Mar 18, 2014
Connecticut Student (and Her Dog) Behind Bill on Heartworm Prevention
Remember that cool Schoolhouse Rocks version of “How a Bill Becomes a Law”?
Annie Blumenfeld, a 15-year-old student at Fairfield Warde High School is living the Connecticut legislative process as she puts the “bark” behind a bill that would “bite” into an issue too many dog owners aren’t making the grade on—heartworm disease protection.
It’s all because of Teddy (below), a shaggy otterhound mix that Blumenfeld and her family adopted three years ago this month from Houston, Tex., in a long-distance transaction.
Working with State Rep. Tony Hwang, a Republican who represents Fairfield and Trumbull in the 134th District, Blumenfeld is the force behind House Bill 5422, An Act Concerning Awareness of Heartworm Disease and the Standard Dog Licensing Form.
If adopted, the bill would impose substitute language for an existing law referencing the dog licensing form and add this wording: Such standard dog licensing form shall contain a check-off box for the purpose of indicating that such dog receives heartworm preventative medication.
The reason for the change: To raise awareness concerning heartworm prevention in dogs by requiring the dog licensing form to contain a check-off box for the purpose of indicating that such dog receives heartworm preventative medication.
There’s no new requirement for anyone to do anything—not checking the box won't prevent a license from being issued—but those who testified in favor of the bill, explain why it will help.
Karen Laski, a board member of CT Votes for Animals, wrote, “Having a check-off box on a dog license form about whether heartworm preventative is being used will encourage people to consider using the medication if they aren’t already. I think when people are paying their dog license fees and see the heartworm note added, they will look at heartworm prevention as more of a requirement rather than an option.”
Veterinarian Adam Parker, D.V.M., said: “As a veterinarian, I see first-hand the impacts that heartworm disease has on both dogs and cats. Many pet owners believe that their pet may not be at risk because they are an indoor cat or don’t contact other animals when outside. They do not understand that mosquito bite is the mode of transmission. Even dogs on year-round preventatives have potential for infection so annual testing is recommended.
Many rescue groups are bringing in dogs from the southern states or the Caribbean and many of them have heartworm disease. In addition, coyotes are a known reservoir for the disease as well. For these reasons, I support this effort to promote education in the pet-owning community.”
In a hearing before the legislature’s Environment Committee March 7, attended by approximately 75 people, Blumenfeld (shown at the Capitol, above) testified with Hwang at her side.
Now, an eager Blumenfeld says, “I keep asking what the next steps are” for legislation that’s been many months in the making. “We’re also thinking about other canine issues that we might want to get in there,” she adds of Connecticut’s dog-licensing laws.
Meanwhile, following her testimony at the hearing—a coup in itself, as fewer than 5 percent of bills get accepted for formal live hearings—Blumenfeld continues to get letters of support. “I keep submitting testimonies,” she says.
It all comes back to Teddy and his travails.
"My family began searching for three years through countless pet stores, rescue shelters, newspapers, and private dog breeders, for a loving and loyal friend," Blumenfeld explains online. "Not just any dog, but a true loyal companion who would provide love and security for our family in Connecticut. ... our search happily ended when I was searching the Internet and stumbled upon a delightful bouncy two-year-old shaggy dog that had been rescued at a high kill shelter in Houston, Texas."
"Teddy was rescued from Houston Shaggy Dog Rescue, by Ms. Kathy Wetmore. At his veterinarian check up it soon was discovered that Teddy tested positive for heartworm disease through an antigen test. This blood test detects specific proteins, called antigens, which are released by adult female heartworms into the dog’s bloodstream. Teddy had to be given two injections of arsenic and remain in a crate. He had to be inactive and carefully monitored for a couple of months. The treatment for heartworm disease is very expensive and difficult for dogs to recover from. It can also be potentially toxic to the dog’s body and can cause serious complications, such as life-threatening blood clots to the dog’s lungs. Treatment is very expensive because it requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, with the process of blood work, and X-rays. It broke my heart to learn that my dog had endured great pain."
"It broke my heart to see that he could not simply understand why he was in his situation and that he could not play with any of his other friends," Blumenfeld elaborated in an email. "It was such a painful, expensive, and long process that could have been easily avoided with a monthly preventive."
“After seeing my dog’s suffering I was curious to see if heartworm disease is common,” Blumenfeld wrote. “I discovered more than one million dogs in the United States currently have heartworm disease and 45% are unprotected. In fact, it is present in Canada, Africa, Australia, and the United Kingdom. So, in an effort to spread heartworm disease awareness and at the same time help support shelter animals’ medical needs I founded a non-profit organization called Wags 4 Hope. It is where I combine my love of painting together with my passion for helping animals.”
In addition to pushing for a change in Connecticut law, Blumenfeld is engaged in significant philanthropy centered on animal welfare. She paints portraits of dogs—many of them from images sent by people giving her a commission—and donates all of the proceeds.
To date, she’s sold or donated 320 paintings and, including corporate donations to her efforts, has raised a total of $15,000. Those funds, in turn, have been donated to organizations such as Houston Shaggy Dog Rescue, Pet Animal Welfare Society in Norwalk, the Ridgefield Operation for Animal Rescue, Westport Animal Shelter Advocates, the SPCA of Westchester, Westchester County, N.Y. , the Connecticut Humane Society in Newington, the Stratford Animal Rescue Society, and the Danbury Animal Welfare Society.
“My other big helping project is the Autism Speaks club at the high school,” Blumenfeld says of an effort begun and previously shepherded by her brothers, Jake and Johnny.
She’s also working on a children’s book. “I’m going to share Teddy’s experience,” Blumenfeld says, especially the message that no matter how young you are you can make a difference.
And just had her offer accepted to donate a painting of Teddy to the Mayo Clinic.
So what does a 15-year-old high school student on the cutting edge of philanthropy plan to do in the future?
“I’m really interested in politics now after seeing how it runs down at the Capitol, and business has always been one of my interests,” Blumenfeld says. In the immediate future, that means take Wags 4 Hope and its work into other states.
Anyone interested in her artwork can email Blumenfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org. “You can send me your favorite photo of your furry friend, and I would love to paint them,” she says online. “You can also choose where the proceeds go to; I am very flexible and can donate the proceeds to your favorite animal organization, rescue group, or shelter.”
As for Teddy, “He’s doing great,” Blumenfeld says, and he even has his own blog on Tumblr:
Connecticut Student (and Her Dog) Behind Bill on Heartworm Prevention