of it. At the heart of this story is the true nature of dogs and why they deserve our time and consideration: They. Are. GOOD.

There is no other way to say it. These creatures, bred and raised solely for human purposes, completely dependent on humans for survival, and often let down by those very same humans, are inherently GOOD creatures. GOOD creatures that DESERVE love, care, and compassion in return.

“That’s all fine Kaitlin, I totally agree with you. But what does that have to do with my dog at home, who’s happy as a clam with a loving family?”

That’s a great question!

It is not just the homeless, abused, or neglected animals of this world that need, that DESERVE an Advocate. Our pets are just as dependent on us for survival, and they are just as deserving of the best that life has to offer. They deserve the best that WE have to offer. Whether it is at home, or the Vet’s office, in the dog park, or in the back yard, our pets NEED us to be their Advocate, actively.

Ask questions, do research, BE PARANOID! Speaking from personal experience, it is that single situation which seems completely impossible and unlikely that never even passes through your brain that will catch you completely unprepared!

If you don’t understand something, or you think something is wrong, SPEAK UP!

WE are our pet’s voices. We are literally all they have in this world, and regardless of the choices we make in our own lives, the misfortunes, mistakes and missteps, these amazing and GOOD creatures deserve the BEST of it all.

We are more than their owners, we are their EVERYTHING.

5050c15ddabe9d17a9001663 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Welcome Back Christy!]]> Wed, 17 Oct 2012 08:00:00 +0000 A message from Founder, Christy Drackett:

It is with great pride and appreciation primarily for the dedication, hard work, and organizational skills of board member and temporary program director Laura Youngberg, and Executive Director Kaitlin Bishop, that I reassume my role as Program Director for The Big Hearts Fund. “Happy to be back” is a gross understatement for how it feels to begin again this work I care so deeply about.

It would figure that the week I left for maternity leave at the end of June, applications for our financial aid program began pouring in. Most of this was due to the fact that Laura proactively reached out to four other websites to ask if they would link to The Big Hearts Fund. Up until that point, we had received very few applications and were searching for ways to get the word out about our fledgling program. All it took apparently was for me to step out of the way, let Laura do her thing, and have my baby!

Which I did. On July 2nd, my daughter Hazel Elizabeth Drackett was born. On July 5th, The Big Hearts Fund granted it’s first recipient financial aid and saved her life. (If you haven’t read Melanie’s story, read it here!!). It was, hands down, the best week of my life.

It kind of felt like I gave birth twice.

Up until the point that BHF granted aid to its first recipient, our organization was essentially incubating an unborn idea. When the idea was born into action, Laura, Kaitlin, and our Board of Directors – Des, Melissa, Katie, Julia, and Lauren – were there to catch it while I was away.

We all know the saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.” If the founder’s leaving on maternity leave for three months doesn’t collapse or stagnate a fledgling organization but actually grows it, it proves that the “village” raising The Big Hearts Fund now is taking it to places I could never have taken it alone. I am grateful, and I am extremely proud.

It is SO good to be back!

507eb936dabe9d042d00d1a9 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[It's HOWLoween!]]> Fri, 26 Oct 2012 18:00:00 +0000 Come play with us tomorrow! Doggie costume contest and play day, 3 – 5 pm at Stay: A Modern Dog Hotel at 4130 N. Rockwell in Chicago. All proceeds benefit The Big Hearts Fund!

508b1df9dabe9d680e000e59 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[BHF's "Helping Hearts" Annual Pledge Drive]]> Thu, 08 Nov 2012 16:00:00 +0000 Without a doubt, 2012 has been a monumental year for The Big Hearts Fund. After launching its Financial Aid Program, BHF awarded its first grant for life-saving surgery for a young Chihuahua named Melanie, in early July. Shortly after adopting Melanie, her new mom discovered she had a very serious heart defect, Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA). If Melanie did not undergo surgery to correct this defect immediately, she would die within a few weeks. Unprepared for the unexpected veterinary bill and without time to save enough funds to pay for it herself, Melanie’s mother went about searching for help. After contacting various humane societies for financial assistance and being denied due to lack of funds, She found The Big Hearts Fund. Within a few days, BHF received, processed, and approved her application, and Melanie was able to undergo surgery to save her life.

Melanie is the first of many to reap the benefits of The Big Hearts Fund and its dedicated network of supporters. To date, BHF has awarded 6 grants totaling $6,000.00 to Melanie, Reese, Max, Punchy, Ember, and Buddysue. You can read each of their stories HERE.

Due to increasingly overwhelming need and limited funds, BHF has set up fundraising pages with discussion forums for qualifying applicants. The pages give owners a chance to tell their pets’ stories and ask donors directly for help. Please take a moment to read Lily, Punchy, and Carlo.

Additionally, BHF is collaborating with local animal welfare organizations in developing educational materials and conducting workshops to educate various Chicago communities on the significance of basic veterinary care in preventing heart disease.

Sadly, these accomplishments come with sobering news. For every funded case we are able to share and celebrate with you, there are at least 20 submitted applications we are unable to fund. Overwhelmingly, this year has demonstrated to us the shocking prevalence of heart disease in our pets and the growing need for help, both for those pets and the families that love them.

2012 has made one thing clear: BHF has a long way to go.

With these sobering facts in mind, we invite you to contribute to BHF’s “Helping Hearts” Annual Pledge Drive. WIth your generous one-time contribution of $150 and/or monthly pledge of $25-$100, BHF can more than double the capacity of the Financial Aid Program for the next fiscal year while also laying the foundation for a sustainable and lasting future in providing aid to pets and families around the country.

The Big Hearts Fund website has a simple and secure Donation Page through which you can submit your tax-deductible contribution. Simply click on the DONATE button on any page, and complete the donation/pledge form.

You have been such an integral part of The Big Hearts Fund’s development and impact in its young life, and we hope you are able to continue on this journey with us as we strive to help animals in need receive the care they deserve.

On behalf of The Big Hearts Fund staff, Board of Directors, and most of all, Melanie, Reese, Max, Punchy, Ember, Buddysue, Carlo, and Lily, I thank you for your unwavering support and spirited generosity.

Yours in Service,

Kaitlin R. Bishop
Executive Director

509c38dedabe9d705100075e open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[A Special Thank You]]> Thu, 29 Nov 2012 15:00:00 +0000 Punchy’s owner Dina would like to personally thank every single one of you who has donated money towards Punchy’s surgery:

“Thank you all for your generous donations. We so appreciate the time, effort, and financial support you all are helping us put into the care of our sweet Punchy. You all can feel assured in the fact that we will be able to provide the best care possible to Punchy. I will keep everyone informed of the outcome in December. Many, many, thanks.”

Dina also shared with me today that Punchy is showing “a bit more fatigue,” but that he just had a check-up and his vaccinations up to date so they are all ready for their big trip for his appointment at NC state on December 19th.

We still need to raise about $400 for Punchy! Here he is, resting peacefully at home, waiting until the day he feels better… help him here.

50b7cd2bdabe9d7e9400029f open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[A BHF Wedding Story]]> Tue, 11 Dec 2012 10:00:00 +0000 A few months back, this lovely lady contacted me wanting to order some BHF collars and leashes for her pups to wear when acting as ring bearers in her wedding:

Of course I gladly sent them! You see, this altruistic bride wanted her wedding be a reflection of her and her new husband’s values and ideals. They met through their dogs, and they wanted to spread awareness and support animal related organizations in their wedding. And they chose BHF!

Last week, I received an e-mail from the bride thanking us for playing a role in making her wedding so awesome, and giving me permission to share these pictures with all of you. I think you will agree with me that these images are stunning! And how cute are these pups?!?

Thank you, Lauren, for choosing to promote The Big Hearts Fund at your wedding. I am so glad you found us! And, I am extremely touched and inspired by you. What a beautiful way to start your new life together. From all of us here at BHF, please accept our most heartfelt congratulations!

Readers – Did any of you choose to do something altruistic at your wedding? If so, what did you do?

50c7628bdabe9d6ef000357f open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Steve Dale Podcast!]]> Wed, 12 Dec 2012 09:00:00 +0000 Hey, look! (or listen, rather!)

Christy, along with BHF’s good friend and former board member Lauren (Dogs Deserve It) were interviewed by Steve Dale of Steve Dale’s Pet World on his podcast a few weeks back. Give it a listen – you might learn something new!

A huge shout out of THANKS! to Steve, and to Lauren for introducing us. You rock!

(entering the studio)

50c8a395dabe9d3761004840 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Update on Buddysue]]> Tue, 08 Jan 2013 13:00:00 +0000 Here is a message from Buddysue’s owner, Elizabeth:

“Buddysue went to the vet this morning. He is there for 3 days, 2 nights. He will be getting his Phase 3 of Heartworm Treatment. He will have the injection of Immiticide for 2 days in a row. Hopefully there won’t be any complications. I will let you know how it goes. He is supposed to be picked up Wed. evening. Just wanted to keep you updated!”

Visit BHF’s facebook page to leave positive comments and encouragement for Buddysue and Elizabeth.

About Heartworm Treatment:
Dogs diagnosed with Heartworms are usually treated with Immaticide injections, which kill the worms living inside the heart. Depending on the severity of the disease, this may require several treatments/injections spread out over the course of several months. In very serious cases the treatment can even be fatal if not done carefully. Once the worms are killed by the Immaticide injections, the pet must remain inactive and quiet to give his or her body a chance to digest the dead worms (ew!).

50ec7426dabe9d7140001a13 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Musings from the ED: Making Difficult Decisions]]> Thu, 17 Jan 2013 15:00:00 +0000 We can longer afford to fund Heartworm Treatment.

After funding 3 successful treatments, our Application inbox continued to be flooded with applications for aid in funding heartworm treatment. The tricky thing about heartworms is that as the disease progresses, it becomes more dangerous and also more expensive to treat, either requiring us to dedicate more funds to a single case later, or fund as many cases as early as possible to maximize the number of pets being helped. Either way, funds would be directed to curing a preventable disease while pets in need of treatment for a congenital condition could be pushed to the wayside because their case was not as critical…..yet.

After hours of debate, we looked to the very inspiration of The Big Hearts Fund for guidance: Lucy. Lucy Drackett was born with a severe congenital heart defect. There was no preventative measure to be taken, and unfortunately, there are limited options for curative treatment. Just extreme diligence is providing the healthiest lifestyle possible and providing her with needed medication for the duration of her life, by her loving and devoted parents, Chris & Christy Drackett. Lucy is blessed with parents that are committed to giving her the special care she needs, and she’s blessed because they are able to provide that care for her. Christy’s initial impulse to create The Big Hearts Fund was to help those pets, with conditions such as Lucy’s, whose family may not be able to provide them with such specialized care for those conditions that cannot be prevented.

The fact of the matter is heartworms are easily and affordably preventable. Preventing heartworms costs a fraction of the total cost of treatment, and while we never want to punish a dog for the choices of its owner, The Big Hearts Fund does simply not have the funds to provide heartworm treatment to everyone, let alone offer aid for heartworm treatment AND pay for surgeries to correct congenital defects. We’re just not there yet. Maybe someday, we will have the funds and capacity to offer aid to every heart condition, but right now, our funds have to be directed in accordance with the initial impetus behind this organization: to provide curative treatment for congenital cardiac conditions.

These situations of having to be the bad guy really just make us feel super crappy. There is no winner in this situation. Our only consolation is knowing that the funds so generously donated by a community of fellow animal lovers are being used in the most efficient and impactful way possible. In the meantime, our education focus has been rejuvenated ten-fold to help educate the local and national community on the absolute imperativeness of preventative care, such as monthly heartworm prevention.

Still. It’s hard making these types of decisions that can exclude pets from qualifying for aid. That is never our goal. Particularly difficult is the fact that requests for heartworm treatment far outnumber any other request we receive. We have received 8 requests for aid in treating heartworms since the start of 2013 alone. Treatment for heartworms ranges from $300 to $1,000, depending on the severity of the case. Some simple math is VERY overwhelming in times like these.

Hopefully, soon, we’ll be able to offer assistance for heartworm treatments again. In the meantime, to learn more about heartworms, what they are, how they’re contracted, and they are prevented, please visit our Information Page about HEARTWORMS

50f86e588ad7ca3fae0013ab open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Wholehearted Wellness Jam 2013]]> Thu, 14 Feb 2013 18:00:00 +0000

The 2nd Annual Wholehearted Wellness Jam is just two days away! Have you purchased your ticket yet?

Join The Big Hearts Fund and The Dance COLEctive for an amazing day of health, fitness, and fun, with 30 minute sessions of ZUMBA, Boot Camp, Plyometrics, Yoga, and Pilates! We’ve got tons of vendors offering complimentary massages, health consultations, doggie massage lectures, skincare & cosmetic samplings, and more! Kefir, PEELED, KIND, and Trader Joes are donating an amazing array of healthy snacks and beverages to help fuel everyone for a day of health & giving!

Don’t even get us started on our silent auction! Trips to Aruba, Acapulco, Lake Tahoe, Napa Valley. Restaurant Gift Certificates. Wine Tastings. Doggie Gift Baskets. Deluxe Boarding & Daycare services. Dance Classes. Truffle Making Classes. Need we say more!

Check out all the details and buy your tickets HERE!

511d80e5aa707a6a640008f8 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Ellie]]> Fri, 15 Feb 2013 09:00:00 +0000 UPDATE: Ellie had surgery this past Friday and is home resting! She is doing well. We are waiting on pictures from her owner and will post as soon as we get one. Thanks everyone for your thoughts and prayers (and donations!)

Think good thoughts or say prayers for Ellie today – this adorable 2-year-old Yorkie-Poo is having life-saving PDA surgery today, sponsored by BHF!

511e51ec8ad7ca0e08000f58 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[With heavy hearts....]]> Mon, 01 Apr 2013 14:00:00 +0000 It is with a most heavy heart that I write today. Last week, BHF received word that grant recipient Salem had passed away.

