PHOTO/KINGKINI SENGUPTA: Treble, a dog who was rescued from an abusive owner, gets a kiss from Thomas Wheeler, who adopted him and takes him on hikes and camping trips around the country.

A puppy, found with a shoelace tied tightly around his head and unable to open his mouth to bark or eat, was rescued from the backyard of a Reno home.

Washoe County Regional Animal Services cut away the string, which left a permanent scar around the animal’s mouth, and provided medical care. The pup, since adopted by Celeste Jolly of Reno and now named Bowie, was among the canine and feline “models” who strut the fashion catwalk with their humans at Diamonds in the Ruff Heels and Hounds, a fund-raiser event  hosted by the Nevada Humane Society at the Silver Legacy Resort Casino.

PHOTO/KINGKINI SENGUPTA: The Jolly family takes Bowie for a stroll on the runway at the Heels and Hounds benefit.

Bowie and other dogs and cats, many of whom also suffered abuse, were the stars of the fashion show and helped raise about $230,000 for the Humane Society – a record amount for the annual event.

Michael Leavitt of Reno, who donated $10,000 to the cause, said he was moved to donate more after seeing a video featuring Bowie’s story.

“This means more to me than buying a car or bike, this is just giving back and helping animals and people, it is way more satisfying and gratifying,” Leavitt said.

Companions and friends

Sometimes people help animals; sometimes the animals help them. Usually, it’s both at the same time.

Leavitt’s 25-year-old daughter Kaelin Leavitt walked the runway with an 8-week-old cat named Fendi, who will soon be up for adoption. She walked alongside her friend, Jade Theobald, who toted a cat named Gucci, also 8 weeks old.

Kaelin Leavitt with Fendi, who will soon be up for adoption..

Kaelin said she started fostering animals after she suffered survivor’s guilt at the Route 91 concert shooting in Las Vegas. That tragedy occurred Oct. 1, 2017, when a gunman opened fire on opened fire on the crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. From his 32nd-floor suites in the Mandalay Bay hotel, the killer fired more than 1,000 bullets, killing 60 people  and wounding 411. The ensuing panic brought the number of injured to 867.

“I came back and had a really hard time and decided I needed to do something kind of important in my community and I fostered 50 animals in memory of the people who lost their lives that day,” Kaelin Leavitt said.

Benefit sets records

The Diamonds in the Ruff Heels and Hounds benefit, the Humane Society’s 6th annual spring gala event, took a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Upon its return April 10, about 520 guests spent four hours enjoying a champagne brunch and a fashion show featuring the pets, some of which are currently offered for adoption.

“We’ve never had even close to this attendance,” said Greg Hall, CEO of the society. “I believe our most well-attended (prior event) was in the roughly 400 range, but this one sold out nearly three weeks before… We have a very special animal community in Northern Nevada. It is absolutely different than some of the other communities around the country… we are very fortunate to have the public support and the enthusiasm.”

Hall, who has a dog and two cats, has been associated with the Nevada Humane Society for more than eight years and served as a board member for five years. He has seen many abandoned, abused or surrendered animals find loving homes with the help of the society.

Puppy makes comeback

Simba, for example, came to the Humane Society as a 7-month-old puppy who had been given up by an owner who couldn’t afford the dog’s medical bills. The society paid for the veterinary care, but Simba wasn’t recovering well and staff members considered euthanizing him. Simba wasn’t giving up and neither did the society. In time, his health improved despite his grim prognosis and he showed off his regained appetite.

“He went and ate one of our staff’s sandwiches,” Hall said. “Simba, to me, exemplifies the extra mile that we are willing to go when pets are really desperate. We are a large organization and do work on volume but does not mean that we forget that single cases that need our help.”

That care wouldn’t be possible without help from community volunteers.

Volunteers make a difference

Tony, who didn’t give his last name, started volunteering with the Nevada Humane Society after his retirement and has been at it for almost four years now. He helps the society with pet adoptions, feeding the animals and assisting with events. In the process, he adopted two dogs, a Chihuahua mix and a Boston Heeler mix. The Heel’s benefit he said, helps animals get adopted and receive medical care.

Carol Greene, a real estate agent with Sierra Sotheby’s, was among the person-and-pet duos attending the event. She carried Freddie, a 14-year-old dog currently in foster care. Greene said Freddie is a “work in progress” who is getting used to being around other animals. Freddie is wary of bigger dogs, she said, due to a traumatizing experience long ago. But he loves people and hops for joy when he is around them.

Thomas Wheeler escorts Treble, who had been abused as a pup.

Treble, a bull terrier mix, seemed to enjoy his role as a fashion icon. He had been abused and spent a year at the animal shelter, but was adopted two years ago by Thomas Wheeler, the owner of Boats & Hopes LLC of Sparks. The terrier has become a “travel dog,” Wheeler said, and his companion while camping and hiking all over the country.

“When they tell me how it used to be versus how he is now, over that course of the year, he is completely a different dog,” Wheeler said. “He used to be clearly scared of everything and now he is the friendliest most lovable dog I have ever seen… The fact that (the Humane Society) can bring in the dog and do that and make them completely great family dog is why I always help them out. He is the best thing that has happened to me.”

Enriching people’s lives

Adonna Does Moore, a part-time drag queen, was the emcee at the event, resplendent in a custom-made royal blue gown by local Reno designer. Adonna has two dogs (a Jack Russell/ Chihuahua mix and pug mix) and 14 chickens at home.

 “I don’t have children and so my dogs and chickens are my babies,” Adonna said. “I just love being able to support something I care about.”

Adonna Does Moore, the MC of the event.

One of Adonna’s dogs was adopted from the Humane Society. “If you give people the opportunity to have an animal in their life, it enriches it.” Adonna said.

Bruce Hahn, who works for the Nevada State Bar and was attending the event with his wife, said they are considering providing a “dog hospice” for canines which are hard to place elsewhere.

“The dogs that are sick, dying, they need a home during their last season of life, so we are contemplating bringing some dogs into our home,” Bruce Hahn said. “We lost our dog, Brittany, (after) many years, and we are in between animals right now, so we are trying to determine what’s the next best step for us.”

Hahn said the Nevada Humane Society is both protector and a voice for animals. Pets, he said, allow people “to meet, connect and become a part of something greater.”

Auction a success

An auction also raised money for the society. Participants bid on various services and event packages, including a trip to San Diego, VIP passes to the  STIHL National Championship Air Races in Stead, and a private dinner prepared by Chef Jonathan Chapin of the “Reno Recipes” TV show – a tasty prize that gained $4,250 for the society.

Wielding the hammer was auctioneer Keith L. McLane from KLM Auctions, who has been a part of the society’s fundraising efforts for several years. During the bidding, he cajoled and encouraged guests to open their wallets and loosen their purse strings for the sake of the animals. After raising tens of thousands of dollars at the Heels and Hounds auction, he dropped his mic on stage to underline the event’s success.

 “Well it’s funny, people like animals more than they like people, so I love animal events specifically (Humane Society) events,” said McLane, who owns a 14-year-old Labrador retriever. “People come out and they are so generous, and they want to help animals in distress throughout the Northern Nevada area.”

A slideshow of the Heels and Hounds benefit

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1 Comment

  1. Hello! Is there a way to obtain and share the photos from the event?

    I wanted to share our on stage debut 🙂

    I am with Mr. Wolf the huskie on stage


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