Throughout 2022 Pet Perennials will share information about organizations supporting the needs of animals and their pet families. This is the first of our series on The Gwen Fund as Chris Olinger shares his backstory and what set their team on the path to help fund veterinary care for those in financial need. Be sure to stay tuned.
The Gwen Fund collaborates with local veterinarians to determine need and when appropriate, The Gwen Fund may step in to assist with all or some of the financial resources needed to provide these types of higher-level diagnostics, imaging and more.
A Pudgy Pup
We have all heard the adage about pets choosing their people. We like to think that we rescue, but it is often the pets who choose us and rescue us. This was exactly the case with a pudgy 6-week-old chocolate lab that came into my life one late summer evening.
I grew up in a small farm town in NE Ohio. I spent my summers on the family farm making hay, running around the yard with Bert and Ernie (A golden retriever and a black lab) My grandmother was a veterinary technician, so it was common for a cat or two to make their way out to the farm from the clinic because they needed a home. Our farm produced hay and grains and a significant amount of acreage is a tree farm and a campground. The rest is a beautiful rolling playground for various animals, sometimes cows, sheep, they had pigs once. It was a wonderful place to learn about animals and to witness the kindness that people could bestow upon animals of all kinds. The entire family shared a common trait – being a big sucker for animals. It was these early experiences on the farm that triggered my passion for animal welfare, and I quickly became involved in various rescue organizations.
I grew up and moved away for college, but I missed being able to volunteer. I really missed having any animals around me! I was 20 years old, working full-time and a full-time student. I was also poor, trying to make rent, a car payment, and all the other associated living expenses on a meager $9/hour. Things were…tight. But I loved animals and I wanted to keep doing something. I had been working with a few different rescue organizations and was also known in the neighborhood to pick up a stray and to try to rehome them. I was that neighbor that left food out for stray cats (sorry neighbors!). I liked helping when I could, but it was painful trying to remember that I was not anywhere near prepared to manage a pet on my own.
During one rescue mission in late August of 2005, we stumbled across a litter of puppies along with the parents, a beautiful female chocolate lab and a stunner black lab. They were in a pile of straw in the back of the barn. They were dirty and two of the pups had already passed away, but the survivors looked healthy. Whimpering and whining, they were 6 weeks old – the owner told us they had been born on June 30th – adding to the burden of having too many animals. We stood there thinking through the best approach to handle all the dogs, when the last surviving chocolate lab popped up and began to hobble around. She sniffed and stumbled about before finally settling on the tip of my shoe. She sat, and then looked up at me just before her chubby puppy legs gave out and she collapsed into a puppy puddle on my foot. It was that moment that she had decided that she was coming with me – like it or not.
That old family trait began to show itself – there was no way I was going to be able to say “no.” So, I scooped her up and she hung out with me while we finished our business there. We got into my car, and I thought “What on earth am I going to do with a puppy!” On one hand I had the wherewithal to know that I could not responsibly do this. On the other hand, I thought “I can figure this out.” We headed home, driving down the highway as I racked my brain about what to name her while compiling a list of things I needed to buy. We stopped at a Target in Columbus, Ohio – I tucked her into my hoodie as we walked through the store picking up puppy supplies – toys, food, shampoo, a little collar and a leash, every little thing that one may need to get started with a puppy. I stood in line waiting for check out fraught with stress and still processing the fact that I have a puppy in my pocket! I stood in line when I glanced over and noticed a nice display of a new album “Love, Angel, Music, Baby” from Gwen Stefani.
Gwen. Gwen is a nice name, I thought to myself. I look down to see this [still dirty] chocolate puppy face staring back at me.
“Hi Gwen” I say to her. It was decided then, in a target check-out lane. I named her after the famous Gwen Stefani and “Hollaback Girl” would become the anthem for my puppy. I should mention that I did grab the album – those impulse buys will get you!
Gwen and I walked next door to have her new tag made before going home to start our journey together.
This was 2005, before camera phones, so snapped this photo of Gwen in her first bed using a disposable camera. These were her very first moments in her new home, and a new journey for both of us. The beginning of a relationship that would change the entire course of my life, every decision I made, and my entire perspective on relationships between pets and people and what it meant to be a “responsible” pet parent.
Chris Olinger is President and Founder of The Gwen Fund. Chris has been involved with animal welfare and rescue for much of his life, with his earliest experiences dating back to cleaning kennels and walking dogs at the clinic where his grandma worked for 48 years! Since then, Chris has volunteered with rescue organizations in Ohio, served on the board of Directors for a lab rescue in Atlanta for 8 years and has fostered and rehomed many dogs – and a few cats.
Chris lives with his husband, Jonathan, in Decatur, GA with their three pups. Grant (10) a foster failure from Atlanta Lab Rescue, Jackson (6) adopted from Atlanta Lab Rescue and Stevie (6 months) adopted from Great Pyrenees Rescue of Atlanta.
Interested in learning more or how you can help?