(see Salem’s initial story HERE)

After going into heart failure on a Thursday and attempting various treatments to help her bounce back, including putting Salem on oxygen, Salem’s owner rushed her to the vet on Sunday when she noticed Salem’s breathing becoming even more labored. Once they arrived at the vet office, Salem took two breaths in her loving mom’s arms and passed away.

In times like these, words seem frivolous and shallow. With Salem’s mom’s permission, we share this sad news for all those who donated to provide for Salem’s medication as well as those who support The Big Hearts Fund in other ways. Heart disease in our pets is very real and very serious. Even with immediate intervention, ongoing medication, treatment, and all the love a family can give, heart disease can still take a life far too soon. When establishing our Financial Aid Program, we knew at some point that we would have to say goodbye to a pet we have come to know and love, but that does not lessen the loss we feel. Per BHF Policy and the request of Salem’s owner, all unused funds from Salem’s grant will be directed to another cat in need of financial assistance for medication.

With that, we leave you with words from Salem’s loving mother, who is in our thoughts & hearts:

“I wanted to Thank You. Without your help and the help from the donors, Salem would have never had her medications and she wouldn’t have lived as long as she did. I don’t know what I’m going to do without her. Her petite, loving, beautiful little self was there for me during the good times, and licked my face when I cried. She was spoiled with treats and fuzzy mice. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her or give to her. All she had to do was look at me, “talk” to me or lick my face, and I would have given her the world. She was my baby—she was the light and love of my life. She took a big part of my heart and soul when she passed.

Salem was such a beautiful, loving, sweet girl that loved any animal that {came} near her. She never hissed, growled, or lashed out at them. I think that she would want the donations that were made for her to be used to help another kitty and she would want everyone to know and understand her story. That would be her legacy. People and animals are never truly gone as long as you remember them and carry them in your heart."

5159e1e47a5072599f0007d7 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Heartworm Awareness Month: Focusing on our Feline Friends]]> Wed, 17 Apr 2013 16:00:00 +0000 Throughout the month of April, and frankly, for most of us with dogs, throughout the year, heartworms and heartworm prevention are at the forefront of our thoughts in the ongoing preventative care and annual exams for our canine pals.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the felines in our families.

Cats are actually more resistant to heartworm infection than dogs, however they do fall victim to heartworm infection of varying degrees at roughly the same rate as dogs (albeit in lower overall hard numbers) because of the lack of prevention that owners typically impose. Most owners feel that because their cat is exclusively an indoor cat, they are not at risk (as heartworms are acquired from being bitten by an infected mosquito). This is most certainly not true! Who hasn’t found an annoying mosquito floating around the bathroom during the spring and summer months when we love keeping the windows open? One bite is all that’s necessary for our four-legged pals to contract this life threatening infection, and while yes, cats are more resistant than dogs, diagnosing cats with heartworms is more challenging, as symptoms often mimic unrelated, more generic illness – vomiting, lethargy, difficulty breathing (often associated with feline asthma). In fact, respiratory distress is such a common result of the early stages of heartworm disease and is so often misdiagnosed as feline asthma or bronchitis, a new syndrome has been defined, Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD). Proper diagnosis of feline heartworm infection in its early stages requires advanced diagnostics – radiographs, echocardiographs, or angiocardiographs, which are not common tests to require for any otherwise asymptomatic animal.

The real kicker in all this is the fact that in the United States, there is no product that is currently approved for the treatment of feline heartworm infection. The only options currently available are supportive therapy options to manage the respiratory distress caused by heartworms, or surgical procedures to physically extract the heartworms from the valves of the heart, which presents all kinds of potential complications on its own.

Moral of the story: While cats are naturally more resistant to heartworm infection than dogs, preventative care is still vital! There are numerous preventative care options available for cats, including HeartGuard for Cats, all available at your local veterinary office! Talk to your vet about putting your cat on a prevention program TODAY!!!!!

More information can be found at the American Heartworm Society website along with this super informative video!

516f0f458ad7ca27ec002ab0 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Update: Munch Chin]]> Mon, 13 May 2013 17:00:00 +0000 Last Monday, Munch Chin (see his story HERE) underwent surgery to correct a PDA, the most common request for funding BHF receives and has provided thus far. PDA surgeries are relatively commonplace nowadays, and up until now, all BHF grant recipients who have undergone PDA surgery have come through with flying colors and the knowledge that they will live a long and happy life.

Unfortunately, Munch Chin’s surgery did not go according to plan. Just like routine surgeries in humans can come across unforeseen complications, so too can common surgeries in our pets. In the middle of Munch Chin’s surgery, his vital signs (heart rate, oxygen levels, etc) dropped dramatically, and the surgeon felt he had no choice but to discontinue the surgery and stitch the incision in Munch Chin’s femoral artery. It was touch and go for awhile, but Munch Chin pulled through.

So what now? Munch Chin’s family must monitor him closely for any signs of heart failure, and the cardiologist will check up on Munch Chin’s condition every few months – if Munch Chin starts to show signs of heart failure, they will attempt the surgery again, however they will open his chest rather than attempt a laproscopic approach.

It is incredibly disappointing when what we hope so strongly for does not come to pass, but as we all learn, forget, relearn, and forget again in life, there are things that are simply beyond our ability to control. We will continue to keep Munch Chin in our thoughts and prayers. In the meantime, the funds raise on Munch Chin’s fundraising page are being directed to Coco’s surgery (see Coco’s story HERE) at the request of Munch Chin’s owner. The capacity of people to give so generously even in the midst of their own heartache and struggle continues to touch our hearts and inspires us to move forward. We love you Munch Chin!

51916b7a8ad7ca5a6d0003e8 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Last Thursday Afternoon]]> Wed, 15 May 2013 09:10:00 +0000 Last Thursday afternoon, I was sitting at my desk in the living room. My 9-month-old daughter was playing with her toys on the floor, and our 3-year-old yellow lab Lucy was asleep on the floor next to her.

Ding-dong! It’s the mailman.

“WOOF!” Lucy jumped up, startled.

“Lucy, go to your SPOT!” I said. She knows the drill – when she hears the doorbell, she jumps onto her bed and assumes an alert ‘sit’ while I tend to the visitor. Sometimes she is allowed to say hi, and sometimes not. When she exercises restraint and stays in her ‘spot’ to wait for further instruction, she is rewarded with yummy treats.

But this time was different. As soon as I said “SPOT!” Lucy began turning circles, as if she was confused about where to go.

“Come on honey, to your spot,” I said as I began to gently lead her to her bed. She wasn’t moving very fast and I don’t usually have to fight with her. Something was weird.

As soon as I looked back, her front legs gave out. She kind of stumbled onto to her doggie knees, leaning to her left side and breathing heavily. Her eyes were large and seemed to be saying: “What’s happening to me?” She was scared.

I knew exactly what was happening to her. Lucy has Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia (TVD for short), a congenital heart condition. She was born with this crappy, leaky valve that means her heart must work extra hard to keep up with the demands of her body. At this particular time, it couldn’t keep up with Lucy’s excitement. Her body was unable to remain in motion, and she fell.

It’s not like I never expected this to happen. This is what the doctors have been saying all along; this is the next symptom that will manifest itself. But it was still alarming. This was the first time.

I fell over her and wrapped my arms around her large, floppy neck. “Ssshhh, it’s okay!” I said. “Calm down girl, you got up too fast. You’re ok.” I stroked her head and ears with one hand and kept the other hand on her chest. I waited until I could feel her heartbeat slow to a normal pace before we got back up, just like nothing had happened. It probably took only a few seconds, but it felt like five minutes.

After the mailman left, my husband searched the ACVIM database for Veterinary Cardiologists in Seattle. We just moved here a month ago from Chicago, where we had lived for almost nine years. We still haven’t found a regular vet for Lucy or our two cats, but we have a cardiologist! At least we have our priorities straight. (I haven’t picked my own doctor yet, either!)

So, yesterday was the day. I drove Lucy to meet Dr. Anthony Tobias on the North side of Seattle, about 15 minutes from our house. I was fully expecting to be told we needed to commence with an echocardiogram ($600 likely), chest radiographs (x-rays) and possible medication changes depending on what they found.

I signed in at the front desk and filled out some paperwork. Lucy was furiously sniffing the floor and wagging her tail at every dog and person who walked by her. “Lucy, sit!” I said. It is hard to hold a piece of paper and write on it while a 70-pound dog is yanking on your arm.

They put us in a waiting room. A young tech knelt down and took Lucy’s pulse rate by watching her wristwatch. “She’s got a slow rhythm,” she said. “I don’t know what that means.” My mind was racing. Maybe it’s a medication issue? Wrong dosage? What’s changed? Could it be the stress of moving? Have we given her too much exercise?

The technician left us, and after a few minutes in walked Dr. Tobias. An older, scholarly looking man with glasses, he spoke softly and gently first to Lucy, then to me.

He knelt down. “Hello my sweetie,” he said to Lucy. She was apprehensive. She knows what’s up at vets’ offices. He held out his hand and she sniffed it for a second, and then retreated slowly behind me, panting.

When Dr. Tobias said hello to me, I felt the tension drain out of my body. I hadn’t realized how much stress I was carrying until I was in the presence of someone so completely calm.

I felt both comforted and sad when the doctor confirmed what deep down I already knew: there was nothing we could do to reverse the course of Lucy’s failing heart. The fainting was probably just because she got up too fast and her heart couldn’t keep up. No echocardiogram – no medication change – would fix what was already broken. There was nothing to do.

I had two options: accept that this is how it is, or pay $600 to have the cardiologist perform an echocardiogram, which would give us more information, but in all likelihood wouldn’t change the way we were treating Lucy.

Dr. Tobias made sure to tell me, calmly and earnestly, that both courses of action were responsible and completely acceptable. He then gave me time to make my decision, leaving the room to give me privacy and time to call and consult with my husband.

The decision was both difficult and easy. It was difficult in that I had to come face-to-face, yet again, with the fact that my dog has an incurable condition that will eventually take her life, and there’s nothing I can do about it. It was easy in that I didn’t want to spend $600 on something that in all probability wouldn’t change a darn thing.

I’m sharing this story with you because it helps me to write it, but also because I know there are probably many of you who are faced with making the same kinds of decisions. In no way am I trying to advocate for the decision my husband and I made – to choose the other course of action is completely valid and understandable. It is a totally personal choice.

The following is also my personal opinion. I cannot stress enough how much I believe it pays to be educated when you go to the doctor with your pets. If the doctor I saw was concerned only with bringing in more money to his practice, he easily could have swayed me to make the decision to spend more money. But he didn’t, because I believe he is ethical and sincere and puts the needs of his patients first. I am optimistic enough to believe that most doctors do this, but not naive enough to think that all of them do.

The bottom line is this: Lucy is okay. We are doing everything we possibly can for her, and more. She has not fainted since that episode weeks ago. The mailman has come many times since then, with no further incident. I will watch her closely; I will try to prevent the episodes before they happen (distracting her when I know someone is coming to the door; rewarding her for staying calm when she wants to “zoom around the room”). This is as good as I can do, and I’m okay with that. If it gets worse though, you can bet we’ll be right back in Dr. Tobias’s office. And I promise to tell you about it.

51929bd28ad7ca3adb002779 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Honoring Coco]]> Mon, 20 May 2013 11:05:00 +0000 PDA, by far BHF’s most common financial aid request and grant. Unfortunately, in the middle of the surgery, Munch Chin’s vitals dropped and the surgeon felt there was no option but to close up Munch Chin’s femoral artery before completing the procedure. Munch Chin will be monitored over the coming months for signs of heart failure and if he begins to show such signs, an open-heart surgery will be attempted.

Unfortunately, BHF received more heartbreaking news early last week: Coco suffered yet another cardiac episode, and rather than watch her continue to deteriorate and suffer, Coco’s family made the impossibly difficult decision to let her go. It’s hard to find words that adequately express the sadness felt throughout BHF. This case serves as not only a reminder of what’s at stake, but the urgency with which we must sometimes act. All of the pets that come through BHF’s Financial Aid Program are on borrowed time. It weighs on us heavily. Per BHF policy, all donors to Coco’s case were offered a full refund of their respective donations or the choice to dedicate their donations to another case. All of Coco’s donors opted to redirect their donations to Cali’s case, and Cali will soon be able to receive the surgery she desperately needs.
Coco’s case will stay with us for a long time to come. Her family literally rescued her from the side of the road, tied to a tree on a 100+ degree day. From the moment they rescued her, they worked to give her the best life possible, including managing her heart condition that could only be cured with expensive and rare open-heart surgery. In the short time they were blessed to have, they provided Coco with unconditional love and commitment to seeking all possible avenues of saving her, and when it became clear that Coco’s suffering was more than she could bear, they made the selfless decision to let her be at peace.

Our hearts are broken, but our resolve to help as many pets like Coco as possible is not. The lives of pets are worth loving, they are worth saving, and they are worth honoring. In the coming months and years, The Big Hearts Fund will strive to honor Coco, as she so greatly deserves.

519a49ad7a507208b10021c1 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Shadow]]> Fri, 24 May 2013 12:00:00 +0000 I am about to share an amazing story with you – a story that perfectly illustrates that sometimes, out of heartbreaking tragedy we can find beauty, inspiration, and hope. Because of the tragic death of one beloved cat and the unconditional love his owners had for him, The Big Hearts Fund will now be able to save the lives of multiple others.

I received an e-mail yesterday from Divyan telling me about the death of his cat Shadow to an undiagnosed heart condition. Feeling called to action in their grief, Shadow’s owners Divyan and Toby set up a memorial fund for Shadow on They chose The Big Hearts Fund as the recipient of all money raised!

Needness to say, this is the kind of e-mail every charity hopes to receive out of the blue someday! And it happened to us yesterday.

Here is the story of Shadow, written by his owners:

Our cat shadow was born in March 2010. We adopted him in April 2011 and he was a part of our home and our lives until he passed away suddenly on May 19, 2013. Shadow was not just a cat — he was a member of our family. Shadow was a constant companion; a strong positive force that provided us with joy every day; an expert sleeper on all surfaces rough or soft; a connoisseur of boxes big and small (no matter how small); a rubber against human legs; a daily alarm; an acrobat; a butler/doorman; a hunter of string and rope; a snuggler; a poser; a feline model; a bundle of energy at the most random of moments; a facebook celebrity; a friend; a roommate; a family member. He provided unconditional love (provided he was fed) and accepted our constant affection (hugging / cuddling) with typically un-feline-like patience.

