When Connie Hellwig met a disabled veteran on a street in Newburyport, his service dog caught her attention.
“The dog was emaciated, skin and bones,” she said.
An animal lover who has worked as a dog walker for more than 10 years, Hellwig wanted to help.
“I talked with the veteran and learned he could barely make ends meet on the income available,” she said. “And the dog was so valuable to him.”
Hellwig offered to provide high-quality food for the dog.
“The good news is that veterans get a service dog. The bad news is they can’t afford to feed them,” she said, adding that once they get the animal, there is all too often little or no follow-up support.
That was the impetus for the nonprofit she later founded, Feed the Dog Inc., which helps pay for or gets free or discounted products and services for dogs of disabled veterans around the country.
“The intention is to relieve the cost of dog ownership,” she said, which also can include veterinary care, grooming, training, and equipment.
Another goal is to help the dogs “be stronger and healthier so they can do their job.
“I always wanted to support the military in some way, and this is my way,” she said.
“It has become my absolute mission.”
It took Hellwig, 50, of Byfield, five years of research and work to register as a nonprofit before Feed the Dog became operational in 2012.
She runs the organization, doing all the fund-raising, marketing, and grant writing. “I spend every waking moment on it,” she said.
So far, five veterans have been helped, but Hellwig said there is always a need for more funding. “I have veterans on a waiting list,” she said. “I can’t afford to help them all.”
Tax-deductible donations can be sent to Feed the Dog Inc., 25 Storey Ave., Suite 8, No. 128, Newburyport, MA 01950, or visit feedthedog.org.