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WNY organization gives hope to pet owners

Two self-proclaimed pet lovers will be sharing their passion with Eden Corn Festival-goers, this weekend.

Gary and Linda Hepler said that they have always been “lucky,” in having pets who lived for a long time. But, last December, when Gary Hepler’s 9-year-old service dog Aasha became sick, the couple found themselves rushing her to the emergency hospital.

“We were fortunate enough that we had the money to pay for her emergency surgery, but God had other plans and she didn’t live for more than 12 hours afterward,” Linda Hepler said. Adding to the couple’s sorrow was the fact that their sheltie had died on their 40th anniversary.

While the Heplers were waiting for Aasha to come out of surgery, another couple came into the hospital with a 3-year-old dog, who had a broken leg. “They didn’t have the money to get it fixed,” Hepler said. “The vet wouldn’t work with them, so they had to put the poor thing down.”

The couple watched, as the same scenario occurred, again and again. “The vets wouldn’t work with anyone,” Hepler said. “I understand that they have to get paid and that’s a living for them, but we believe the animals should come first, and then money.”

Hepler said that watching these pets be put down because of a lack of funding added to her and her husband’s sadness. “It made me so mad, to see all these animals put down for no reason,” she said.

The couple decided to do their part in ensuring pet owners could afford to care for their animals. Since both Linda and Gary Hepler are retired, they said they decided that they had plenty of time to give.

That is how Hope Before Heaven was formed. The organization is named for the couple’s dog Aasha, whose name means “hope” in East Indian.

Hope Before Heaven provides funding for emergency care for dogs and cats in the Western New York area. It covers all eight counties. “Everybody needs help, now and then,” Linda Hepler said. “It doesn’t matter who you are.”

The Heplers said that their goal, with this nonprofit organization, is to “keep pets in a home with someone who loves them, instead of surrendering them to shelters, when they are sick, or having them euthanized.”

Funding for Hope Before Heaven comes from donations. The organization’s six volunteers have been holding arts and crafts shows, appearing at fairs and festivals and collecting donations. Tennis centers throughout the area have donated balls to Hope Before Heaven, which makes dog toys with the items. “Everything 100 percent goes back into the kitty,” Linda Hepler said. “We don’t take any salaries at all.”

Pet owners first bring their animals to their local veterinarians. “Find out whether your vet will work with you, as far as payments,” Hepler said.

“After that, if your vet will not work with you and you don’t have the funds, give us a call.”

After pet owners have depleted all of their other options for assistance, they will be asked to fill out forms, to verify income and residency. The veterinarian will also be asked to provide documentation, about the pet’s diagnosis, chances of survival and more.

Payment options are worked out with the pet owners and the vet or animal hospital. Money is given directly to the animal’s care.

“Most of the vets we’ve talked to have been really good to us,” Hepler said. While Hope Before Heaven was officially formed in May, Hepler said that the people she has worked with have already welcomed the organization “with open arms. They have been so accepting of us,” she added.

Hope Before Heaven, which is based out of Niagara Falls, will be on hand, during the Eden Corn Festival, accepting donations, selling handmade dog and cat toys and disseminating information to pet lovers. Volunteers will man the booth, during all four days, Aug. 1 – 4.

Hepler said that she is currently looking for corporate sponsors, to help keep Hope Before Heaven afloat. The organization is a registered not-for-profit with the state of New York and is also registered with the state’s charity bureau.

“This is something that’s very dear to our hearts, because we always wanted to do something for animals,” Hepler said. “Losing our beautiful girl was so hard for us. We are doing this in her memory.”

“As you know, all dogs go to heaven, so that’s why we named it Hope Before Heaven,” she added. “When we saw all the financial stress that’s put on people, we knew we had do something about it. I hope something good is coming out of this sad situation. I’m sure Aasha is looking down and smiling on us.”

For more information about Hope Before Heaven, call 236-7346 or visit

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