Shadow passed away when we had to put him to sleep as a result of an undiagnosed / undetected heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. In this condition, an enlarged heart increases turbulence of blood flow, which causes blood clots to form. In Shadow’s case, a blood clot got caught at the “saddle” where his aorta splits off to feed his hind legs. Once the clot blocked his bloodflow, he was paralyzed in his hind leg region, fluid built up in his lungs, and he had trouble moving and breathing. He went from healthy one second to traumatically injured in the next.

Unfortunately, the prognosis for this disease is extremely poor. Even if the blood clot can be broken up, a process with many complications from which a cat is unlikely to survive, the underlying heart condition is extremely likely to cause another clot to form in the near term and severely impact a cat’s quality of life. Preventative care may help, but even then the odds are low. Shadow died in our arms, relaxing and purring when he was brought to see us for one last time before he was put to sleep. To the end, he trusted us, even in such a traumatic situation.

To honor Shadow’s memory, we have set up this page to support “The Big Hearts Fund”, a non-profit which seeks to help pet owners attain necessary veterinary care for their animals diagnosed early enough with heart disease — especially those who cannot afford the expensive treatments necessary to treat this disease. We would truly appreciate any support you would be willing to give to this charity to help make sure other people do not lose their companions and family members so suddenly to this terrible disease, which can strike out of nowhere and immediately render a healthy animal completely debilitated.

We loved Shadow immensely and were so happy during the two and a half years we got to spend with him. We just wish there had been more time. Hopefully, the funds we raise for the Big Hearts Fund will raise awareness about this condition and help other people have a little more additional time with their best friends and companions.

Please visit Shadow’s page on CrowdRise to help his owners reach their goal! All money raised goes to BHF.

Divyan and Toby, words cannot express the depth of our gratitude – a gratitude which probably pales in comparison to what those those owners will feel when the money you have raised in Shadow’s name saves the lives of their beloved family members.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you!

519faa7c7a50723d860029dd open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[The Difficulty of Doing This / Update on Cali]]> Tue, 18 Jun 2013 11:00:00 +0000 When we – the board here at BHF – decided to start giving grants to save people’s pets, we “knew” it wasn’t going to be easy. We knew we wouldn’t be able to save everyone.

I say we “knew” in quotation marks because we “knew”, but we didn’t know, you know? It’s the difference between knowing something in your head and knowing something in your heart – you can anticipate sadness/heartache before it happens, but you can’t feel it in advance. Anyone who’s lost a loved one can probably relate to this. To truly know something, you have to actually experience it.

Cali’s Mom took her to see the cardiologist last week and got some unexpected news. The cardiologist, Dr. Orvalho at UC Davis Veterinary Medicine, evaluated her and said Cali is not a candidate for surgery. That her defect is so severe that her body and heart have actually adapted to the condition to help her survive this long. Needless to say, this is not what anyone was expecting.

The good news is that Cali is, remarkably, doing pretty well. She has been prescribed Viagra, which she will continue to take three times a day to help her live more comfortably in the time she has left. Her Mom is providing her with a comfortable home and a life full of love and compassion.

Cali’s mom has decided she would like to use the first $1,000 raised for Cali – which was mostly from family and friends – to go towards Cali’s medication costs and the cardiology visit. We will be speaking with the rest of the donors so that they can decide where they would like their donations to go. Cali may still be able to use it for medication, but we’re not sure how much or for how long since no one knows for sure how long she will live.

In the wake of Coco’s death, I’ve got to admit: This is a hard one to take. As Program Director for this organization, I’m wondering what we can do to prevent this from happening again. Not because I think dogs who aren’t candidates for surgery shouldn’t qualify for aid, but because I would like donors to be confident that their donations will go towards the chosen case.

A theme in my life recently (well if I really think about it, I guess it’s like forever) has been to challenge myself to be okay with “good enough.” Another good way of saying this comes from the founding father of both my graduate school program and Adlerian Psychology, Alfred Adler: we should strive to have “the courage to be imperfect.”

So here I am saying it. We are imperfect! We live in an imperfect world, where imperfect things happen all the time. The best we can do is support Cali’s owner in caring for Cali in the days ahead (for how long, no one is quite sure) and likewise, admit that our system is imperfect and allow donors to choose again where they’d like their donation to go. I can also promise that as our program continues to grow and mature, we will continue to make responsible decisions to improve its efficacy and efficiency. Likewise, I promise to communicate with you all about that process! I welcome questions, concerns, and suggestions.

This part will never change though. When you give to The Big Hearts Fund, you will help pets with heart disease. Period.

To Cali’s Mom, Coco’s Mom, all those at home with a sick pet or who have suffered a recent loss: You are in our hearts. You are not alone. And, you are giving/have given your furry loved ones the best gift anyone can give – a comfortable life full of love, compassion, and tender care. You have the hardest job, but the most important and noble one, hands (paws) down.

51bfd696aa707a7cd800075a open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[The Heartworm Problem]]> Tue, 24 Sep 2013 12:00:00 +0000 Almost daily, I receive a request from a distressed owner looking for funding to treat his or her dog’s heartworm disease. Many times the story is the same: a big-hearted person adopts a needy dog from a shelter or from another family, falls in love with the dog, and then finds out that the dog had a raging case of heartworms that was undisclosed upon adoption (nice, right?).

Here is a recent example from a loving and responsible owner in Tennessee.

My response to her heartworm treatment request:

“Dear Owner,

Thank you for contacting the Big Hearts Fund. I am so sorry to hear about your dog’s condition. Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming need we are facing for care for pets with other congenital and non-preventable heart conditions, The Big Hearts Fund is unable to fund care for Heartworm cases at this time. I suggest asking your veterinarian about Care Credit or other payment plan options.


Usually, this is where the communication stops. However, this owner wrote back.

“I thank you for your consideration about this and wanted to inquire about other places that I may try. I keep running into this road block about it having been a preventable disease and I agree. The issue is [my dog] was given to me and the previous owner did not tell me that he had heart worm infection. I was even given over a year supply of heart worm medication from the previous owner who had a very surprised look when he found it in [dog]‘s documents. His wife is deaf and I just assumed that he was expecting the medication in the dog bedroom, but now I realize that the expression was surprise to finding the medication at all. When it was time to resupply his medication I found that he had heart worm and the vet indicated that this was not a recent infection. So, yes the disease is preventable, but he had it before he ever joined my family and I feel like all of the no’s I am getting are due to the fact that I am being judged as negligent and that is not the case. I myself am disabled and the life saving treatment he needs is creating a financial hardship for me because my insurance no longer will pay for many of the medications that I need to sustain my life. Last month a necessary steroid was deemed prescribed without merit even though it is the only medication that replicates the hormone my organs no longer make. This medicine went from a 5.00 medication to a 230.00 medication monthly. My income is so minimal that I am faced with the challenge of saying good-bye. He doesn’t deserve this. Days I felt like giving up he kept strong and I don’t want to fail him, I don’t want to see him suffer. Any leads or other suggestions you may have would be appreciated.

4 paws down,

Wow, right? I honestly feel her pain. I want to help. Here is a person who loves her companion doing the best she can, and that’s not good enough. This question keeps weighing on me.

In the meantime, I wrote to the American Heartworm Society:

My name is Christy Drackett – I am program director and founder of The Big Hearts Fund, a non-profit which helps pet owners afford care for pets with heart disease. We give grants for medical treatment, as well as work to educate owners about heart disease in pets (prevention and care).

I am writing because we recently had to stop funding care for cases of heartworms. We were getting so many heartworm treatment requests that we had very few funds left to help pets with congenital heart defects, so we had to make this difficult choice.

The Big Hearts Fund currently gets about 20 requests-per-month from pet owners and/or shelters desperate to help animals who have contracted heartworms. In most cases, it is not due to any negligence on the owner’s part – they usually rescue the dog, and are then told later that it needs heartworm treatment. And I am faced with telling them I can’t help them. I usually recommend applying for Care Credit.

My question for you is: do you know of any organization who helps owners/shelters afford the cost of treatment and/or preventative meds for heartworms? It would be great to find a way to work together to help people find resources!

Hope to hear from you!

And here is the response I got:

Dear Christy,
Congratulations on the work you do on behalf of our pets! You certainly are to be commended on your efforts.
Unfortunately, we don’t know of any organization that assists with heartworm treatment costs. We get this question almost every day. What we recommend is to call around to shelters and clinics and explain the situation. Very often, pet owners are able to find reduced-cost treatment or affordable payment plans to assist.
Thank you for contacting the American Heartworm Society. Best of luck to you and your organization.

Kind regards,
Lisa Scott
Association Management Team
American Heartworm Society

So I wrote this message to the owner:

Hello [owner],

Thanks for explaining your situation. Actually, most of the requests we get to fund heartworm treatment are from people in situations very similar to yours. I feel your pain, and I am so sorry there’s not more we can do at this time. There is absolutely no judgement being passed from us to owners of pets with heartworms – we know that in many cases, this is not due to negligence but to serious and crippling financial distress +/or situations like yours. But about a year ago, our organization had to make the very difficult decision to stop funding heartworm cases because, as it turns out, that was all we were funding. There were no funds left over for those dogs with serious congenital heart defects who would die before they were a year old without treatment costing thousands of dollars.
I recently spoke with someone from the American Heartworm Society about your inquiry, and others like yours. Here is her response:

And then I pasted the AHS’s response, same as above.

I hope that this owner does not give up on her dog. I hope that there are some shelters in her area that run reduced-cost heartworm treatment programs. Or, that a local vet with a heart is able to work out a payment plan with her and provide reduced-cost treatment.

And now I put out a call to you all: Does anyone know of anyone out there – vets, shelters, clinics, organizations – offering help for heartworm cases?

5241cda03cdb7c5e42000049 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Q&A: What about Canadian pets, eh?]]> Thu, 03 Oct 2013 13:05:00 +0000 I recently received this e-mail from a concerned owner:


“I am a senior citizen with a limited income. My Jack Russell Terrier is 14-and-a-half years old and has been diagnosed with severe mitral valve degeneration and regurgitation… I am giving her Vetmedin1.25 (2 x daily) and Fortekor 2.5 mg. I am now living in Calgary and these meds are costing me about $120.00 per month. I know that vet practices pack part of their overhead into these costs, and I also know that in my former Nova Scotia community the cost was less than 70.00 per month.

Is there a source for these meds that is more reasonably affordable? Is it necessary to have a blood test or other exam every couple of months in order to renew the prescription?"


Good questions. My immediate thought was to suggest that this owner check the cost of his dog’s medications on the online pharmacy of Drs Foster and Smith. This would take away any excess cost tacked onto the medication by his vet’s office pharmacy.

Here’s what our vet cardiologist advisor, Dr. Justin Allen, DVM, DACVIM had to say:

“The problem is I’m not very familiar with vet laws in Canada. Here in the US, you only need an exam yearly to refill medications. Generally, once the bloodwork is confirmed normal after starting Benazepril (Fortekor), you don’t really need to recheck it more than once yearly unless something changes (appetite decrease, dose change, etc). I thought Vetmedin was less expensive in Canada.

He may be able to check an online pharmacy up there (like 1800petmeds) or call around to other vets. Here, we can get those meds from places like Walmart or other human pharmacies, but I’m again not sure what the regulations are there. I would tell him to talk to his vet, and if he gets unsatisfactory answers to find a new vet.*

Does anyone else have experience with vet laws in Canada? Any Canadian readers have suggestions for other Canadians looking for resources?

  • Do many of us remember that we have that option? The option to find a new vet if ours is not responsive or helpful? Because I’d like to remind you: you have that option. Our veterinarians’ top priority should be helping us help our pets, not just making money. And if you suspect the latter is the case, don’t just walk away – please, RUN.
524db1e4c0d7cd6a120001a7 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Layla : A Family's Story]]> Wed, 06 Nov 2013 14:50:00 +0000

This article was written by Alanna Tritt, a writer volunteering with BHF. We are so grateful for her talent and initiative! Find out more about her here.

Take a look at the picture above. That little puppy sitting at the family’s feet has such energy. She is alert, eyes fixed on some exciting thing in the distance, the epitome of puppy energy. From the photograph, it would be impossible to guess that the puppy, Layla, suffered from a heart condition, or that her family adopted her specifically to take care of her.

Layla was a puppy with a problem. She was diagnosed with a PDA, or patent ductus arteriosus, when she was quite young. Erin, the adult in the picture above, heard about her condition. She saw a vulnerable animal who needed extra care, and began thinking. Those thoughts eventually led her to adopt Layla and start a fundraising campaign to help fund curative surgery.

We asked Erin to describe her family’s journey, from initial decision to post-surgery, and share any advice she might have for other families in similar situations.

When she heard about Layla, Erin did some research into the heart condition and considered it deeply. “It is very important that you research the medical condition and exhaust all possibilities of funding support as well; veterinarian medical expenses quickly add up,” she said.

Once she felt informed, Erin spoke to her family, including her children: Shannon, eleven years old, and Thomas, eight. They had wanted a puppy for some time. “I feel it is imperative to be honest with children at a developmentally appropriate level. Educate them and yourselves and do not make any promises. There are no guarantees. However, that being said you must have hope and follow your heart.”

Erin is a licensed social worker and a behavior therapist, so communication is important to her. She said, “I talk to my kids A LOT! We have had the great misfortune of dealing with chronic health issues due to my mother’s passing of cancer five years ago, so they are all too aware of how fragile life is.”

“I told the kids that I knew of a puppy who needed someone to care for it because it had a heart problem,” Erin said, “I told them that I felt she needed us and that we would try our best to help her in any way we could, but regardless we would love her for as long as she lived.” After deliberation, the family decided to welcome Layla into their home.

