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Lucky dog: Heart of Lucky sends care packages to pets with cancer

By Erica Smith

For the Enquirer

A 9-year-old German shepherd and boxer mix, Griffin became lethargic after having a cancerous lump of soft tissue sarcoma removed several months ago.

His mood was so low it even affected his housemate, 11-year-old Rocko, a blue heeler. Tammy Watson, the two dogs’ owner and a Hartselle resident, said Rocko is very in tune with Griffin.

“They would ordinarily be playing, but Rocko knows Griffin is too tired, so he lays with him instead,” Watson said. “If there’s a toy they both want, Rocko lets Griffin have it.”

Watson said Rocko also lets Griffin have the whole bed to himself at times. “Sometimes Rocko just sits and watches Griffin as he sleeps. It’s the sweetest.”

To find additional comfort for Griffin and herself, Watson reached out to The Heart of Lucky, an organization started by another Hartselle woman to deliver care packages to dogs and cats and their owners.

Since she lives nearby, The Heart of Lucky organizer April Free delivered Griffin’s care package in person. Watson said the show of support was a blessing.

In the box was a Kong teddy bear, a bag of treats, a blanket, a squeaky tennis ball, a handwritten card and a wristband bearing the organization’s name. Watson said the wristband is special because when she wears it, it can be a conversation starter about canine cancer.

“For me personally, these guys (Griffin and Rocko) are my kids,” Watson said. “For other people to have that same connection is just very special.”

The Heart of Lucky gives care packages to dogs and cats with cancer as well as K-9 and military dogs that have been hurt in the line of duty. Free said she began the program simply because she wanted to help, and she later renamed it The Heart of Lucky in honor of her pet that died.

“It doesn’t take a lot to bring some comfort and joy to somebody. For me to be able to send that to other animals, it makes my heart full and really keeps me going,” Free said.

Packages have been sent across the United States and all over the world, including to Canada, England and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Free said she has sent almost 1,000 care packages.

She found Lucky, a black Labrador retriever, as a stray when he was about 7 years old in a Sonic parking lot in 2012. After much coaxing, Free said she was able to get him in her car and planned to get him to a rescue group.

Free changed her mind about giving Lucky to a rescue group after she realized they had a strong connection to each other. “We instantly bonded. I don’t know how to explain it. We connected.”

Free said Lucky became her emotional support dog.

Free created the organization Helping Animals in Need of North Alabama, which would later be changed to The Heart of Lucky.

While Lucky was still alive, Free did things like toy drives in his honor for local rescue groups and shelters because “he was a homeless dog. He didn’t have anything, and then he had everything.”

Lucky was at Free’s side for four and a half years until one day, unexpectedly, he fell extremely ill. Free rushed him to the emergency veterinary hospital, but he died shortly afterward from a cancer called hemangiosarcoma of the spleen.

“He was taken from us so unexpectedly,” Free said, tears filling her eyes. “It was like I lost my son that day. It hurt so bad, and I’ll never get over that.”

Free said Lucky’s death motivated her to bring comfort to other animals that had cancer. “I wanted to honor my Lucky and keep his memory alive.”

Working on her own, Free started shipping care packages to dogs and cats with cancer.

Next, Free added K-9 officers, military dogs, contracted working dogs and therapy and service dogs, active or retired, who had cancer, were hurt in the line of duty or were sick or injured.

The dog care boxes have the same contents as the one given to Watson and Griffin. Free said the feline boxes include a bag of cat treats, a blanket, a handful of different types of cat toys, a card and a wristband.

Sometimes Free will find the recipients; sometimes they come to her; and sometimes people refer animals to Free.

To donate to the organization, visit The Heart of Lucky Facebook page.

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