It’s about never giving up.
During a recent trip to New Orleans, I had the opportunity to meet a couple of transplanted Oklahomans living in the Big Easy: Kristie and Johnny Sullens. They run a rescue called Save-An-Angel, named appropriately for their beautiful dog, Angel, a Carolina Yellow Dog. We had a rescue shoot to do for their group and when we finished, my dear friend, Dana, asked if we could photograph Angel. I said sure and went to setting up lights for the shoot.
As the lights went up, Kristie began to share Angel’s story. My heart was touched as she shared Angel’s journey through canine cancer, so when I returned home, I had to look up everything I could find about Angel and her story. What I found left me in tears.
Tears of joy. Tears of triumph. Tears of rejoicing.
Johnny and Kristie were planning their wedding in 2009 when they received the diagnosis that Angel, a six-year-old dog at the time, had B-cell lymphoma, where the survival rate with chemo alone is 0 to 2 percent. Many people, hearing a diagnosis like that, would opt to put their dog down. Not Kristie and Johnny. With a determined spirit, the Sullens refused to give up. Instead, they begged their veterinarian for other options. They found out there was only one shot at a cure and it was a canine bone marrow transplant. The only problem? Canine bone marrow transplants were only being done in one place at the time, North Carolina State University. And the cost? $16,000. And this was after the cost of six months of chemotherapy.
Johnny and Kristie didn’t let that stop them. They had their wedding – minus the rings – since they cancelled them. They cancelled the honeymoon. They opened a checking account called “Save-An-Angel” and they put all the money they had towards Angel’s treatment. Knowing they were fighting a ticking clock, they had garage sales. They hit craigslist for things to sell. Dumpster diving for potentially saleable items became a new past time. They pretty much sold just about everything they had, as well as anything anyone donated for them to sell. A dollar here, two dollars there. Every little bit was adding up, but they were still short. And it was time to hit the road to North Carolina…
The rest of the story
Now, obviously, Angel made it since I photographed her only last month. Her full story can be watched at this video link on WWL TV Channel 4. The reason I wanted to write about Angel and her family is their determination to save her touched me. As someone involved in rescue, I see people give up on dogs for such trivial reasons –
“It messed on the floor…”
“We have a new baby…”
“We just don’t have time for it anymore…”
And yet, Kristie and Johnny Sullens, faced with insurmountable odds and a diagnosis that would break the strongest resolve, practically sold everything they had. Gave up their wedding rings and honeymoon. All to save their dog. That kind of love and devotion touched my heart. They showed the world you simply don’t give up on something you love.
Not only did they save Angel, but by starting Save-An-Angel, the rescue has saved over 200 homeless and abused animals from kill shelters and off the streets. They help with spay/neuters. They network dogs all over the country. They help people who find themselves in situations like they were in – facing incredible odds without the funding to cover enormous veterinarian costs. Save-An-Angel has become an important part of animal rescue in New Orleans, an area faced with an alarming number of homeless animals. Johnny and Kristie turned their potential tragedy into an amazing organization that’s helping save lives.
In the end
Angel is now 10 years old, four years cancer free. I had the honor of photographing this gorgeous girl for her parents and was touched by her gentle spirit. She had nothing but smiles and inquisitive looks for me as the shutter snapped. Angel’s photo session will be a memory I’ll always cherish. This beautiful dog walked into that hospital with a death sentence and came out a triumphant survivor! Thank you, Angel, Kristie, and Johnny, for the tears. They were well worth it. You guys are my heroes.
Over 1 in 3 dogs will develop a tumor in their lifetime and cancer accounts for nearly 50% of all disease-related pet deaths each year. It is a word that strikes fear in our hearts, no matter if the diagnosis is human, canine, or feline. However, not all hope is lost when your pet receives a cancer diagnosis. To learn more about canine cancer, visit The National Canine Cancer Foundation. Click here to learn more about Save-An-Angel or visit them on Facebook. You can also follow Angel on Facebook, too!