Not everyone understood at first. “There were many people who questioned my sanity when they heard that I was willingly rescuing a dog with a congenital heart defect,” Erin said, “including my husband!”

Layla’s condition meant that she wasn’t able to play like other puppies. Shannon and Thomas understood this. “They respected that she needed rest because her heart was working so hard,” Erin said.

Shannon and Thomas stayed involved throughout the treatment process. They attended the vet appointments, and still continue to care for her after her surgery. “To this day both of the kids make sure to give Layla her medicine at dinner,” Erin said, “and they are good about making sure she has water and is not over exercised.”

The entire family participated in the fundraising campaign for Layla’s surgery. “The local animal shelter, True Friends, allowed [us] to raise money taking photos at Woofstock in August. My husband really got involved and made a creative back drop for the event.”

The event went well. Erin said, “I was humbled by the outpouring of love and support from the community. I not only made $500 for her medical fund that day; I also made lasting connections with people who are passionate about animal welfare and taught my children an important lesson about advocacy….” In fact, she is considering raising funds for another animal at next year’s event.

Erin and her children agree that this has been an important experience for them. “I recently saw a bumper sticker that had a picture of a dog on it and the words ‘who rescued who,’” Erin added, “When I saw it I was immediately moved to tears. Loving Layla has been a tremendous blessing for our family.”

Layla’s family’s experience is unique, just like every family’s experience is unique. Do you have any advice for families with children whose pet is coping with heart disease? If so, leave a comment or email us to let us know.

52787a823cdb7c037900029a open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Fall Treats for Fido and Fluffy]]> Thu, 21 Nov 2013 12:00:00 +0000 By Alanna Tritt

It is well and thoroughly autumn by now, and we are edging our way towards winter. In fact, many of us are hip-deep in the holiday season. This can be a time of feasts and gatherings for humans—and for pets!

Unfortunately, human food isn’t terribly good for pets, especially those with heart disease. Though delicious, typical holiday meals are loaded with fat, sugar, and sodium. Low sodium diets are often part of the treatment plans that vets develop for pets with heart disease, so that turkey and stuffing isn’t exactly diet material!

If stuffing is off the menu, how can Fido and Fluffy join in the festivities? Fortunately, dogs and cats can enjoy natural fall treats, and there are even some we can make at home. As always, it is very important to consult your vet before making any dietary changes. Just like people, all pets are different; what works for one might not work for the other.

Though pumpkin pie is out, dogs and cats alike may enjoy a bit of canned pumpkin with their food. This should be the plain stuff, none of the pre-mixed pumpkin filling. Instead, just a smidge of plain canned pumpkin can make an excellent treat. Pumpkin is flavorful, has plenty of vitamins and fiber, and only contains trace amounts of sodium. It is sometimes used as a laxative or to prevent constipation, so check with your vet for portion size.

Besides pumpkin, dogs may also enjoy sweet potatoes. Of course, sweet potatoes for dogs are very different from the sweet potatoes found on most dinner tables. Though the base ingredient is the same, the preparation is quite different. Lucy, our inspiration here at The Big Hearts Fund, is particularly fond of Sam’s Yams ( These are essentially unsalted, dried sweet potatoes that handle a lot like rawhide.

Natural treats can get fairly expensive. Fortunately, enterprising dog owners can make their own sweet potato or yam dog chews. Try slicing up these festive tubers and baking them low and slow in an oven until well dehydrated.

Christy and Lucy gave this a try at home (well, Christy did the baking, Lucy did the tasting, and the cats looked on). The team sliced the sweet potatoes about ¼-inch thick, baked them at 250 degrees for 3½ hours, and made sure to let them cool completely before tasting them. The smaller pieces were delightfully crisp, but some of the larger ones were still soft. Christy said, “I could have continued to bake them, however…I decided to make delightful freezer snacks out of them! Even the hardest baked sweet potato treat is devoured in a number of seconds by Lucy.”

Since these tuber-licious snacks contain no preservatives, we suggest making them in small batches. Dog owners who prepare yams or sweet potatoes for humans may want to set aside a couple slices to bake for Fido.
For more ideas, check out our resources page. We list the sodium content of common foods and some special recipes for dogs and cats. As always, please consult your pet’s vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet.
What’s your pet’s favorite heart-friendly treat?

bq. Eldredge, D. M., Carlson, D. G., Carlson, L. D., & Giffin, J. M. (2008). Cat owner’s home veterinary handbook. (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
bq. Eldredge, D. M., Carlson, L. D., Carlson, D. G., & Giffin, J. M. (2008). Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook. (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
bq. Healthy Snack Ideas: ‘People’ Food for Dogs and Cats. petMD, LLC. Web. 17 Nov 2013. <
bq. Mahaney, P. (2012, November 20). [Web log message]. Retrieved from

528c4746c0d7cd19dc000574 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Sharing Thanks at the Big Hearts Fund]]> Wed, 27 Nov 2013 10:50:00 +0000 Happy Thanksgiving from the Big Hearts Fund! In honor of the holiday, we would like to take a few moments to share our stories about friends, food, and family—including pets! Feel inspired? Leave a comment and let us know what you are thankful for this year.

Q: What is your favorite Thanksgiving tradition?

Christy: My favorite tradition is “Friendsgiving”! The weekend or so before Thanksgiving, along with our closest friends, we share a Thanksgiving meal together before heading to wherever to celebrate the holiday with our respective families. Since we were in our 20’s when this tradition started, most of us were leaving Chicago to go to their parents’ homes for the holidays. As we’ve gotten older…[it] has become harder to connect consistently with each other, but we all loved Friendsgiving so much that we’ve pledged to try to make it happen each year. To us, it embodies what the holiday is about – getting together with close friends to cook a meal together, enjoy each other’s company, and give thanks for the special relationships we’ve chosen to keep in our lives.

Des: I’m not really much for Thanksgiving. I do like cooking, and eating, and hanging out with good people, but I haven’t had a family Thanksgiving (except as the Thanksgiving Orphan) in… going on seven years. Actually, I think the concept of a Thanksgiving Orphan—one I have been guest for several times and host of almost as many times. It turns the holiday into something more than just a giant meal, possibly with family: it becomes also about inclusion.

Katie: My husband and me, and our families love to eat! So cooking together, and then enjoying food together is one of our favorite days of the year. Seeing my husband, Chris, and my mom clean and prepare the huge turkey together is always a great comedy moment on Thanksgiving morning. But my favorite part of the day comes as we’re sitting down to dinner. We always go around the table and each person says something they are thankful for that year. It’s sappy, but touching and it gets me every time!

Kaitlin: Our family traditions for Thanksgiving revolve totally around food – it is NOT Thanksgiving without making very specific recipes for Sweet Potato Casserole and Green Bean Casserole. Regardless of where I’m spending Thanksgiving or who I’m with, I always make at least those two dishes and the holiday is complete!

Laura: Growing up, my family didn’t live close to any relatives, so we always hosted a big Thanksgiving feast for friends who also were in the same situation. My husband and I continue that tradition by hosting a “friends are family” thanksgiving each year.

Best buddies

Melissa: My favorite family Thanksgiving tradition includes watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade as well as cooking with my husband. It is typically just the two of us for Thanksgiving since both of our families live in Florida and we would be visiting them in December for Christmas. We also love to spend Thanksgiving with friends-often times taking little weekend trips for the holiday.

Alanna: My father is a pescetarian, so eats seafood but not other meat. Ever since I was little, he has always grilled salmon for our special dinners. I don’t know how he makes it, but it is always the best part.

Q: Can you share something that you are thankful for?

Christy: In this year that we’ve gone through so much big change (moving across the country, adjusting to new parenthood), and I am most thankful for my nuclear family – my 16-month-old daughter Hazel and especially my husband Chris, who always champions me and my efforts both to be a good mother and a good steward of The Big Hearts Fund’s mission. It’s not easy to both work and be a mom! He is my rock.

Des: This year I am thankful for many things. I recently moved, with little more than a hope and a vague plan, halfway across the country. Since then, I’ve found semi-conventional employment on a wonderful schedule, a kitten who is as delightfully ill-behaved as could be expected, and a wonderful boyfriend. There’s lots to be thankful for.

Katie: Our family moved from Chicago to Milwaukee this year, and it has been a big transition for all of us. We are so lucky to have great family and friends that helped with our move and who come visit us regularly and help us transition to our new home. I’m very thankful for all the favors we’ve received this year, and also for the new friends we have made in our new neighborhood. Even Lulu, our mini labradoodle, has a new best friend on the block – Roxy the yellow lab!

Lulu keeps an eye on the situation

Kaitlin: I am so very thankful for Rocky, my 5 month old son and Jax, my 4 year old Dogo. They are the cutest and the best buddies any gal could ever have.

Laura: I am thankful to be a part of the Big Hearts Board. I have gotten to know some amazing, compassionate, dedicated people here, and have had the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of families whose pets have heart disease.

Melissa: This year, I am thankful for my family; especially my wonderful husband whom is truly my best friend. I am also thankful for Charlie (our first dog) as well as the newest addition to our family; little Roscoe. Roscoe is a 10 month old Schnauzer mix who adores everyone and everything.

Alanna: I’m thankful for my friends, new and old, my family, my unbelievably sweet boyfriend, and the opportunity to write for the Big Hearts Fund blog.

Q: Do you have any Thanksgiving traditions for your pets or fun pet stories to share?

Christy: Unfortunately, since we’re usually traveling to someplace where we can’t bring Lucy, she usually stays with friends or goes to “doggy camp” over the Thanksgiving holiday. Our kitties get played with and fed by neighbors and friends while we’re gone. I always miss them all terribly when we’re away, and we try to minimize the amount that we have to leave them behind.

In contrast, when I was growing up, my parents usually hosted Thanksgiving at our house. Which meant our Wheaten Terrier, Murphy, was in attendance. My dad always used to give Murphy “shnibbles” of turkey as he carved up the big bird! My mother would “tisk-tisk!” at him as he smiled and slipped the dog a tasty bit of crispy, salty skin. Needless to say, it was one of the best days of the year for him :).

Des: Mostly on Thanksgiving, my job is to keep the cats from trying to eat people food. I fear that, despite the number of animals in my life at all points, I don’t have any particularly engrossing Thanksgiving-specific stories (Christmas is better, as there were multiple cats who enjoyed climbing Christmas trees).

Katie: We don’t do anything specific that is Lulu-related on Thanksgiving, besides spoiling her with lots of love and attention like we try to every day :) But, last Thanksgiving was really special because Chris and I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time at our home in Chicago. Poor Lulu was sniffing around our patio door the entire day because she could smell the turkey roasting outside on our patio, in the electric roaster. I have never seen her so excited as the moment when we finally brought in the cooked turkey to carve it, and she was so cute that we couldn’t help giving her the first taste of turkey!

Kaitlin: Jax usually gets the spend the day with his cousins, Chloe and Betty, running around and causing a ruckus. I guess we don’t have any official traditions for him just yet, but we will! He does love pumpkin….

Laura: I’m a cat person. So far as I can tell, cats don’t really observe Thanksgiving except to demand turkey and assume that they are the ones we are thanking, since I’m pretty sure cats think they’re God.

Melissa: Thanksgiving day three years ago I was out walking Charlie early in the morning. While on our walk we met a tiny Westie about the same age as Charlie (3 months old). This Westie, named Romie, and Charlie became fast friends. Romie and her owners have remained some of our best friends to this day. It was a great Thanksgiving.

Alanna: Bella Donna, my cat, was the littlest thing when she was a kitten. She was so adorable that I couldn’t deny her anything. On her first Thanksgiving, I gave her a smidge of pumpkin pie. She loved it! I gave her some the next year, and the next, until it became a sort of tradition. This year, I can’t wait to see how she likes plain pumpkin. She’s much slower than she used to be, and I want to make sure I help her stay healthy.

Bella Donna

529621acc0d7cd6df500015e open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Another Year Gone By]]> Tue, 10 Dec 2013 15:00:00 +0000 The past year has been full of opportunities to not only help families in need, but to do so in collaboration with enthusiastic veterinary offices, committed charitable organizations, and generous individuals around the country.

In January of 2013, The Big Hearts Fund was contacted by The St. Louis Senior Dog Project regarding an adorable and “bossy” 2 year old mini-schnauzer/yorkie named Pepper. Pepper had recently been turned into Animal Care and Control because her owner no longer wanted her, but she’d quickly found her way into a loving foster home, and life seemed to be looking up for her.

Unfortunately, her foster family soon discovered something was terribly wrong. After several instances in which Pepper would lose consciousness for up to 30 seconds, it was discovered that she suffered from Pulmonic Stenosis, a severe heart defect. If Pepper did not undergo a balloon valvuloplasty to correct this defect soon, she would faint and never wake up. This curative surgery costs at least $2,500, an expense The St. Louis Senior Dog Project simply could not afford. As a homeless animal, Pepper had little time and almost no hope of being adopted by a forever family due to this condition.

Enter Pepper’s 11 year-old human foster sister, Sydney. Sydney immediately sprang into action, creating a fundraising campaign called* “Change for Pepper,”* wherein local businesses set out baby bottles to collect change from their customers. Sydney’s amazing efforts were a great start to raising the $2,500 needed, however they still had a long way to go. After learning about Pepper’s story and her amazing foster family, The Big Hearts Fund could not let her down. In addition to the $750 pledged from the BHF Financial Aid Program, a fundraising page was set up on BHF’s website to collect an additional $500. We also reached out to the Trio Animal Foundation, a Chicago organization that provides funding for medical care for homeless animals, for additional support.

In less than 24 hours, all the needed funds were raised and then some. Over night, Pepper’s fate was decided by the generosity of hundreds of strangers from around the country. On February 4, this sweet little bossy pants underwent a balloon valvuloplasty and has since made a full recovery. To put delicious icing on the cake, Pepper was soon after adopted by a young man and is now living the life of leisure in St. Louis.

