Most kids begin assembling their birthday wish list weeks in advance, frantically writing down all the toys they see in commercials and in ads. But for one Waukesha girl, her list was short, and sweet.
For her birthday, what she wanted was to help pets in need.
For the second year, Hannah Okel, now 10, a student at Waukesha STEM Academy Randall Campus, decided that in lieu of asking for presents for her birthday on Feb. 18, she would ask family and friends to instead make a donation to Camp Bow Wow, an organization that helps pay for medical treatments for pets.
“I have enough presents and everything I need,” Hannah said. “Some other people need help with their animal’s surgery so that’s why I decided to do this instead of getting presents. People need our help and so do animals, and it would just be really hard if I were them and my dog needed surgery that we couldn’t pay for.
“I think this is a good charity to help, and since I don’t need any more presents, I want to help other people.”
In Bow Wow's camp
The family chose to help Camp Bow Wow because that’s where they got their dog, Scout, and where Scout attends doggie day camp.
After reaching out to the organization with Hannah’s plan, the family informed of the Bow Wow Buddies Foundation.
“Hannah loved that idea,” said Hannah’s mother Monica. “In talking to Camp Bow Wow, they were so touched by Hannah’s gesture they offered to advertise for her and match all donations that are made in Hannah’s name.”
Camp Bow Wow Buddies Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides grants of up to $2,500 for individuals, shelters, and rescue groups across North America who cannot afford necessary medical care for a particular dog. Individuals may apply for a grant when they are struggling to cover the cost of their dog’s veterinary care, and a shelter or rescue group may apply for a grant for a dog who is awaiting adoption pending veterinary care.
This year, Hannah set a goal to raise $250 for the foundation, which she achieved early in the one-month campaign that ended on her birthday. By the time the campaign ended, she had raised $2,150. Camp Bow Wow matched all funds raised by Hannah for a total of $4,300.
“The Bow Wow Buddies Foundation is honored to receive the donations that Hannah kindly requested in lieu of birthday presents this year,” said Christina Russell, president of camp Bow Wow in a written comment. “As a passionate dog lover, Hannah’s selfless decision ensures that pups and their families have happy and healthy lives. ... She’s not only helping to provide necessary medical care for dogs in need, she’s potentially preventing the heartbreaking loss of a family’s furry loved one.”
Though it’s a year away, Hannah plans to raise money again for next year’s birthday, and chances are that it will involve four-legged friends again.
“Although she hasn’t picked a charity to support yet, she already told me it will be something to support animals, whether it be another humane society or maybe our local vet’s office,” Monica explained.
It fits Hannah's thinking.
“I care about animals and I think they are really special,” Hannah said. “I want to help animals get better.
“Even though she can’t talk, Scout is my best friend. I like hanging out with her. I like to chase her around the house; we play with her toys, sometimes we play tug of war. At night Scout loves laying at the edge of my bed. Sometimes, she lies next to me like a person when we go to sleep.”
Hannah's father Dave Okel believes Scout shows true empathy for his daughter.
“Scout knows when Hannah is happy and when she is sad,” Dave said.
“And she just wants to make me feel better when I am sad,” added Hannah.
No matter what Hannah does, she has the full support of her family. Hannah's parents can't help feeling impressed by their daughter's giving nature.
“I feel blessed to have such a caring daughter,” Monica said. “She has a heart of gold and a soft spot for animals. When she told me she wanted to raise money for her birthday, I was on board right away. And then when Camp Bow Wow Waukesha wanted to join forces, advertise for her and match all donations, quite frankly I was overwhelmed.”
Her father says Hannah probably doesn't realize the depth of her approach to giving.
“I’m amazed by her generosity and heart,” Dave said. “She just wants to help people, and I don’t think she fully understands the impact of that. All she thought she was doing was trading some presents and gift cards from friends and family for a chance to help animals, and her goal was very much based on that. But it has grown and touched people beyond our family, and that’s what I’m most proud of. My wonderful, selfless daughter has impacted more lives with her heart than she ever expected, just by being her.”
Hannah herself has no regrets.
“It feels really good because I know that people don’t always have enough money to pay for their dogs’ surgeries,” she said, noting she doesn't feel like she is missing anything by not getting presents for herself. “If Scout needed surgery and we couldn’t pay for it, I would like the Bow Wow Buddies Foundation to help my family and dog. I’m doing this for a good cause that really helps and cares. It makes me feel good that so many people have helped with donations and sharing the post on Facebook to spread the word.”
For more information about Camp Bow Wow, visit www.bowwowbuddies.com.