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Hearts Alive Village grows from child’s dream to help pets

About a year ago, the Stevens family of Las Vegas gave up television.

Brennan Stevens, 14, has school, soccer practice and guitar lessons. Kendall Stevens, 12, has school, violin lessons and pet projects (literally). Mom Christy Stevens is president and CEO of her family business and is founder of a pet rescue organization. Dad Jeff tolerates the family chaos and holds all of this together, including communication with grown sons Tyler and Spencer. And oh yes, at any one time, the family may be caring for “several” dogs that temporarily need a good home before adoption. Time for TV? Hardly.

Talk to Christy Stevens about her family and her family business, Pictographics, a 20-year-old large-format digital printing company, and she is upbeat, energetic and proud. Talk with her about her work with pets through Hearts Alive Village, and another kind of passion emerges, along with occasional tears.

“Even if every person in this country took in a pet, we’d still have too many unwanted animals,” she says. “We need to start educating children about what it means to humanely care for animals for their entire lifetimes.”

Stevens and her daughter had been volunteers with several pet rescue organizations. Two years ago, Mom read her daughter’s fifth-grade English composition notebook. In the notebook, Kendall said her secret wish was to open her own animal sanctuary. Kendall even had a name for it: Hearts Alive.

The wish hit an emotional chord with Mom, not just because a child’s dreams matter, but because she understood the need to have a pet rescue organization run the way her family would run it. She asked Kendall if she really wanted to pursue her wish. Then, Stevens, with Kendall at her side, went to work.

Using contacts with At Your Service Pet Supplies and donations from friends, the first Hearts Alive Village program, Kendall’s Kupboard, was established. The aim is to provide nutritious pet food, in this case, NutriSource Pet Food, to deserving individuals, while letting existing organizations screen the individuals receiving help.

The Shade Tree is the only Las Vegas Valley shelter for abused women and their children that also takes in pets through what is called Noah’s Animal House. Kendall’s Kupboard was able to provide six-month food scholarships to women, selected by Shade Tree, who left the shelter with their pets.

“We had good results and fortunately, At Your Service and NutriSource were able to continually increase their participation in our program,” Stevens says.

Kendall’s Kupboard now works with several organizations whose clients need pet food services. Negotiations are also beginning among a coalition of nonprofit organizations and Catholic Charities to provide pet food to low-income people who receive home-delivered meals.

Pet rescue was always an objective of Stevens and her daughter. Today, working with the Henderson Animal Shelter and with other organizations, Hearts Alive Village has rescued more than 50 pets.

Twenty-five are in foster placement waiting for their forever homes.

“Sadly, we have to say no 10 to 15 times a week to people wanting to surrender an animal,” Stevens says. “Rescue organizations can get overwhelmed, and that’s not good for anyone. We have, however, been able to provide services for people who want to keep pets in their home.

“We are a 501(c)(3) (nonprofit) organization now and have made money through donations and fundraising. The money allows us to pay for services. We make sure all our animals are spayed or neutered and have up-to-date shots and an identifying microchip.”

Word-of-mouth has helped spread awareness about Hearts Alive, as have the group’s fundraisers and associated publicity. Stevens says, however, that the Hearts Alive Village Las Vegas Facebook page has been the most effective way to communicate with volunteers and potential pet owners.

Stevens’ company has set aside a small hallway that can confine an animal temporarily. After a potential pet rescue owner completes an application and receives temporary approval, a pet and a new owner will meet for the first time, often at Stevens’ company.

A day later, if the potential adopter is still interested in the pet, Stevens will take the pet to the new owner’s home.

“We don’t want anyone to make a spur-of-the-moment decision,” Stevens says. “We want quality situations for all our animals.”

Freya Reder of Las Vegas now owns a Hearts Alive Village dog. She had always loved animals, but because of work assignments, hadn’t had a dog for eight years. Reder, who was in the market for a rescue animal, had a friend who introduced her to Hearts Alive and sent her a photo of Marley, a 3-year-old border collie mix. Though Reder loved the idea of adopting Marley, time passed before Marley became available.

Meeting Marley sealed the deal.

“Marley is smart, eager to please, affectionate and fun,” says Reder, a full-time field biologist.

Reder has hired a dog sitter to come to her apartment for a couple of hours every day to walk the dog and keep it company. Reder hopes to soon buy a home for the two of them.

As Hearts Alive Village grows, the idea of total “rescue homes” becomes more important. Stevens’ idea is to have pets help people while the people are helping pets.

The organization rents one rescue home and the woman in charge is Patti Kreckman, a former Shade Tree resident who brought three cats with her when she needed shelter. Kreckman loved working with the animals at Noah’s Animal House, and The Shade Tree recommended her to Stevens, who was looking for an adult to tend to animals at the first rescue house.

“That call literally saved my life,” Kreckman says. “I was so alone I wondered if I should keep living. Now, I am surrounded by loving animals, mostly cats, and our goal is to find homes for them all.”

Kreckman is a cancer survivor and spent three weeks in the hospital as a result of domestic violence. She says her former problems led her to Christy Stevens and for that, she is grateful.

Stevens’ conversation will often return to educating children about animals and their humane treatment. She is concerned that modern society even makes people-to-people relationships difficult. She wishes every school would take time to talk about relationships, including relationships with animals.

“Animals have emotions, just like we do,” she says, “and we need to teach young people what it takes to have an animal as part of your life.

“We are hoping to have high school students be a part of any future programs that we have with Catholic Charities.”

Stevens and Kendall have appeared before several Girl Scout troops talking about animals as part of “pet badge” requirements.

“We never say no to an invitation to speak with young people,” she says.

When visiting the Girl Scouts, Stevens typically takes along Peewee, a therapy dog owned by Hearts Alive Village Director Kelly McMahon. McMahon is wheelchair-bound and has had two service dogs that have helped her with daily tasks.

Her most recent service dog, Pele, was so well known in the rescue community that an entire Hearts Alive Village fundraiser, led by another volunteer, Sheryl Greenblatt, was organized around “Pele Power” to remember the dog that died in April.

The event, called “Paw It Forward,” raised more than $5,000.

“We were thrilled to have many dedicated volunteers, ‘our village,’ help us with that fundraiser,” Stevens says. “We paid tribute to a wonderful animal, and we have now declared ‘Paw It Forward’ an annual affair.”

Money is also raised by the sale of tote bags made of used plastic dog food bags that are cut down, lined and fitted with handles. On the day of the interview for this story, a seamstress at Pictographics was filling her down time by making the bags.

The organization wants to establish more rescue homes and train rescue dogs as therapy dogs and service dogs. The group would particularly like to provide service dogs to people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, Stevens says.

In 2015, Hearts Alive Village plans to open its own discount pet supply store and adoption center.

Time for TV? It just doesn’t fit in.

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