As BHF continues its mission of raising funds and awareness for pets with heart disease, Pepper is now just one of many beloved family members that have received life saving care through The Big Hearts Fund Financial Aid Program. To date, BHF has awarded 25 grants totaling more than $18,000 to pets across the United States. You can read some of their stories at The Big Hearts Fund WEBSITE.

While these stories warm our hearts and encourage us to stay the course, our job is far from complete. The Big Hearts Fund is determined to offer support to not just a few animals, but all animals that require aid.

In order to accomplish this goal and continue offering life saving medical care to pets in need, we invite you to contribute to BHF’s “Helping Hearts” Annual Pledge Drive. Your year-end contribution or monthly pledge can provide medication to manage a heart condition ($50), allow for an echocardiogram ($350), or fund 100% of a BHF grant for curative surgery ($1,000).

The Big Hearts Fund WEBSITE has a simple and secure Donation page through which you can submit your tax-deductible contribution. Simply click the DONATE button on any page, and complete the donation/ pledge form.

So many people, organizations, and beloved pets have been an integral part of The Big Hearts Fund’s growth and impact this year, and we hope you are able to continue on this journey with us as we strive to help ALL animals in need receive the care they deserve.

On behalf of The Big Hearts Fund staff, Board of Directors, and most of all, Pepper, Ellie, Izzie, Karma, Dane, Leo, and so many more, I thank you for your unwavering support and spirited generosity.

Yours in Service,
Kaitlin R Bishop
Executive Director

52a781c0d6af687001000006 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[12 Days of Christmas: Bella's Story]]> Thu, 26 Dec 2013 00:00:00 +0000 Bella’s mom is a US Army instructor with two teenage children living at home on a single salary. When they adopted her as a tiny puppy, Bella’s family instantly fell in love with her adorable lab/hound face and sweet, sunny disposition!

When Bella was 12 weeks old, she was diagnosed with PDA, or Patent Ductus Arteriosis – a condition where the ductus arteriosis, a fetal blood vessel that normally closes after birth, remains open. Animals who are born with a PDA normally do not live to see the age of one year if the condition is not corrected.

Luckily, curative surgery called a “PDA Closure" or "PDA Occlusion” is available in veterinary medicine. Unfortunately, it normally costs anywhere from $2,000 – $5,000 dollars. Aside from the usual living expenses, Bella’s mom was also paying off significant student loan debt. She found herself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Desperate to find help and unwilling to give up, Bella’s mom found The Big Hearts Fund through an internet search. We were able to grant Bella $1,000 which helped Bella’s family be able to afford her surgery.

Bella underwent surgery on October 8th, 2013 and did magnificently. She now lives at home happily with her family, looking forward to a long, comfortable life full of love.

52bbc5284f720a3dba000226 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[12 Days of Christmas: Ellie's Story]]> Thu, 26 Dec 2013 12:05:00 +0000 This little girl is 13 weeks old in this picture, and living with a serious heart condition called a PDA.

Ellie’s mom is a nursing student, living on financial aid and the small amount she is able to make as a nurse extern over her breaks from school (summertime, winter break). When Ellie was diagnosed with a serious heart condition that required surgical intervention in order to keep her from going into congestive heart failure and eventually dying, Ellie’s mom had to think fast.

She applied for Care Credit to afford the diagnostic testing for Ellie, which slapped another $450 on top of the other significant debt she was accumulating. She also obtained $500 from a charity run through MedVet, the hospital where Ellie’s cardiologist, Dr. Nguyenba, works. She asked everyone she knew and did everything she could think to do to find a way to help this little girl she loved so dearly. (I mean seriously, LOOK at her face!) The surgery was going to cost $3,500.

Ellie’s owner found The Big Hearts Fund online and immediately applied. BHF was able to grant Ellie $1,500 towards the cost of her surgery, which in combination with the additional grant she received from MedVet, enabled her mom to afford the procedure.

Ellie underwent successful PDA occlusion surgery in February, 2013. Now, she lives at home peacefully and happily with her loving mom and two “big sisters,” a dog named Roxy and a cat named Callie

52bbce98d6af6810e2000016 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[12 Days of Christmas: Caesar]]> Fri, 27 Dec 2013 12:20:00 +0000 This cute little guy was about a year-and-a-half old when this picture was taken in October. Like many of our applicants, Caesar was born with a PDA – and if he didn’t undergo surgery within weeks, his cardiologist was very concerned for his ability to survive. Congestive Heart Failure was imminent for him.

Caesar’s surgery was estimated to cost around $2,500. Because his owner is currently disabled and unable to work, he was living on a limited budget that could not sustain the cost of Caesar’s cardiac surgery. Like many pet owners, Caesar’s dad loved him and was devastated to think that Caesar might have to suffer if he couldn’t find a way to help him.

That’s when Caesar’s cardiologist, Dr. Hatton, told Caesar’s dad about The Big Hearts Fund. We were able to grant Caesar $1,000 towards the cost of his surgery. Now this sweet little guy who was not feeling so well in October is doing very well, able to run and play without wheezing and coughing, just like any other dog without cardiac disease. Hooray!

52bbc9784f720a792f0003bd open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[12 Days of Christmas: Reese's Story]]> Sat, 28 Dec 2013 15:00:00 +0000 Reese was the second ever BHF grant recipient! In this picture, she is in recovery from the Balloon Valvuloplasty surgery that saved her young life.

Reese’s family loved her very much. As the parents of grown human children who are out of the house, Reese’s mom describes Reese as being “the first thing [she] thinks of in the morning, and the last thing [she] thinks of before [she] falls asleep.”

As supportive parents of grown children, Reese’s parents were helping their eldest daughter who going through a messy divorce. On top of other bills and debts, they were helping her feed and clothe her children as well as paying for daycare so that their daughter could keep working to make enough to get by without the support of her spouse.

In addition, they were also financing another daughter’s education.

To make matters even more stressful, Reese’s dad had just found out that his Army Reserve unit was being transferred for 13 months, which would prohibit him from working the second job he held and further straining the family’s finances.

AND (as if that wasn’t enough!), Reese’s vet did not take Care Credit. So that wasn’t an option.

Talk about bad timing!

Luckily, Reese’s mom found The Big Hearts Fund online. BHF was able to grant enough so that Reese could get the surgery that saved her life… a life that brings so much joy and comfort to her family every day she is alive. Reese underwent surgery on October 12, 2012 – and today, she lives happily and comfortably at home with her loving and grateful family.

52be67594f720a040b00025c open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[12 Days of Christmas: Karma's Story]]> Sun, 29 Dec 2013 10:00:00 +0000 Like many other BHF applicants, Karma’s story is that of a young puppy with a PDA.

A PDA, incase you missed it, is short for Patent Ductus Arteriosis – a condition wherein the Patent Ductus, a blood vessel in the heart which is open when the puppy is in utero and usually closes after birth, remains open after the puppy is born. If not treated, puppies with PDA’s usually go into Congestive Heart Failure and die during their first year of life. At just three months old, Karma’s cardiologist, Dr. Eason, told us she was in danger of immanent left-sided heart failure.

Surgery to fix a PDA is widely available, and also expensive. Karma’s parents are an administrative assistant and a carpenter, and while they make enough to live, they didn’t make enough to be able to afford the $2,300 surgery Karma would need to save her life.

Karma’s parents were devastated by the news that their sweet puppy was suffering and could die because of their financial situation. That’s when their cardiologist told them about The Big Hearts Fund. Luckily, we were able to help!

Karma underwent surgery to correct her PDA on October 24th. Today, she continues to grace her parents’ life with the curiosity and joy that only a German Shepherd puppy can!

52c04c23f002ff2dc0000062 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[12 Days of Christmas: Silver's Story]]> Mon, 30 Dec 2013 09:35:00 +0000 Fair warning: Grab a tissue, or five.

Silver is this darling 5-month-old Pitbull baby. Like many Pitbulls and Pit mixes, Silver was a rescue girl. Two weeks after adopting her, Silver’s mom learned of her heart mumur. Silver was diagnosed with Severe Pulmonic Stenosis, which is an obstruction of the flow from the right ventricle of the heart to the Pulmonary artery.

Silver’s mom is a single mother of three human children, ages 6, 5, and 1, and three dogs. She works two jobs in order to make ends meet – one as a veterinary assistant, and when she gets home from that, she goes to work as a cook. She and her family qualify for food stamps. So, it was quite a stretch to think she would be able to afford the $4,000- $5,000 surgery needed to save Silver’s life.

Even with all of the other things demanding her time and attention, Silver’s mom took action on her behalf. She began a fundraising campaign in conjunction with her vet’s office to raise money for Silver’s surgery. Here is the flyer she made:

At the time Silver’s mom applied for aid from The Big Hearts Fund, she had raised about $800 from her t-shirt fundraiser and been promised a $500 donation from a Pitbull Rescue foundation. That’s right – on top of running her own fundraising campaign, working two jobs and taking care of three young children and three dogs by herself, Silver’s mom somehow also found time to research and apply for aid from foundations that could help her dog.

Silver’s mom applied and was qualified for aid from The Big Hearts Fund. BHF was able to grant her $1,000 towards the cost of her surgery, which was the final piece in being able to afford the procedure. Silver’s mom made the appointment the day she received notification of the grant. Surgery was to take place January 8th.

Meanwhile, the holiday season was upon us. On Thanksgiving, Silver’s mom wrote me to say Happy Thanksgiving to everyone at BHF, and thank you.

Four days later, Silver died. She passed away during the night, surprising and devastating everyone.

Silver’s story reminds us that unfortunately, things do not always work out the way we want them to. Sometimes, no matter what we do or how hard we work, precious life can be taken away in an instant.

It is difficult to predict how dogs and cats with heart disease will fare when living with their conditions. But one thing is certain – those of us who love these animals will do everything we can to help them, even if we know we can’t always save them all.

The grant that was Silver’s will now go to another beloved pet who needs it, and a different life will be saved. Through stories like this one, I hope some owners will feel empowered to action by the incredible things Silver’s mom did with the resources she had. Maybe others will hug their babies just a little bit tighter. In the end, precious and fleeting life flourishes when we stop to recognize it. And today, we’re recognizing Silver’s short but beautiful one.

52c05f2f4f720a149d0004fb open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[12 Days of Christmas: Rosie's Story]]> Tue, 31 Dec 2013 10:00:00 +0000 Rosie is an adorable petite Boxer mix puppy! When her mom first saw Rosie’s picture on a rescue website, she immediately fell in love. So it was that Rosie moved from her foster home in South Carolina to her forever home in Upstate New York.

It wasn’t long after she was adopted that Rosie’s new vet heard a significant heart murmur. She was referred to a specialist. Like many BHF applicants, Rosie was diagnosed with a PDA – or, patent ductus arteriosis. Without surgery, Rosie was given a 50/50 chance of making it to the age of one.

The only hitch? You guessed it: surgery was estimated to cost $3,500. Rosie’s mom had already spent close to $600 on vet bills just to have Rosie diagnosed, and was stressed about how she was going to pay that off. As a single independent small business owner, Rosie’s mom was strapped for both time and cash. But she didn’t let that stop her from doing what she could to help Rosie.

Rosie’s mom started a fundraiser on to raise money for Rosie’s surgery. However, time was running out – Rosie needed surgery very soon. Rosie’s chances for successful surgery and a good prognosis were lowering the more time passed.

That’s when Rosie’s mom found The Big Hearts Fund online. BHF was able to grant Rosie enough to afford the surgery.

Rosie had PDA occlusion surgery on November 21, 2013. After a few weeks of recovery, Rosie was in good spirits and her owner reports she is doing very well!

52c23b95d6af680e4d000276 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[12 Days of Christmas: Oreo's Story]]> Wed, 01 Jan 2014 09:00:00 +0000 Oreo is this adorable 6-year-old kitty who has been diagnosed with Mitral Valve Dysplasia.

In Mitral valve dysplasia, the mitral valve is deformed and cannot function correctly, leading to heart enlargement and general inefficiency in pumping blood. Mitral valve dysplasia is one of the most common congenital heart disorders in cats… and poor Oreo fell victim to this genetic anomaly.

Oreo’s mom was disabled and unable to work. She was receiving disability checks from the US government, which helped her cover basic living expenses. But this wasn’t enough to pay for the $600 annual echocardiogram checks Oreo’s cardiologist was recommending (which are used to determine the course of treatment and correct medication dosages, important for pets with chronic heart disease). Nor was it enough to significantly pay off the debt she had accumulated through her own medical expenses.

Oreo’s mom was worried. In October and November of 2011, and July 2012, Oreo had to be rushed to the Emergency Vet for some scary cardiac episodes. Desperate, Oreo’s mom was able to borrow some money from her sister to cover those expenses and was paying her back in monthly installments. She knew she couldn’t ask for more from her family, so she began researching where else she might find some help for her best friend.

Oreo’s mom found The Big Hearts Fund online. As we do for all qualifying diagnostic cases, BHF was able to grant Oreo half the cost of his echocardiogram. On April 23, 2013, Oreo saw his cardiologist and got a brand new treatment plan appropriate to the advancement of his chronic disease.

Unfortunately, Oreo’s new medications only helped him for another week or so. At an appointment at his regular vet, it was discovered that he was not responding to medications the way that all of his doctors had hoped. It was then that his mom made the extremely difficult and compassionate decision to end his suffering.

The day it happened, she wrote: “He was with us for almost 7 years and every single day was a joy having him around. He could always make us laugh whether it be climbing in our bags after returning home from the store or climbing in the empty boxes from deliveries, etc. He will be greatly missed by all the lives that he touched. Thank you for everything that you and BHF have done.”

Oreo was privately cremated, and his remains were buried with his brother’s, a German Shepherd named Wolfie who was his best friend when Oreo was a kitten. We like to think they are happily napping together in heaven, just like this:

52c23d1b4f720a4b8d000021 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[12 Days of Christmas: Carlo's Story]]> Thu, 02 Jan 2014 10:00:00 +0000 Carlo came to his family when he was just 8-weeks-old, joining his one-year-old brother Cosmo, also an Old English Sheepdog. Unfortunately, their time in life together was short-lived. Cosmo died much too young due to lung cancer. Instead of grieving himself to death, sweet Carlo assumed all of his older brother’s duties, like howling at passing sirens and patrolling the house before bedtime.

