Rae Erickson says it started with a single, heartbreaking conversation. A young woman entering hospice care was afraid her beloved cats would end up in a shelter.
It got Rae thinking: “What happens to the pets when their owners can no longer care for them?” From that seed, Rae eventually launched “Those Left Behind Foundation,” a Las Vegas-based nonprofit that has been helping pets – and their families – since 2010.
What started as program to provide loving homes to those “left-behind” pets, today encompasses so much more. The nonprofit offers programs to help low-income families with pet care expenses, provides pet care education, engages in community service activities through schools and local senior care facilities, and operates foster programs that retrain and rehome abused and abandoned pets. But it’s the foundation’s newest effort, dubbed Pups, Prisoners and Patriots, that hits closest to home for Rae.
After serving in the Air Force for six years, her son returned, crippled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She credits a service dog with helping him regain his life, and soon set to work developing a program to bring that same healing power to others.
“We take unwanted dogs from high-kill shelters and pair them with non-violent prisoners, who train the pups,” Rae explains. From there, the dogs are placed with veterans and begin their new career as service dogs and beloved family companions. “With each dog saved, the life of a prisoner and the life of a veteran are changed forever,” she emphasizes. “We’re not just rescuing dogs; we’re rescuing people too.”