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Pet owners’ tales lead to donation


Donna Stumpf, executive director of Animal Humane New Mexico, clutches an oversized $21,000 check presented to the organization by Petco Foundation regional director Bill Gialenes, right. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis, Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A dog named Ranger leads to the introduction of a man and a woman, who find love and later marry.

A cat named Kettle Claws helps draw a 7-year-old boy out of the depths of depression.

Both animals were adopted from Animal Humane New Mexico, and their stories resulted in a $21,000 donation from the Petco Foundation to the animal welfare organization on Giving Tuesday – part of an international movement to create a day of charitable giving at the beginning of the holiday season.

This is the seventh year of Petco Foundation’s Holiday Wishes campaign, regional director Bill Gialenes told Animal Humane employees gathered for a catered breakfast. “We invited individuals who have adopted a pet to share how their pet brightens their life, for the chance to give back to the animal welfare organization that helped bring them together.”

For Chris and Jessica Leeson, that pet was Ranger. Chris was a lonely airman at Kirtland Air Force Base when he adopted Ranger and took his new pet to a puppy play group at Animal Humane New Mexico, where staff employee Jessica, the shelter’s behavior manager, was present with a dog she was fostering at the time, he told the crowd.

Although attracted to Jessica, “it was one of those things where I was pretty sure she was out of my league, and she was pretty confident I wasn’t interested,” he told the crowd. “It took a while, but we started texting and then went on our first date.”

That first date was a hike accompanied by Ranger, and Jessica’s dog, Boots. This past June, they married. Ranger was Chris’ “best dog,” and Boots was Jessica’s “Dog of Honor.” The animals stood at their side during the ceremony.

For Carson and Karen Bennett, Kettle Claws the kitten was literally a lifesaver for their 7-year-old son.

“One day, our son rolled up in a ball on the floor and said he didn’t want to live on the earth anymore. It was the beginning of a really tough time for us,” Carson said.

The Bennetts immediately took their son to the doctor and got him started on therapy. “We couldn’t figure out what else to do. And we thought, ‘What if we adopted a cat? He always really wanted a cat.’ So we went to the shelter and found one that matched his personality really well when he is at his best.”

The adoption of Kettle Claws helped their son emerge from his depression and become more playful, energetic, exuberant and curious, Carson wrote in his submission to the Petco Foundation.

“His laughter when the kitten pounces on a toy car, or chases him and string down the hallway makes me want to weep because I genuinely didn’t know if he would be able to come out of the despair he felt. Things are getting better in no small part due to the kitten our family has adopted.”

The Petco Foundation received thousands of story submissions from people across the country, said Gialenes. The organization this year is awarding animal welfare groups about $875,000, “to save even more animal lives,” he said.


Carson and Karen Bennett share the story of how a kitten they adopted from Animal Human New Mexico helped their young son emerge from depression. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis, Albuquerque Journal)

Petco Foundation is once again partnering with shoe manufacturer Skechers. A portion of each pair in the Bobs for Dogs lineup of shoes is donated to the Petco Foundation. John Long, Skechers field marketing rep, said the company has donated more than $4.5 million to the Petco Foundation since 2015, aiding more than 850,000 shelter pets.

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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