Local teen serves as Operation Hope's first pet ambassador

At the age of 14, local Fairfielder Annie Blumenfeld knew firsthand the unconditional love animals provide and what it felt like to lose that love. Learning that many pets who are ill don’t get a second chance and wanting a way to help, Annie, in the summer before she started high school, founded the nonprofit Wags4Hope as a way to spread heartworm disease awareness and support shelter dogs’ medical needs, including heartworm disease, until they find their forever homes. Wags4Hope was granted a 501(c)3 status in 2012.

Annie’s dedication to the cause has resulted in major change for pets here in Connecticut. In January 2014, Annie’s advocacy led her to testify at the Connecticut State Capitol to increase heartworm awareness by including the option on pet registration forms. As of December 2014, all dog license forms in the state include a heartworm disease awareness message, which Annie personally designed. Annie also paints custom portraits of dogs and cats, and she donates all of the proceeds from the sale of her artwork to help animals in need. She has sold more than 300 paintings and donates them to shelters around the country. Now, as freshman at Cornell University, the nonprofit continues to flourish through Annie’s determination and passion, addressing fundraising, advocacy and outreach for all pets.

Recently, Annie extended her philanthropic undertaking to include Operation Hope of Fairfield. “I wanted to get involved with Operation Hope because many Food Pantry clients are faced with hardship and worry about feeding their pet(s),” Annie said. As Operation Hope’s first “Pet Food Ambassador,” Annie contacted Black Rock-based The Natural Pet Outlet owners Ray Arabia and Lisa Dijon about pet food donations. Ray and Lisa generously agreed to donate pet food every other month to Operation Hope.

Annie continued, “Animals offer an immeasurable companionship, especially during times of distress. My goal in supplying pet food in the Food Pantry is to provide security for these individuals. As soon as my family rescued our dog, Teddy, we purchased a bag of food from the Natural Pet Outlet after learning about its commitment to the community. They are truly wonderful. I look forward to involving more individuals and companies in this important cause.”

Food Pantry Manager Kathleen McNamara said, “Many people see their pets as family and spend their last dollar on pet food, even if it means going hungry themselves. We are fortunate to now be able to offer cat and dog food, thanks to Annie’s compassionate and impressive efforts and the generosity of Natural Pet Outlet, and help create a temporary safety net for our clients and their pets.”

Operation Hope welcomes pet food, in addition to nonperishable food and personal grooming items, as Food Pantry donations. For the Food Pantry’s wish list, visit operationhopect.org/help/.

Since 1986, Operation Hope has been offering those without a place to stay shelter, and so much more. Men, women and families not only obtain a safe place to sleep, but also receive  individualized case management while they work towards realizing self-identified goals. Operation Hope welcomes your support at operationhopect.org/donate/.