Bob and Kathy Helfer with dogs Herbie and Starlet

Bob and Kathy Helfer with their adopted dogs Herbie (left) and Starlet.


Bob and Kathy Helfer have had dogs for a long time, but they aren’t just any ordinary pet owners. When they look to adopt, they choose the dogs that most people don’t want – older dogs, puppy mill survivors, sometimes dogs with no teeth or bottom jaw.

They adopted their current dogs, for example, earlier this year from Hearts United for Animals in Auburn. Herbie is a 7 pound, 9-year-old Chihuahua who was rescued from a shelter in Missouri shortly before he was to be euthanized. Along with Herbie came Starlet, a 9-year-old Yorkie and a puppy mill survivor with no teeth and a malignant mammary tumor.

Most people interested in dog adoption want a puppy or at least a younger dog, fearing that they won’t have a lot of time together, Kathy believes.

“That can be true, but to give an older dog the safe, comfortable life it deserves is worth more than time,” she says.

When the Helfers adopted Herbie, they were told that he was a bit jumpy and hand shy, and it was thought he might bite. Nothing could be further from the truth, Kathy says.

“He is the sweetest little boy, smart and so good,” she says. “What a terrible waste it would have been if HUA had not gotten him in time.”

While Starlet had the malignant tumor as well as other mammary tumors, she has bounced back after good vet care and is a happy little girl, Kathy says.

This is not the first time the Helfers adopted older, less-wanted dogs. Soon after one of their past dogs died, they heard of HUA. They looked at all the dogs available for adoption and chose two they hadn’t originally considered.

Zachary was a 4-pound poodle, and Doree was a 10-pound Chihuahua. Both were age 10 and were puppy mill survivors. Zachary had no teeth and no bottom jaw. They lost Zachary at age 12 due to a heart condition. They went back to HUA and adopted Willy Wonka, a 10-year-old Yorkie, also a puppy mill dog. Willie died at age 15, and Doree died about a year ago at 18 ½ years of age.

“It’s always so hard to lose them, and we cry and are heartbroken each time, but we turn around and do it all again because they are worth it,” Kathy says.

Kathy is an avid foe of puppy mills, which she calls puppy breeders who only care about the money to be made in selling puppies and not about the animals’ welfare. Puppy mills are why organizations like HUA are needed, she believes.

“Suffering animals kept in conditions too terrible to imagine need all the help they can get,” she says. “Until the day comes when there are no more puppy mills or people that have no respect for the lives of animals, there will always be a Hearts United.”

Lori McGinnis Black can be reached at


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