By LINDA M. LINONIS
A stray dog at the Mahoning County Dog Pound inspired Krista Milford to found Oakley’s Heart, an organization dedicated to preventing and treating heartworm disease.
Oakley’s Heart focuses on education, prevention, testing and treatment of heartworm in memory of its namesake. The Ohio-based group, dedicated to raising awareness about heartworm disease, provides funding for pet owners with financial hardship or other crises.
Milford, of McDonald, said she was among volunteers at the pound who walked dogs as part of Friends of Fido. Oakley, a treewalker-coonhound mix, was among them.
In late December 2012, volunteers noticed that Oakley’s breathing was labored, he had a cough and he walked slowly. A visit to the veterinarian revealed the dog was in the last stage of heartworm disease. “Surgery was a possibility, but there was only a slim chance,” Milford said.
The volunteers were distressed at his diagnosis and how far the disease was advanced. “We were devastated at the news,” Milford said.
A group effort gave Oakley a loving sendoff. They took him out of the pound and he spent his last night in a home, where he slept on a couch after eating a good meal. Oakley was euthanized Jan. 16, 2013, to end his suffering. “It was the kinder thing to do,” Milford said.
Milford said the volunteers were upset that Oakley died of a problem that was preventable. A monthly pill costs about $5 to $7 or a bit more, depending on dog’s weight.
Heartworm is a parasitic roundworm that is spread through the bites of mosquitoes. “Once a dog has it, it costs about $400 to treat it,” Milford said.
Milford said Oakley’s Heart volunteers want dogs to stay in their adoptive homes. Sometimes, she said, owners give up their pets because they can’t afford treatment. Oakley’s Heart provides preventive heartworm medication and treatment of the disease to pet owners in need. It has worked with people not only in the Valley but around the Buckeye State.
Becky Onuska of Youngstown also is involved in Oakley’s Heart and focuses on providing educational materials at community events. She puts up fliers about Oakley’s Heart where dog owners will see them.
“Sometimes, it’s a lack of education about heartworm or financial inability to pay for the pills,” Onuska said. Oakley’s Heart addresses both situations.
Onuska, a dog lover, is a volunteer obedience instructor with Youngstown All-Breed, an AKC club that trains show and pet dogs.
Oakley’s Heart is working on becoming a 501(c) nonprofit organization. It helps pet owners through the community’s support of various fundraisers.
Milford said the group recently sponsored a pancake breakfast, and an ongoing project is selling Daffin’s candy bars for $1 each.
An upcoming fundraiser is Pounds for Pups, which will start Feb. 17. Participants will get pledges for every pound they lose in the weight-loss challenge. The top two losers will receive prizes.
Information on that fundraiser and other Oakley’s Heart information may be found on its Facebook page.
Another fundraiser involves 12 sponsors to donate $12, which will all go to buy pills for heartworm prevention. Milford said the 12 is significant because it represents year-round prevention.
Last year, the group raised about $3,000. About 10 dogs were helped with pills and treatment. “We’d like to double that this year to help more dogs,” Milford said.
“I’ve always had pets and can’t imagine my home without them. It’s not a home without them,” Milford said.
She’s motivated to help pet owners who need help with this issue. She’s fostered 41 dogs and 26 cats. There are three dogs and two cats in her furry family along with two sons and her husband.