The Citizen Spotlight is a project I started with the Oklahoma Gazette. In each issue, we highlight a person in our community who stands out for their leadership, kindness, and good deeds. Read it on the Oklahoma Gazette website here.
Heather Hernadez – Mutt Misfits
Where one person may see something as broken and beyond repair, Heather Hernandez sees endless possibilities and a bright future. A lifelong dog lover, Heather started Mutt Misfits to help sick, injured and disfigured dogs often passed over in shelters or euthanized because of the costs associated with their rehabilitation.
“My family’s always been crazy animal people. My mom was a crazy dog lady, my dad was a crazy dog lady,” Hernandez said.
“They’re always picking up strays, and we volunteered at the Humane Society ever since I was a little kid. When I got done with college, I knew I wanted to work with animals, so I went and worked with [The Oklahoma Humane Society] for several years. My position with them was grant-funded and when that grant ran out, I went to work for the shelter. There I started seeing more of what actually comes into the shelter on a regular basis and the need of someone to help the sick and injured animals. There was so much red tape and so many things you’re not able to do because it’s city-run. I was like, ‘What can I do to get around this and be able to do more?’ So that’s when I decided to do something on my own.”
Heather developed a mission with a clear purpose and set out to save some lives.
“We started Mutt Misfits so we could work on the sick and injured animals that most animal groups don’t want to take. While we might take a thousand animals a year, other groups might take 5,000 animals a year because they can get those adopted quicker and that’s helping more, but it leaves behind the sick and injured ones,” Hernandez said.
Heather’s calling is rewarding but can be difficult and is often misunderstood. She regularly has to defend her cause to those who have misconceptions about her purpose, frequently responding to questions that begin with “Why?”
“‘Why would you spend so much money on a dog?'” Hernandez said. “Someone commented on a dog with two broken legs, asking why don’t we just euthanize it. What a lot of people don’t see is that, in Oklahoma, there are so many rural areas and we don’t have mandatory spay and neuter laws, so there are thousands of animals being abandoned across the state, which means a lot more animals getting injured and getting hit by cars. Recently, we took on what we thought was one broken leg but ended up having two broken front legs. We posted his story on Facebook asking for donations; his care will probably be maybe $3,000 or $4,000. Someone said, ‘Why would you spend so much money on one animal when there are so many others?’ And I responded nicely, ‘Because that’s what we do.’ That’s what we were set out to do. Other groups that are doing leaps and bounds more adoptions than we are, they’re just doing so much more. They’re bringing in more animals, rehoming more animals responsibly, spaying and neutering more animals; they’re doing more. It’s just different. It’s just not what we set out to do. We set out to help the special needs ones, just like the bulldog rescue. They only take bulldogs, and that’s their mission. Or the chihuahua rescue because that’s their mission. In order for us to combat the problem we have in Oklahoma with the overpopulation and the lack of responsible pet ownership, we need groups of all different colors doing and working on different problems, because there’s a lot of problems.”
While this work can be difficult and grants Heather her share of heartbreaks, the animals she saves keep her going.
“People told me a million times you should euthanize Zippy,” Hernandez said. “You can’t keep that dog alive. Now he’s like the greatest dog. I just knew there was something in him that he wanted to have a life, and now he can just walk down the stairs on his own. He gets along great. He has that small, typical Chihuahua attitude that I love so much, but he’s a dog. He acts no different besides that he can’t use his back legs. A lot of people don’t see why we do that. But those people that don’t see it, maybe they haven’t had the opportunities to see that a life can be changed. Ralphie, my big orange pitbull, was found in a dumpster. He was 20 pounds, just skin and bones with no hair. Now he’s this big giant beefy super sweet guy. It’s so incredible to see their transformations. To see the spark in their eyes that they want to fight to live and watch them pull through. Will he ever get adopted by anyone other than me? Probably not, but he’ll always have a place here.”
In May, Mutt Misfits will celebrate its fifth anniversary. Since its creation, the rescue has rehabilitated and rehomed over 3,000 dogs. The small nonprofit has no staff and has grown to operate with the help of around 100 volunteers and 75 foster homes.
“Seeing where we came from, when it was just my husband and me, when we didn’t have a board, we didn’t really know what direction we were going, and we didn’t know how we were going to get there,” she said. “We still don’t know how we’re going to get there. That answer is never clear. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow or any day, but seeing how much we’ve grown and been able to bring people together and kind of create a niche for these animals that otherwise people wouldn’t think about or even know existed. People now know that animals like this are happening every single day and that animals like Zippy can live totally normal lives — you don’t have to euthanize them.”
“We’re really, really fortunate that we’ve been able to get so much help and be able to help these animals,” Hernandez said.
To learn more about Mutt Misfits, donate or see adoptable dogs, visit muttmisfits.com.