Nine-year-old Billy Spencer and his 6-year-old brother Chase are two of the Canyon Lake residents who participate in the Huey’s Heroes reading program at the Southwest Communities Shelter in Wildomar. The shelter, also known as Animal Friends of the Valleys, is the shelter that serves Canyon Lake.
Huey’s Heroes is a reading program designed to help readers improve their reading skills while reading books to the animals at the shelter. The goals of the program are to help kids become stronger readers while fostering a love and understanding for animals, provide a calm, nurturing presence for shelter animals, assist young adults in fulfilling community service hours through volunteering, and to raise awareness of over-population in local animal shelters.
Huey’s Heroes was founded by Tracy Lystra in October 2015. Tracy has been a foster parent to many animals over the years, especially to senior dogs. She named the Huey’s Heroes program after her adopted pit bull, Huey, who was used as a bait dog and was near death when he was found in a rural part of Moreno Valley in December 2014.
Tracy says, “He was extremely malnourished and weak, his liver was hard from lack of nutrition. His ears were infected and his nose was covered in scabs and fresh wounds, one so deep that it had pierced his nasal cavity. His bottom jaw was mangled beyond repair and pieces of his bottom lip were missing. His rear end had raw spots from sitting in a cage, and his legs were bowed due to lack of exercise.”
Today, a little more than a year later and with the help of Tracy, Huey is doing much better but he still has a long road ahead. Huey still suffers from separation anxiety and has nightmares. “It’s heart-wrenching to hear his cries and watch him shake,” says Tracy. She is still working on clearing up his infections, and the vet has mentioned the possibility of jaw surgery.
Huey has participated in two training camps, and is well on his way to becoming an ambassador for his breed and for recovering fighting dogs. Huey has been featured on CNN, KTLA and ABC News, and in “The Huffington Post,” “Life with Dogs” and “People” magazine, to name a few. He also has his own Saving Huey Facebook page with over 15,000 followers. “It is our hope that by sharing Huey’s story we can further educate the world on the atrocities that these dogs endure on a daily basis,” says Tracy.
Kids of all ages are invited to participate in the Huey’s Heroes program at the Animal Friends of the Valleys animal shelter on Wednesdays, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Non-readers are also encouraged to participate in the program. Some participants just sit and talk to the animals. Others, especially those too young to know how to read, sing songs to comfort the animals.
Tracy requests that participants contact her to schedule a reading time due to the fact that space is limited to 20 readers per half hour. Participants should bring a blanket or pillow to sit on during their visits with the animals. Readers are requested to bring their own book. All minors must be accompanied by an adult.
Participants in the program are offered free pencils and Huey’s Heroes bracelets at the sign-in table where they pick up their name badge. Goodie bags and gift cards also are rewarded based on the level of participant. Last week, some participates received Cold Stone Ice Cream gift cards.
Although food donations are not a requirement to participate in the program, Huey’s Heroes T-shirts are given to participants who donate five or more cans of dog food.
Currently, Huey and Tracy are on a mission to raise $12,000 to purchase blankets and elevated beds for shelter animals so they don’t have to sleep on the cold concrete floor. Those who would like to make a donation towards this cause are invited to visit gofundme.com/x9cdr3m8.
The Southwest Communities Shelter is located at 33751 Mission Trail in Wildomar. To reserve a reading time in the Huey’s Heroes program, send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the Huey’s Heroes program, visit savinghuey.com.