What do you do for an encore when you’ve been a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader, the only female NBA Scout, a front office executive for the Lakers, an actress and a sportscaster? If you’re Bonnie-Jill Laflin, you tap into your other two passions – animal rescue and helping veterans – to form a non-profit to help both – Hounds and Heroes.
“I’ve given back to so many charities throughout the years and wanted to focus on programs that helped veterans or first responders and animals in need,” says Laflin. “I founded Hounds and Heroes because I’ve seen how much pets mean to those struggling after returning home. Our program saves two lives the dogs in shelters and the veterans in need.”
Hounds and Heroes' rescue mission
Hounds and Heroes rescues dogs from shelters and then trains them to be either service dogs or as a therapy pet. The dogs are then paired with veterans that could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amputees or other injuries.
“I’ve heard so often from people with PTSD that there are so many days they just don’t want to even get out of bed,” says Laflin. “They then see their dog and know that they have to get up and feed him or take him out on a walk. It’s a best friend and very therapeutic. We’re a small organization and are trying to do what we can.”
Laflin’s passion for both the military and animals runs deep. Both grandfathers fought in World War II – one earned a Silver Star and Purple Heart. An uncle was a Marine in Vietnam and another was a police officer. She’s been on 20 USO tours during her career. Her family also has been involved in rescue long before it was in vogue.
“I grew up on a ranch and my parents were always rescuing all kinds of animals (they still do) – it’s something I’ve always felt strongly about,” she adds. “Long before there were campaigns against factory farming, we were offering sanctuary to farm animals. Even as a little girl, I’d skip presents at special occasions and ask for donations to help the animals.”
She’s been using many of the connections she’s forged in sports and entertainment to get the ball rolling for Hounds and Heroes. That includes partnering with other charities when she can. They’ve granted wishes – like taking wounded warriors to a sporting event. She used her Laker connections so that a veteran from Afghanistan that has cancer could meet Kobe Bryant.
The dog/veteran connection extends to her own household. She has recently adopted a dog named Asur, a Military Working Dog that was a bomb sniffing dog in Afghanistan. He came back to the states after he started to lose vision and eventually had an eye removed. Asur was the dog nobody wanted who had landed at Camp Pendleton.
“The staff sergeant told me about him and I spent five minutes with Asur and said I’ll take him,” says Laflin. “He’s been the best dog and after his career he’s just a big couch potato. He’s also very patient with my little dogs that often yip a lot bother him and he just walks on by. I’ve also worked with a trainer for touch commands so that we can work around him not being able to see.”
Hounds and Heroes have helped families pay for military funerals and also adopted military families this holiday season. The organization’s current fundraiser is a calendar featuring Laflin to help support programs in the works for 2014. She’s also back on the beat as a sports reporter with two radio shows and working with ESPN on Longhorns football and the beat covering the Cowboys and 49ers.
“The world of sports has evolved a lot in recent years as more of the barriers have come down,” she adds. “I started as a cheerleader for the 49ers and Cowboys and have really touched in a lot of areas of sports. My latest is an American sports show in China focusing on the NBA. The support has been phenomenal. All of this helps me connect with so many more people to do my charity work and build that organization.”
Although the organization is still small, she has some powerful charity partners including Veterans in Film and Television, Military Super Heroes, American Soldier Network, Semper Fi Fund, Helen Woodward Foundation, Operation Gratitude, Animal Welfare Institute, Disabled Sports USA, The Ultimate Football Journey, Guardians of Rescue, Farm Sanctuary and Pacific Marine Mammal Center.
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