It was shortly thereafter that Carlo’s family discovered that he had a heart condition – Mitral Valve Endocardiosis, which is where the mitral valve is deformed and causes the heart to enlarge and pump inefficiently. There is no cure for this chronic, inherited disease – pets must be monitored closely by a cardiologist and given medication to help manage the condition. Luckily, Carlo’s family was able to provide him with this care. That is, until something awful happened.

The following summer, tragedy struck Carlo’s family again. His mom suffered a stroke that left her with difficulty walking or using her right arm. She could no longer work at her job as a counselor, and began living off of disability checks.

Carlo became her nurse/caretaker. When she would stumble through the house, he stayed right by her side, slowly keeping pace. When she went to the bathroom, he would wait right outside the bathroom door, and when she came out he would escort her back to bed. He would lie on the bed beside her until she was ready to get up again.

Soon, Carlo ran out of his heart medication. His mom needed to get him to the cardiologist for a re-check echocardiogram so that he could get back on his medication, or he faced uncomfortable and potentially dangerous progression of his disease. The only problem was that Carlo’s mom couldn’t afford his care anymore.

That’s when Carlo’s mom and her partner found The Big Hearts Fund online. In January, 2013, BHF was able to grant Carlo and his family enough to get him back to the cardiologist and on the medications he needs to continue living a comfortable life with heart disease.

52c2443af002ff33a6000794 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[12 Days of Christmas: Cali's Story]]> Fri, 03 Jan 2014 10:15:00 +0000 Cali is this sweet 1-year-old Maltipoo puppy who was diagnosed with a PDA , or “patent ductus arteriosis.”

Cali’s mom became concerned when Cali started coughing and loudly breathing. She would sometimes have fainting episodes with excitement, though she didn’t become completely unconscious.

Cali’s mom noticed that her heart was racing more than normal, so their regular vet referred her to a specialist. There, an echocardiogram revealed that Cali had a PDA, a condition her cardiologist recommended be operated on within one month to increase the odds of success and a good prognosis.

Cali’s mom immediately set to work figuring out how she could afford the surgery, estimated to cost $1,745. She began her own fundraising campaign online, where she achieved a few hundred dollars worth of success. Her boss also let her begin collecting some donations at the front desk of the gym where she worked as a personal trainer. Cali often accompanied her to work, and many clients fell in love with her.

That’s when Cali’s mom found BHF by searching online. She applied in December, 2012, and was approved for an $800 grant in January. With Cali’s mom’s help, we set up a fundraising page on BHF’s website to raise some additional funds for Cali to meet the $1,000 requested.

On June 17, 2013, Cali went in for surgery. The result of the visit to the doctor was disappointing. After the doctors looked inside Cali’s heart, they discovered that her PDA was too complicated to be operable. Cali would have to live with her condition.

The doctors prescribed Cali Viagra to help strengthen her heart muscle and give her some stamina for the time she has left. Cali’s mom reports that the new medication regiment is really helping Cali. She no longer shows in intolerance for exercise, and can frequently be seen running around the back yard with a toy in her mouth.

All of us at BHF wish the best for Cali and her mom in the time they have left together.

52c254d9d6af6843b8000022 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[12 Days of Christmas: Marley Mae's Story]]> Sat, 04 Jan 2014 09:00:00 +0000 Marley is this 4-year-old boxer sweetheart, who was diagnosed with Arrhythmatic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC) or “Boxer Cardiomyopathy.” (Yes, it occurs so much in Boxers that it has been so nicknamed.)

Marley’s mom is the working mother of her 6-year-old son, her dog Marley Mae, and three kitties. She is a professional counselor and works with very troubled children. Sometimes, Marley comes to work with her. At the time BHF was helping Marley Mae last year, her mom had Marley on a waitlist to be officially certified as a therapy dog.

Though young and healthy looking to the casual onlooker, Marley’s mom knew that something wasn’t right. When she took Marley back to the cardiologist, they determined that Marley should have a Holter Monitoring test to assess the level and severity of her disease. The only problem was that this test, recommend twice, was going to cost $1,200, or $600 each time. And any prescribed medications would add to that cost.

It would only take $350 more dollars of charges and Marley’s mom’s credit cards would all be totally maxed out. She was making just enough to cover necessary bills, and sometimes had enough to make payments on the significant debt she had accumulated through her own medical bills and student load debt. Like many owners we meet, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The receptionist at Marley’s cardiologist’s office, Cornell University Animal Medical Center, told Marley’s mom about The Big Hearts Fund. She submitted an application in October, 2012. We were able to grant Marley Mae $500 towards the cost of the Holter monitoring procedure, and we also helped Marley’s mom set up a fundraising page for Marley on our website which yielded another $300.

Marley got her Holter test in January, 2013. She is back on track with her treatment and is living life comfortably and happily. Today, Marley’s mom reports that knowing Marley Mae has ARVC makes her cherish every moment she has the privilege of sharing with her.

52c24c544f720a75c90007ed open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Welcoming the New Year with the Big Hearts Fund (and Pets) ]]> Thu, 09 Jan 2014 21:00:00 +0000 It is a new year. 2014. All shiny and keen with possibility. At BHF, we are reflecting on our hopes for the new year and imagining our pets’ New Year’s resolutions.

Q: What are you, your family, and/or your pets looking forward to in 2014?

Christy: Our pets are all looking forward to nicer weather next July, when it finally stops raining in Seattle! None of them like to be sprinkled on, and all of them like to play outside.

My husband, my daughter and I are all simultaneously dreading and looking forward to our home remodeling project, which will begin and end in 2014!

Des: I think the cats are looking forward to not having to move ever again, so far as their conception of time goes. I’m looking forward to some time to relax after a thoroughly busy, borderline hectic fall. And getting books in shelves and art on walls.

Kaitlin: Spending time in Michigan with the whole family, running around and exploring the beaches and parks!

Kaitlin’s dog, Jax, enjoys a nap

Katie: We are looking forward to welcoming home a new baby this spring, just in time for lots of family strolls in the park and cookouts in the backyard!

Laura: My pet is a Siamese named Shumai (after the small Asian dumpling, which he resembled when a kitten, but he is now huge). He is most looking forward to the opportunity to hunt more feet and mice in the new year.

Melissa: For this upcoming year, we are looking forward to spending more time together as a family. With Roscoe [a puppy] new to us (adopted in October), we are looking forward to learning more about one other and communicating better. One of our goals this year is to spend more time exploring the world and we would like to include our dogs in this as much as possible.

Charlie and Roscoe having a blast

Alanna: Bella Donna, my house’s cat, looks forward to sitting in the sun and avoiding my friends. I look forward to relaxing as well, but I’m also very excited to be building on all the great opportunities that came up at the end of 2013.
*Q: If your pet or pets had a New Year’s resolution, what would it be

Melissa (whose pets are two dogs: Charlie, grey, and Roscoe, black): Charlie’s resolutions for this new year would be for him to be more patient and tolerant of his new younger puppy brother Roscoe. He would also like to strive to receive more snuggles from his humans-because he can never get enough and he has a daily required amount of snuggles that he needs.

Charlie and Roscoe, all tuckered out

Roscoe’s New Years resolutions would include the goal of not chewing on any more baseboards and furniture in the house. He would also like to spend more time sneaking into mom and dad’s bed after they fall asleep and curling up between them.

Christy (whose pets include a yellow lab named Lucy, a cat named Halifax, and a cat named Sgt. Pepper): Lucy’s New Year’s resolution is to try to be a better leash walker… although this is probably more a resolution for me to more consistent in my training efforts!

Halifax resolves to bring in more dead birds, much to the dismay of everyone else.

Sgt. Pepper resolves to hiss at everyone less… at least I hope so.

Des (whose pets include a black kitten named Farious and an older orange cat named Beastie): Farious probably doesn’t believe in resolutions, but she might come up with something like forcing the humans to stop spraying her when she’s just trying to eat a plant. Beastie’s might be something on the order of stop Farious’s terrorism.

Jax (Kaitlin’s dog): [My resolution is to] finally catch that stupid squirrel that lives in our backyard. He keeps teasing me.

Lulu (Katie’s dog): Convince mom and dad to install a doggie door so I can have unlimited backyard time!

Laura: [Shumai’s] new year’s resolution is probably to continue his staunch defense against bears, for which he had a 100% success rate.

Bella Donna (Alanna’s feline housemate): I resolve to tackle my vacuum-phobia so that I can clean up when I shed

What would your pet resolve to do this year?

52cf6cedf002ff52d2000006 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Catching Up With Sadie! ]]> Tue, 04 Feb 2014 11:00:00 +0000 Who better to kick off our “Catching Up With…” series than Sadie (formerly known as Melanie), BHF’s first grant recipient!

To read Sadie’s complete story, beautifully written by her owner, Martha, check out her Happy Hearts page!

In short, immediately after adopting 18 month old Sadie, Martha noticed her heartbeat was not what it should be. A visit to the vet confirmed that Sadie had a Grade 6 heart murmur, a significantly enlarged heart, and would likely go into congestive heart failure within weeks. A veterinary cardiologist then diagnosed Sadie with patent ductus arteriosus, PDA, which, while curable with surgery, can cost between $2,000 and $5,000! Martha immediately set about looking for financial assistance and after several dead ends, found The Big Hearts Fund. Needless to say, shortly after contacting BHF, Sadie received the needed funds, underwent surgery, and came through with flying colors.

Since her surgery, Sadie has made a full recovery and continues to bring warmth and joy into home that saved her. Below is the latest update from her mom, Martha:

“Sadie is now like a new dog and is experiencing the puppyhood she couldn’t have due to her illness. She plays and runs and jumps like her legs are made of springs! She loves sunning herself on the porch, and her most favorite thing to do is chase and chew up balls of paper like it’s her job. It’s difficult to get a non-blurry picture of her as she is almost always in motion now! She has also breathed new life into my senior Chihuahua, Molly, who was grieving the loss of her best friend when Sadie entered our lives. She’s a wonderful companion and cuddle buddy for Molly. Plus, she has turned out to be a blessing of another type. Molly has suffered from seizures most of her life, and we’ve discovered that Sadie can tell when a seizure is about to occur, which gives me time to prepare medication for Molly. Sadie is a miracle in many ways, and I am so grateful to the BHF and its supporters for helping to save her.”

Thank you Martha, for your commitment to Sadie’s life, and THANK YOU to BHF’s amazing supporters for making her surgery and new life possible!

52f125e1f002ff2aa4000719 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Catching up with Caesar!]]> Mon, 24 Feb 2014 15:10:00 +0000

This past fall, Caesar was given only weeks to live. Like so many of BHF’s applicants, Ceasar was born with PDA and required immediate surgery. Also like so many of BHF’s applicants, Caesar’s owner is disabled and lives on a very limited budget, preventing him from being able to afford such a costly surgery. Unlike many of BHF’s applicants, Caesar’s doctor was already familiar with The Big Hearts Fund and referred Caesar to us for help. With a grant from BHF, this lovable little guy underwent lifesaving surgery on November 6, went home the next day, and hasn’t looked back!

Below is a little update from Caesar’s dad:

“Caesar went into surgery on November 6 and came home on the evening of November 7. He currently is running around playing with our other dog, Beethoven. He wouldn’t be here today without your charity. We cannot thank you enough for giving us more time with him. He’s a precious little guy that we love dearly. We had originally thought we’d just be giving him the best life possible until we found out his heart murmur was curable. After scrambling to find help from anywhere, you guys were able seal the deal for us.

It’s amazing how quickly animals become a family member and seeing them in distress is something no one wants to see. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for allowing us to spend a happy healthy, heart murmur free life with Caesar.”

We love you Caesar!

530bb52bd6af6855f80000a5 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Godric's Story]]> Tue, 04 Mar 2014 14:25:00 +0000 Just a little background about this sweet guy: When Godric was in the hospital, fighting for his life and in congestive heart failure, his owners found BHF and applied for a grant. His moms would like to share his story to “give Godric’s death a purpose” by reaching other pet parents, increasing awareness of heart disease, and hopefully saving lives. Our heartfelt thanks to Krysta and Sera for sharing this story with us.

“We had recently lost a female kitty that we had had for 13 years and without really knowing why exactly, we suddenly felt a pull to go look at orphan kitties at Petsmart and there was Godric. Godric started out life by being discarded in a cardboard box, along with his brother. They were not old enough to be weaned when they had been rescued, but ‘Zeke’, as he was then known, was at the door of the cage trying to pick the lock! It was love at first sight and after a long night of waiting for the adoption people to show up, we took him home. Once in our home, it did not take long for him to show how special he was, and to wiggle deeply into our hearts. As a kitten, he often slept on the tops of our heads. We called him our ‘cat hat’ and he showed affection by running his nose into ours with his much loved ‘nose bumps’.

We took him to his first vet appointment within 2 weeks and were told that he had ‘a significant heart murmur’. The vet then suggested that we might be able to exchange him. Not surprisingly, we chose to remain a family. We took Godric home and promised to love and care for him all his days. And he quickly repaid us by sharing his loving, quirky personality. He was a very intelligent boy, and preferred to be near us at all times. He nearly always joined us in the ‘pride bed’ and seldom did one or both of us come in the door that he was not sitting there waiting to meet us. Although until recently, Krysta went to work every day, Sera has health problems and is usually home. She and Godric played together every day, and when she didn’t feel well, Godric just laid near her.

He, too, had problems with fatigue and shortness of breath, yet he was always interested in interaction and play. He loved it when Sera would fold a blanket into a strip and he could surf by standing on the end of the blanket while Sera would pull him around the house. To show his enthusiasm for play, he would deliver his favorite toys to us by carrying them over in his mouth and dropping them at our feet. Or on top of us if we were in bed. He knew his left paw from his right and would ask for treats with the appropriate one and then ‘nose bump’ to show affection. He loved to play fetch, especially with straws and pop catnip bubbles that Sera would blow for him. At only three-and-a-half years old, he was physically beautiful, too. A lean 15 lbs. with four white paws, a bib, and a coat that did not shed, but was tiger-striped, shiny and pelt-like. Every day we reminded him how much we loved him. Sera would daily whisper in his ear in a special voice, ‘I love you, I love you!’ Even his Gramma seldom left her house without picking up a little something special for Godric.

