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Hometown Heroes: Hearts United for Animals

Located outside of Auburn, Neb., Hearts United for Animals (HUA) has a track record of success. "Persistence is very important," says founder Carol Wheeler.

"Hometown Heroes" profiles animal shelters and rescue groups helping animals in need around the country

  • Jennilyn, a Maltese pup, hugs Carol Wheeler, HUA founder and director of HUA. The dog is pictured recovering from open-heart surgery performed at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. HUA funded her surgery. HUA

  • The cat room at HUA, featuring a “freeway” system along the ceiling, with ramps and a staircase for climbing. HUA

  • Rescued animals that cannot be adopted become Sanctuary Sweethearts, living the rest of their lives at HUA. Here “Sweethearts” Chipper, Libby, and Kaye discuss their day. HUA

  • Auggie the terrier showers a visiting Girl Scout with kisses. HUA

  • Nedda, a cocker spaniel rescued from a puppy mill, leans into HUA staff member Charlotte Allgood for comfort. HUA

  • HUA staff member John Adams trains Eartha—rescued during Hurricane Katrina—to track lost dogs. The duo has also won many agility titles. HUA

  • Sammy (center), a Japanese Chin mix, teaches his friends the art of begging for human food at the sunroom door. A big smile and hopeful eyes work every time. HUA

The hands-on work of local shelters and rescue groups, and the efforts of The HSUS, complement each other. Both are essential to building a strong animal welfare movement—and a society where humane treatment of all animals is valued.

For the fourth installment of Hometown Heroes, we interviewed Carol Wheeler, founder and director of Hearts United for Animals (HUA), a shelter, sanctuary, and animal welfare organization located on a 65-acre farm in the country between Auburn and Nebraska City, Nebraska.

About Hearts United for Animals: With a staff of 25 caregivers and about 50 regular volunteers, HUA—a nonprofit 501(c)(3)—cares for more than 300 dogs and a smaller number of cats, operating a variety of programs with a track record of success. The organization rescues special-needs dogs across the nation; since 1993, HUA has placed dogs in 45 states and Canada through its innovative Jet Set Dogs program, which was honored by the Smithsonian Institute for its outstanding use of technology. Dogs who cannot be adopted stay with HUA for the rest of their lives as Sanctuary Sweethearts. HUA runs an extensive, national anti-puppy mill effort, providing expertise, organization, and printed materials for groups and individuals to educate the public about large-scale commercial breeding operations. The organization has rescued more than 5,000 dogs from puppy mills. HUA also operates a low-cost spay/neuter clinic serving a four-state area; more than 8,300 animals have been altered, preventing the births of unwanted litters.

All photos above provided by Hearts United for Animals. This series is reported by Animal Sheltering magazine staff writer Jim Baker.

HSUS: What is your biggest challenge? 

Carol Wheeler:
Facing a barrage of requests to take more animals every day; implementing every possibility for finding choice adoptive homes; giving constant vigilance to the physical and mental needs of more than 400 animals in a shelter to give them the best quality of life that we possibly can. 

HSUS: What's your greatest resource?

People—the dearest people, who care and give support to the animals, so that they can have lives of health and comfort. The volunteers who come faithfully and give attention and love to creatures who never thought anyone would love them. The people who provide adoptive homes where dogs are privileged family members to the end of their days. And the care-giving staff members who attend to the animals' needs every day of the year.

HSUS: How does the HSUS affect your work?

We are incredibly grateful to The HSUS for the major role it played in the passage of Proposition B in Missouri, which is so important for the dogs of Missouri and for the influence on other states.

HSUS: What's the hardest part of your job?

Knowing the monstrous number of unwanted animals in this country; watching puppy mills continue to operate; seeing firsthand the suffering of the puppy mill dogs that come through our doors; finding yet another starving, freezing dog abandoned in the country.  

HSUS: What's the most satisfying part of your job?

Watching a puppy mill survivor who arrived here terrified, filthy, and ill, cowering in the corner of a playpen with no confidence or self esteem, become a gorgeous, joyful creature in love with people and happily running and playing in a yard. 

HSUS: What advice would you give to others in your shoes?

Do not give up. Persistence is very important. Watch for any opportunity to turn what is bad into good. The two most important qualities of an animal charity are compassion and integrity.  

Visit Hearts United for Animals in Nebraska»

Did You Know?

The HSUS publishes a magazine for shelter professionals and volunteers, offering resources on shelter management and animal care. Learn more in Animal Sheltering magazine»

The Shelter Pet Project is a serious but light-hearted campaign to promote pet adoption. Find a shelter near you through the Shelter Pet Project»

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