One Iowa rescue’s journey to change lives – four paws at a time

Words by Sarah Hubbard
Photos by Zoe Ekonomou

It was late March 2008. Amy Heinz was driving near De Soto, Iowa, when she saw a truck drive away from the side of the road. A dog had been left behind, running after its owner until the car was out of sight. When Heinz tried to get the dog to come to her, it ran away. Thinking that the dog would be caught in De Soto, Heinz continued on her way.

Dustie, a lab mix, playing outside at the Pit Stop

Two days later, Heinz saw the dog again sitting by the road at the site where it had been abandoned. When Heinz tried to approach the dog, it ran again. But that didn’t dissuade her. Each morning and night on her way to and from work, Heinz would look for the dog. Eventually she enlisted the help of the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, who provided her with a live trap to try and catch the dog. At around 2 a.m. in early April, Amy checked the trap and found the dog inside. Heinz took the dog home and was outside her veterinarian’s office  hours later when it opened. Heinz cared for the dog, whom she named Amazing Grace, until the dog passed away in 2013. From Amazing Grace’s story, AHeinz57 Pet Rescue and Transportation was born.

AHeinz57 is a nonprofit pet rescue and transportation service operating out of De Soto that rescues dogs from across the Midwest. Kim Applegate, the co-coordinator for AHeinz57’s foster program, described the operation as “a sort of Underground Railroad for dogs.”

“We get dogs that have been pulled from shelters in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Minnesota … basically, the far reaches of the Midwest,” Applegate said.

Dustie, left, and Maggie, right, at the AHeinz57 Pit Stop

Dogs brought to AHeinz57 are first taken to their headquarters, also known as the Pit Stop. There, dogs receive necessary medical services from a retired veterinarian who volunteers his services.  Most of AHeinz57’s dogs live in foster homes to ensure a smoother transition to life in their permanent homes. Dogs kept at the Pit Stop usually require additional medical care or would higher quality of life there than in a foster home.

In January, AHeinz57 received 44 shih tzu dogs that had been part of a breeder’s puppy mill. Although AHeinz57 frequently receives dogs from breeder situations, the number of dogs involved in this instance was overwhelming. All the shih tzus needed to be spayed or neutered and some required medical attention.

Iowa is located in the “puppy mill belt” and has over 200 commercial breeders statewide, according to Bailing Out Benji, a nonprofit in Ames that is dedicated to educating the public about the horrors of puppy mills. Like AHeinz57, Bailing Out Benji takes in dogs from breeders and puppy mills. Since 2011, Bailing out Benji has dedicated itself to protesting pet stores that purchase puppies from breeders and protesting places that auction puppies.

Moe, one of the dogs available for adoption

AHeinz57 is a no-kill shelter, but that does not mean they never have to euthanize any of their dogs. Dogs are pulled from traditional shelters to save them from being euthanized due to space limitations.

“AHeinz57 does not euthanize dogs due to lack of space,” Applegate said. “However, we have had to make some very tough decisions about dogs that would not have a good quality of life or dogs that we felt were just too aggressive to adopt out safely.”

AHeinz57 requires prospective adoptive families to complete an application process. First, the families must fill out an online application which requires a family history of pets, including veterinary information, to ensure that prior and current pets are receiving proper care. After that, a home visit which helps adoption coordinators get to know potential families and make sure the home is a suitable and safe environment. Finally, a meet-and-greet is set up for the pup and prospective family.

The prolonged application and adoption process sets AHeinz57 apart from the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, which only requires a brief meeting with an adoption counselor, and allows most pet adoptions to take place the same day.

Scrapper waiting for his “forever home”

Because of AHeinz57’s growth since their founding in 2008, they have outgrown the Pit Stop. Plans for a new building include a boarding facility, the revenue from which would provide AHeinz57 with a more sustainable form of income. This in turn would allow AHeinz57 to further their outreach and save more lives.

Bre Boheman adopted her 11-week-old puppy, Gruff, just before Christmas. Boheman has a family member that is a foster parent for AHeinz57.

“I saw her posts about dogs she was caring for,” Boheman said. “I was really drawn to an organization that uses in-home fosters as opposed to a shelter. We have another rescue that we adopted through a shelter. They are fantastic people doing a difficult job, but a shelter environment is a tough environment from some dogs.”

Dustie enjoying some attention

Boheman acknowledges that the AHeinz57 adoption process is longer than that of other shelters. To Boheman, the longer process shows the amount of effort that AHeinz57 puts into finding the best home for their dogs.

“My personal experience was nothing but amazing with AHeinz57,” Boheman said. “We are still in touch with the foster and the adoption coordinator. They love getting updates on his progress.”

Gruff is now five months old. His favorite things are going for walks, treats, and playing with his big brother, Mack.