Then one day he started vomiting. After a few days our boy also quit eating and began drinking very little so we bundled him up and took him to the vet. An x-ray revealed nothing obviously wrong with tummy or bowels, but did show a chest full of fluid that, along with his bad heart seemed to indicate congestive heart failure. The doctor prescribed a diuretic to help get rid of the fluid even though he was already somewhat dehydrated. Two days later he was so weak and low on fluid that we took him to the local animal ER where he was admitted with both the CHF and now kidney failure. This was a tough situation because the kidneys need fluid, but fluids would overload the heart which ultrasound showed to be in far worse shape than we had ever imagined. Adding to the stress were the quickly mounting vet bills. Krysta’s job had gone away with government cuts, and even the unemployment had run out. The bills were being handled by Sera’s mother who is on a fixed income.
It was about this time that we discovered The Big Hearts Fund and the very compassionate and supportive Christy who was trying very hard to help us save our beloved kitty’s life with some much needed financial aid and emotional support.

Unfortunately, in spite of the superior care provided by the staff at Animal Emergency & Critical Care Center of Brevard, much improving kidneys, and the fact that Godric was trying so very hard to get well, he passed away shortly after the surgery that we absolutely believed would bring him back home. His big, loving heart had lost the battle. However, we will be forever grateful to, and supportive of, Christy and her wonderful organization. We believe Godric would too. Please help give his death meaning by donating to save another beloved pet’s life. Meanwhile, we will give another orphan a ‘forever home’, but are still crying an ocean of tears, missing our boy."

531636b2d6af6819cb00027f open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Gypsy's Story]]> Tue, 18 Mar 2014 15:00:00 +0000 The following story was written by Gypsy’s owner Andrea, who found BHF online while searching for help for her cat. Like many caring owners, she would like to share Gypsy’s story in hopes of spreading awareness about feline heart disease.

“In November as colder weather was setting in, I prayed for an animal to be put in my path that I could help save. Little did I know what I was actually asking. No less than one day later, my prayer was answered.

Driving home in the dark after dinner, I was passing a wooded area on a busy stretch of road when a little black bundle at the tree line caught my eye. I drove back by it three times because it was hard to tell if it was litter or a cat.

Pulling over to investigate, I found out it was definitely a cat. I slowly walked up to her, and she slowly started to walk toward the woods. I thought that was that and started to leave. As I did, I heard loud crying. I pulled out my iPhone and turned on the flashlight app. She was standing there staring at me and then hesitantly made her way back toward me. I started petting her and then just as easily picked her up and took her back to the car.

With my significant other, we spent the next few days looking for her owner – putting up flyers, sending out emails and posting to Facebook. With three rescue dogs and two rescue cats already living under our roof, we decided we’d need to find her a new home when her owner didn’t come forward.

Our search was brought to a grinding a halt when we discovered her Saturday afternoon in, what we found out later to be, congestive heart failure. We couldn’t believe it. We had just found her on Monday, and she seemed so young, healthy, loving and energetic.

Late that night the ER vet talked to us about euthanization. We couldn’t do it. If she had more life to live, we decided we’d give it to her. It’s been a financial strain – she has gone into congestive heart failure four times since then. She bounces right back every time and is living a quality life today. We’re hopeful that we’ve found a good balance in her medication, and that she’ll have many months more to live.

Our time with her has been incredibly rewarding even though we’ve given much more money than we thought we ever could, and in three short months, Gypsy has become a very special part of our family. My hope is that others would be able to make similar sacrifices to keep these wonderful animals alive."

5328a7ffd6af68794b000055 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Liz & Duncan's Unexpected Journey]]> Tue, 15 Apr 2014 13:00:00 +0000 BHF was recently contacted by a remarkable young woman coming to terms with the diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure in her beloved chocolate lab, Duncan. BHF is humbled to be able to share Liz & Duncan’s story and provide support during this unexpected turn in their life together.

Liz & Duncan

“Duncan entered my life in March of 2009, and it was love at first sight. After months of attempting to adopt a dog, The American Lab Rescue paired Duncan and I together, and for the past four years we’ve been inseparable. Duncan is truly my sidekick. Living in a very dog-friendly NYC neighborhood, he runs most of my errands with me, and when the weather is nice he joins me at the outdoor bars and restaurants. True to his breed, he has an incredibly friendly disposition, and everyone who meets him quickly falls for his friendly personality and excitable nature. He will run for miles, fetch for hours, and is in a perpetual state of happiness. I’ve always said that Duncan just loves life too much – it is the only way to explain his excitement over anything and everything. This all made Duncan’s diagnosis in March 2014 all the more shocking: Congestive Heart Failure. I couldn’t fathom how my happy puppy with endless energy could be given just 9-12 months to live.

Duncan has always been a healthy dog so his diagnosis came out of nowhere. After two weeks of an unrelenting cough, the vet had diagnosed Duncan with an upper respiratory infection. Four days later I came home late at night to find him unable to breathe, and I rushed him to the emergency room. A chest x-ray showed that his lungs were full of fluid and his heart was enlarged. The next day a cardiologist diagnosed that what we thought was severe pneumonia was actually congestive heart failure due to mitral dysplasia, a heart valve that never fully formed at birth. The dysplastic valve was allowing fluid to flow back into his heart chamber, causing the heart itself to enlarge. It turns out that all the years of intense exercise actually put an immense strain on his heart and has accelerated his condition. In total, Duncan spent 3 days in the ICU on oxygen to improve his lung capacity and was heavily medicated to reduce the swelling in his heart. The doctors informed me that his condition could be managed with a cocktail of pills (nine a day!), but that his activity level would need to be severely limited to reduce any unnecessary exertion on his heart.

The day of Duncan’s diagnosis I decided two things: First, Duncan needs to keep being Duncan and doing the things he loves. He needs to continue to run, fetch and explore even if it means it will shorten his time left with me. Second, Duncan is just too amazing of a dog for everyone not to benefit from his energy and spirit. I needed to turn our misfortune into someone else’s fortune, which is where the Big Hearts Fund comes in!

BHF has been generous enough to allow Duncan and me to share our story, and we hope to provide periodic updates as we adapt to our new normal. We’ve been learning something new everyday: how far we can walk without getting too tired, how long Duncan can hold it as his bladder adjusts to being on a diuretic, what foods are allowed on a low-sodium diet, and when are the best times to count his breathing rate, which has to be monitored and recorded twice a day. We’ve had our setbacks too: Duncan developed a blood clot in his leg, which put him back in the hospital a few days after his initial discharge. It rendered his leg useless for about a week, and it was ice cold to the touch, but I am happy to report that he seems to have worked through the clot. I’m hopeful he will regain full mobility and we will get back to our walks soon!

I feel very fortunate for the medical staff we found that will be managing Duncan’s care and the support we have from our friends and family during this trying time. Organizations like the Big Hearts Fund are crucial for those pets and pet owners who find themselves managing their conditions under different circumstances. One BHF pet, Diamond, has been diagnosed with the same condition as Duncan, but her owner is unable to fund the necessary care Diamond needs. My hope is for Duncan and me to generate awareness that will help others, Diamond in particular, to get proper medical care and funding for their medical needs. If you have had the joy of meeting Duncan or his story has touched you, please visit the Help! page and consider making a donation to sponsor Diamond or any of the BHF pets in honor of all our lovable pets whose hearts are literally too big for them to handle!"

534d7578d6af684eab000128 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Learning from Nobi]]> Mon, 12 May 2014 07:00:00 +0000 This story was written by loving pet owner and cake artisan Ashlee Perkins, and originally published on her blog: Cakes are Serious Business.

Last night, my 3 year old cat, Kenobi, lost his battle with heart disease. It hit quickly and my husband and I had little time to prepare, and even less time to say goodbye. I wanted to read about other cat owners’ experiences with feline heart disease, but found few resources. I would like to share my own experience to hopefully help others who find themselves in this unfortunate situation.

Kenobi was born in April 2011. We picked him up from the humane society when we moved into our first home as a couple, and our older cat, Ace, was lonely. Kenobi was quickly a great companion for him.

Nobi was generally very playful and curious, but we noticed when he was about a year old that sometimes he would wake up in the night and cough. It sounded almost like he was trying to cough up a hairball, but no hairball ever came. The older cat, being long-haired, gets hairballs all the time though, so we assumed he was getting a little extra fur and didn’t think much of it.

When he was about 2 and a half, my husband took him to the vet for his yearly exam. At that time, the vet discovered he had a very mild heart murmur. She explained that next he would need an EKG and a few other tests to determine the cause of the heart murmur, but since it was so mild and he was otherwise behaving, eating and drinking and pooping and playing, normally, it wasn’t that dire of a situation.

Fast forward to March of 2014. Kenobi is about 3 weeks away from turning three years old. We had previously fostered a few dogs, and one of them needed to be returned to its foster home after its new “permanent” home didn’t work out. Kenobi wasn’t used to a big dog, though. I could tell within 24 hours that he was visibly stressed. The biggest concern was that he was pulling his hair out and scratching excessively, making little sores and scabs on his body.

I took him to the vet for the scratching, but when the vet was checking his vitals, he paused for a long time while listening to his heart. I have seen the same vet for a while, so we had been chatting and joking around, but when he started listening to Kenobi’s heart, his face fell serious.

He said Kenobi’s heart murmur had progressed to what he considered to be a 3 on a scale of 5. I mentioned the foster dog, and he said it wasn’t unlikely that the foster dog was adding stress that both worsened his heart and caused the hair pulling. I also mentioned that he had lost weight lately, and the vet weighed him to find that he lad lost about 4 pounds in the last 6 months. I did note that he had been eating less, but we had been asked to put him on a diet, and I just assumed it was working.

He surmised that the hair pulling was likely due to allergies and would need to be addressed but he stressed that the more pressing concern right now was to get Nobi’s heart looked at. He gave him a mild short-term steroid injection to address the scratching, and explained that usually they would give a stronger dose, but Nobi’s heart wouldn’t be strong enough.

Nobi seemed to feel much better when he had the steroid injection. As much as it pained us to do, we transferred the foster dog to a different home to alleviate his stress. Nobi was doing better already, it seemed.

We brought him back to the vet the next week for some heart tests. They ran an EKG and an echocardiogram at my local vet’s office, and sent the files to a Charleston feline cardiologist to be examined. He stayed the day at the vet’s office, and I picked him up in the evening. The vet said he was a delight, and she loved spending the day with him. They had to shave off a patch of hair from his side to get the readings, but he was otherwise chipper and happy when he came home.

I was so anxious to hear the results when the vet called the next day. She had good news and bad. The bad news was that Kenobi did, indeed have heart disease (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy). She called it mild, and explained that the problem was that one of his heart valves opened properly, but did not close properly, which could cause backup of blood flow in his heart and an irregular heart rate. She said it was likely that he was born with the disease – cardiomyopathy is often congenital – and that it was not unusual to discover it at this stage. It usually appears in cats around age 2.

She said she was optimistic about him. Usually this is a serious diagnosis for a cat, but since we caught it so early, she said it was highly likely he would live a long and happy life. Sometimes cats live to 10 years old with this condition, she explained.

We were told to pick up a prescription for him – a beta blocker called “atenolol”. We were told to give him a 1/4 of a pill twice a day and to reduce his stress. We bought the Greenie’s “Pill Pockets” with which to give him the pill, and he took them easily, never purposefully spitting out the pill.

I was shocked at how much he improved when he was taking the medicine! He was like a kitten again, tumbling over his brother and running through the house. I was so glad we had found the problem and it seemed like we had found a solution.

However, he was still pulling his fur out. We worked hard to switch him to a low-allergen food and a no-dust litter to help with the problem, and he seemed to improve. We marked the growth of his fur he was pulling out against the patch the vet had shaved for the EKG. He seemed to be on the up-and-up.

Yesterday, we went about our morning routine. I woke up to Kenobi snuggled up close to my side, and he kneaded my side for a while as I woke up (he was taken from his mother too early and “suckled” for a few months as a kitten. He always retained the “kneading” as a comfort in that regard). When his brother Ace woke up and left the bedroom, Kenobi hid behind my legs to pounce him as he walked by. He waited for me by the bathroom door when I got out of the shower, and chirped when I came out, like he did every morning. I gave him his morning medicine and some food and left for work.

When I came home, Kenobi met me at the door and followed me to the kitchen for his afternoon dose of medicine. He was eager for the treat it was packed in, and danced around my legs like he always does. He took the treat easily and went to sit on the screened-in porch which is his favorite spot in the house.

I made dinner and noticed he was sitting strangely in the center of the porch looking in the house. I went to pet him, and he was appreciative, but almost shied away from my touch. This was unusual, but I didn’t think much of it. Maybe he was distracted by a bird outside or something.

However, not 20 minutes later, as my husband and I sat on the couch eating dinner, we heard a crash from the porch. My husband jumped up to see what the problem was. Assuming it was Kenobi chasing something outside, I stayed where I was. But when my husband asked, panicked “are you okay, Kenobi??” I knew something was wrong. I went outside just in time to see him making the same dry-heaving noise that he used to make as a kitten. He was convulsing. My husband scooped him up in his arms and I ran for my phone to call the vet. I didn’t know what to do or think. I ran in circles as my husband ran outside towards the car with Kenobi, telling me to get my keys. I scrambled for my shoes, and it was then that I heard my husband say “he’s gone”. He stood on the front lawn with Kenobi limp in his arms.

We took him to the emergency vet, not knowing if he was unconscious or what. The vet rushed him into the back room, and emerged only a couple minutes later. she confirmed what my husband had said – Kenobi was gone.

I was in shock. This was not how I expected my Tuesday to go. I thought he was doing better. Was it the medicine? I didn’t know what to do or think.

