Emily, a student at Bristow Middle School in Brentwood, turned 12 last Saturday, but rather than receive personal gifts, she asked her closest friends to bring donations for Homeless Animals’ Lifeline Organization (HALO), an Oakley-based animal rescue organization for which she has volunteered for the past six years.
Her request for donations made her family and HALO friends proud, but for Emily, the idea seemed like an obvious choice. “I don’t really need anything,” she said. “I asked for new sneakers, a bike, and I wanted to get my ears pierced, and that’s what my parents and grandma got me. I didn’t need my friends to get my anything for my birthday, but I know HALO can always use supplies, so I said that if they wanted to get me something, they could get me something to donate to HALO.”
In her party invitation, Emily politely asked friends to donate leashes, collars, beds, blankets, toys and puppy pads on behalf of all the homeless dogs that pass through HALO House and HALO’s foster program, and that’s exactly what she got. Friends and family delivered a mound of supplies Saturday that covered the family’s kitchen table.
Emily and her family have been a HALO foster family for half of her life. In those six years, the Sexton family has fostered 35 dogs awaiting a loving home. The family volunteers at HALO adoption events as often as possible. Most recently, Emily volunteered during Maddie’s Adoptathon, a countywide program that adopts dogs and cats to potential pet owners for free. She spent 15 hours at HALO adoption stations throughout East County over the course of the weekend, educating potential pet adopters about HALO and its services.
A lifelong animal lover, Emily hopes to become a veterinarian when she grows up.
Emily’s mom Heather said animals have always been attracted to Emily’s soothing spirit – even before she was born. “Our dachshund Tigger loved to lie on my belly when I was pregnant with Emily,” Heather recalled. “He loved to nuzzle up and get really close. It’s like he knew he would be her protector. Emily has always had a kinship with animals large and small.”
Tigger remains one of Emily’s many four-legged fans, but now the roles are reversed and Emily is the protector. She has a soft spot for fostering special-needs dogs, and the Sextons have gone on to adopt two of the dogs that have come to HALO needing a forever family.
Zeus, a beagle-corgie mix, came to HALO three years ago. The pup, found wandering the streets of Antioch, had a compressed spine and other ailments that vets suspect could be a result of a birth defect or neglect. The Sextons took in the dog, and Emily stayed by its side during its six-week recovery from back surgery. She’s also seen the dog through acupuncture and hydrotherapy treatments. Now at age 3, Zeus is a happy, well-loved dog. He’s still shy, but Emily continues to work diligently to socialize him so he’s not skittish around people.
“He’s my baby,” Emily said. “I’ve become attached to other dogs that we’ve fostered, but Zeus was special. He’s the sweetest dog, but his legs bend inward, and that would scare people away for adopting him. I don’t care that he looks different. He’s a great dog.”
Emily also works with Zoe, a dachshund that came to HALO as a puppy with a broken leg that it suffered after being hit by a car. The previous owners didn’t have the funds to treat the dog, so they surrendered it to HALO. Zoe underwent surgery and lived with the Sextons while she awaited a new home. The energetic pup became a member of the family after Emily’s grandmother adopted the dog. Today, Emily works with Zoe to train the little lover to be a therapy dog and Angel Ears companion, who will sit patiently with children as they practice their reading skills by reading stories aloud.
HALO president Tamara Reed considers Emily a vital member of the HALO team and is grateful for her willingness to forego birthday presents to seek donation for HALO instead. “Emily is a wonderful young lady,” Reed wrote in an e-mail. “She has grown so much over the years in her love of animals. She has always put her love of animals first and is very caring and affectionate with them. I am proud to say she is a volunteer of HALO.”
Emily is shy about the attention she’s received for her decision to seek donations for the HALO dogs rather than accept presents for herself. “I don’t really see what the big deal is,” Emily said. “I want these dogs to end up with their forever families, and I want to make sure that while they are with us at HALO, they are well taken care of. That just makes more sense to me than getting presents.”