The vet explained that it was highly likely that he just gave in to his heart disease. She felt him to feel for urinary blockage, but found none. We blamed ourselves, but the vet said that we had truly done everything we could. She brought him back out for us to sit in a quiet room. We held him and rocked him for several minutes, wrapped in a towel. He seemed so peaceful, and I suddenly felt much better knowing his suffering was over, and he was with me.

We are still hurting very much. We will receive his ashes in a couple days, and I’m sure whatever healing we have done at that point will be torn open again. But I hope we helped him to live the fullest and happiest life that he could have had. He undoubtedly made our lives happier and more fulfilled.

We will miss him everyday.

I hope that this will help someone else to see the warning signs of heart disease. Please do not hesitate to follow your vet’s instructions if you find signs of heart disease. Bring your cat to the vet often. Do not ignore weight loss and coughing.

I hope Kenobi’s story can save just one other cat’s life. Hug your pet everyday.

5370c06ad6af686a5300009f open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Catching Up with Lily...]]> Tue, 03 Jun 2014 17:00:00 +0000 In November of 2012, BHF received an application for funding diagnostic tests for an 8-year old Chihuahua, Lily. After diagnostic testing showed the Lily’s heart murmur was not as severe as originally feared, she was able to undergo surgery for severe dental disease. Since her surgery, Lily has never looked back. Here is what her amazing owner and best friend had to say.

“The first pic was less than a month after her teeth surgery (10 teeth!). She had her first trip to the beach after a few weeks of recovery. In fact, we found a park near our house {when} trying to find alternatives that were less crowded. Lily appreciated her alone time from other big dogs, but now when they come around she definitely puts them in check. I think her new look makes her appear more fierce than when she actually had teeth.

Our neighbor introduced us to an Island near the Bay where dogs get together and venture from bush, to dirt, to mud, to ocean. Lil’ has a keen sense at finding anything stinky to roll around on. She makes an effort to ensure she gets a bath when she gets home (though hasn’t put two and two together, I think).

But the reality is our Boo has been growing a lot more gray than tan hairs and can’t take long walks without walking on three legs (vet said she has minor knee problems, but not an issue or causing her pain, just getting older). Even though she enjoys her time in nature, she is an undercover animal. Bed time seems to be her favorite time as she now brings toys up the homemade bed-stairs, plays tug-a-war to the best of her ability, and then persists to crawl under the sheets.

We were always concerned about her health because of the comments we received about her heart murmur and never thought she would have been able to have the treatment she needed to live like a normal doggie. We were so fortunate to have the results of the test conducted and acted just in time to ensure she had a greater quality of life. After all, eating is what she’s best at (our friends call her “The Vacuum”). Thank You Big Hearts and all those who contributed at a time of need! We were in a really tough situation and without your help we would have relied on opinion and never been able to give her the medical attention she needed."

538e454ed6af68427200000e open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[A Brief Interruption in our Regularly Scheduled Programming]]> Thu, 23 Oct 2014 17:00:00 +0000 Hello Fans, Followers, Donors, and Supporters of BHF!

It is Christy, your humble founder and program director here! And, I am very excited to tell you about a significant change happening within BHF’s financial aid program.

Up until now, I have been personally handling and responding to ALL requests for aid submitted through this website. We used to average about one-per-day, which was pretty manageable, especially when I was working on BHF every day. Then I had a baby, who has now grown into a two-year-old. When she was born, I dropped down to working two days-per-week, which has been sort of manageable for a year-and-a-half. When I say “sort of manageable,” I mean, the program has been sustaining, but not necessarily growing in capability.

And you know what they say! As soon as things get comfortable, they will soon change! BHF is currently averaging about 50 inquires a month (sometimes more), and I am expecting another baby at the end of the year. I can officially say – without a doubt – that handling all of the financial aid program by myself has become quite unmanageable! Those of you anxiously awaiting word from BHF about whether your beloved pet might be one of our next grant recipients deserve so much better than a week-late response from me. So LET ME TELL YOU about our plan to grow this program into something much more self-sustaining and thriving!

VOLUNTEERS (aka: more manpower). At the beginning of 2015, the management of all active cases will be handled by a group of well-qualified and dedicated volunteers. These special individuals will be personally responsible for each active case as it comes in, so that each applicant has someone who is intimately knowledgable about their pet’s individual case and can answer questions and respond in a timely fashion. A “point person,” if you will.

In other words: If you share the load, everybody wins.

Because of this large internal change, the vastly increasing demand for help, and limited funding we have regrettably had to stop accepting new applications for the time being. I am using all of my time and energy to develop a comprehensive training manual for volunteers (along with my generous attorney brother who makes a living out of being thorough in writing!), and planning how exactly to execute this change with as little disruption to our programming as possible. And also, with the hope and expectation that this change will actually bring about growth.

Ultimately, the goal for this program re-vamp is a direct outgrowth of our vision of a world where NO dog or cat with heart disease has to go untreated. Taking this brief time away from case management to develop our program will allow us to be able to help even MORE pets upon re-launch.

So, stay tuned – and follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter for the latest news, and to be alerted the very minute we begin accepting our first applications under this new program!

Thank you for reading this, and thank you for your continued support of The Big Hearts Fund. I know I sound like a broken record, but we could not do this without the support of our generous friends.

5449823dd4c9616342018a93 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Black Friday, Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday?]]> Mon, 10 Nov 2014 18:00:00 +0000 As someone who, from the day after Thanksgiving through the day after Christmas, will listen only to the Christmas Stations on Songza, Sirius, Pandora, and yes, even the radio, saying the holiday season excites me is quite obviously, an understatement. Lights, decorations, music, baked treats, time with friends and family, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Elf….you get the point. This ED clearly loves it all. While I refuse to be bogged down by the marketing ploys and fixations on commercialism of the retail industry during the holidays, I have many friends and family members who cannot help but turn into varying degrees of Mr. Scrooge when the stories of chaos in a Toys “R” Us at 4am on Black Friday hit the news waves. Perhaps you’re one of those?

In response to the ever expanding and overwhelming focus on buy buy buy and me me me during the holiday season, an idea was born:


Stores have their Black Friday events. Websites have their Cyber Monday sales. And now, nonprofit organizations have their #GivingTuesday campaigns. The first Tuesday after Thanksgiving marks an opportunity for all to truly embrace the holiday spirit and give to a cause(s) they hold dear. This year, The Big Hearts Fund will be launching its Helping Hearts Annual Pledge Drive. We are so excited to be joining the #GivingTuesday movement, we hope you join us on this adventure in giving this holiday season. Stay Tuned!

54615614edb2f36f86018ab7 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[#GivingTuesday: Helping Hearts & Saving Lives]]> Tue, 02 Dec 2014 13:00:00 +0000 As The Big Hearts Fund closes the book on another year, we cannot help but reflect on our many triumphs and heartwarming experiences, as well as the challenging and heartbreaking situations beyond our control. It can be a struggle to not be discouraged by such elements, but we are all the more motivated when triumph comes out of a heartbreaking situation.

One such triumph is the story of Frosty. Frosty plays an extremely important role in the lives of two little boys who love him. One day, the boys’ mother dropped Frosty and her young children off at their grandmother’s house because she was going away for a few days. She never came back. Through the tears, anger, and sleepless nights following their abandonment, these little boys held on tight to Frosty. So did their grandmother, Ellen.

“Frosty is their world,” she explained. “He reminds them of what was. He loves the boys and guards them. We had months of anger and crying and Frosty was right there through it all. Now, we are ok. We struggle, but at the end of the day when I’m tucking them both into bed with Frosty it all feels right.” It was during these moments carrying Frosty, when Ellen first noticed his abnormal heartbeat. She could feel that something wasn’t right, so she took him to the vet.

Like many other BHF sponsored dogs, Frosty had a PDA that required surgery to correct; if he didn’t receive the surgery, he would not survive more than a handful of months. Frosty’s grandmother works hard to support her grandchildren, but having not anticipated taking care of a second family in later life, she was ill-equipped to handle the additional expense of Frosty’s surgery. She set about looking for help. She found The Big Hearts Fund. In addition to a grant from the Financial Aid Program, BHF set up a fundraising page for Frosty, successfully raising an additional $1,000 to cover the cost of his surgery. The surgery went through without a hitch, and he was back to acting as guardian and playmate to his two brothers in a matter of months.

Frosty’s is not the only story of a family’s triumph over adversity. In the past 12 months, BHF has awarded $24,000 to 29 pets whose families depend on them through tough times as well. You can read their stories at The Big Hearts Fund website.

As BHF continues its mission of raising funds and awareness for pets with heart disease, we have learned that not only are we saving pets’ lives, we are offering something critical to the families who love them. These pets are sources of comfort, stability, and hope in difficult times, and seeing these families rally behind their beloved pets has only encouraged BHF to reach more pets and families in need. In order to accomplish this goal, we invite you to contribute to BHF’s “Helping Hearts” Annual Pledge Drive.  Your year-end contribution or monthly pledge can provide medication to manage a heart condition ($50), allow for an echocardiogram ($350), or fund 100% of a BHF grant for curative surgery ($1,000).  

The Big Hearts Fund website has a simple and secure Donation page through which you can submit your tax-deductible contribution. Simply click the DONATE button on any page, and complete the donation/pledge form.

So many have been integral in The Big Hearts Fund’s impact, and we hope you are able to continue on this journey with us as we strive to help all animals in need receive the care they deserve.

On behalf of The Big Hearts Fund staff, Board of Directors, and most of all, Keeva, Roscoe, Frosty, Diamond, their loving families, and so many more, I thank you for your unwavering support and spirited generosity.

Yours in Service,

Kaitlin R Bishop
Executive Director, The Big Hearts Fund

547e1173c0d67128ef012432 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Catching Up With Duncan!!]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 13:00:00 +0000 Remember Duncan? Here’s the latest on the ADORABLE chocolate lab as he and his mom navigate a new world of living with Congestive Heart Failure:

“I am happy to report that Duncan continues to do great! When visiting with his cardiologist this summer, she outlined a best-case scenario as one where Duncan would be receptive to the treatment and his congestive heart failure would stabilize. I was so proud of my little guy when he received a “better than best-case” report: Duncan’s heart has shrunk and his condition improved. We will be visiting with the doctor again in the coming weeks and if all looks good, she will lift any limitations on his lifespan.

Judging by his state today, it amazes me that eight months ago Duncan was in the ICU and given just nine to twelve months to live. Today, Duncan continues to do all the things that make him happy. We go off-leash in Central Park every morning (albeit a shorter loop) and he spent the summer swimming, hiking and hanging out at our neighborhood’s outdoor bars and restaurants. We’ve had a lot of adjustments over the past eight months and I’ve learned a lot through this experience. If I could offer up any advice for those facing the same challenges, it would be:

1 – Shop around for medicines. Duncan takes nine pills a day, which gets very costly. I now use a combination of online discount sites (my vet recommends Vet’s First Choice), my local CVS pharmacy and had the cardiologist prescribe a larger dosage pill I can cut in half. I now pay just 25% of what his first refill cost me.

2 – Pumpkin treats. I couldn’t find any treats that were low in sodium or disclosed sodium content on the package. Instead of calling every dog food brand out there, I started making a big batch of Pumpkin Oatmeal treats each month and he goes NUTS for them!

3 – Crib Pads. Duncan was having accidents at night in his sleep, which I later found out is very normal as his body adjusts to the diuretic. After spending a fortune at the Laundromat washing my bedding on an almost daily basis, sewing crib mattress pads together to cover the bed was a lifesaver – and now we are thankfully accident free!

Duncan and I have nicely settled into our new normal. Although his life is very different from what it was prior to his diagnosis, he is as happy as ever and still wins over the heart of everyone he meets! High five to Dunc for being so awesome and to the Big Hearts Fund for all the great work they continue to do!"

5489f5ededb2f32004007b0b open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[We're (sort of) Back in Action!!]]> Mon, 16 Mar 2015 20:00:00 +0000 First of all, thank you, from the bottom of our Hearts, for your patience while we’ve worked to restructure The Big Hearts Fund Financial Aid Program. Yes, we wanted to have the new Program up and running at the beginning of the year, but per usual, building what is essentially a brand new program, with brand new policies and procedures, using a brand new technological platform, all while a certain Program Director enjoys her maternity leave, takes time. More time than we had anticipated. But.

We’re almost there!

While we still finalize some details and documents regarding the new Volunteer Case Management Program, The Big Hearts Fund is now accepting new applications for SURGICAL CASES ONLY!!! If your pet is in need of medication or diagnostics, please, sit tight! We will send out another announcement when the full Program is open for all applications!

Thank you again for all your patience, and understanding while The Big Hearts Fund undergoes this major, exciting, and slightly scary change! This new volunteer managed Program will allow for more cases to be accepted into the Program, more pets to receive life saving care, and more families to look forward to more years with their best furry friends.


We would not be in need of this change and growth without your support and commitment to our mission! Thank you!

Yours in Service,

Kaitlin R Bishop
Executive Director, The Big Hearts Fund

5504e38cc0d67106ed033aa4 open open publish 0 0 post
<![CDATA[Status Update]]> Mon, 11 Jul 2016 19:00:00 +0000 The Big Hearts Fund is currently seeking anyone interested in taking this dynamic organization we’ve built over the last six years, and taking it to the next level. While we do still exist as an organization, we currently do not have anyone who is able to run our programs or operations.

When I founded BHF six years ago, my goal was to create an organization that would help animals with heart disease live the good lives they deserve. Over the course of six years, we have assured good lives for over 80 pets, all across the country. Last year, we passively (that is, without any active physical fundraising efforts) raised upwards of $30,000. Big Hearts is alive and thriving! My dream and the wish of our board is to pass this organization on to the veterinary cardiology community somehow so that it can keep doing good in the world. We want to continue to offer you hope.

If you are interested, involved in the veterinary cardiology community, or think you know someone we should talk to, please reach out to me: I would love to talk to you!

57843ca0d4c961047f0aaa84 open open publish 0 0 post