Claudia Hegener spends her mornings at work and the rest of her days helping others find their lost pets through the use of social media. She also fosters dogs on top of having her own.
Hegener is originally from Germany but moved to Yukon in 2013.
“When I moved here I saw there was major need in helping animals. I constantly saw dogs running loose so I started my own thing—picking them up, taking them to the shelter, housing them overnight if the shelter wasn’t open on the holidays or weekends or just strange hours. Then I ran into The Underdogs Rescue in Choctaw, which the founder is also from Germany,” Hegener said.
The Underdogs Rescue is a 501(c)(3) organization made up of volunteers who take in and care for “the underdogs of our society. Those are animals that nobody else wants and that would have a slim to zero chance of being adopted at a shelter,” according to their Facebook page.
The rescue is based solely on private donations that go directly toward the support for the animals being fostered.
“One of our long-term goals is to establish and run a life-long nonprofit sanctuary with a ‘no questions’ asked policy for the drop-off of unwanted pets, as a humane and responsible alternative to abandoning animals outside,” the Facebook page reads.
The rescue’s mission is “to rescue, protect and provide lifelong care for those animals that cannot for themselves, all while upholding an ethos of advancing public thought and involvement. Together with this mission is our hope of uniting previously discarded animals with caring, nurturing homes. Ultimately, we are helping to place good pets in the helping hands of caring people,” according to the Facebook page.
Hegener said for The Underdogs Rescue one of their main goals is to get every dog spayed and neutered and microchipped before placing them in new homes. After they are placed, they do home visits to make sure the animals are being taken care of and keep in contact with their owners over the years. If someone decides not to keep a dog they received through the rescue then they have to return it to them to make sure they still find a good home, Hegener said.
In June 2016 Hegener became a fosterer and a board member for The Underdogs Rescue. Since then she has fostered 18 dogs.
“And I’ve picked up… well, I don’t even know how many I’ve picked up. I’ve stopped counting,” Hegener added. “They know me at the shelters pretty well. At least once a week I drop one off.”
Hegener is an administrator on multiple lost dog Facebook groups in Yukon/Mustang area, Choctaw and Oklahoma City. One of them being “Lost and Found Pets in Yukon and Mustang Oklahoma.”
“Most of [the lost pets] get reunited and if not I try to pull them since the rescue is a 501 and try to place them somewhere,” Hegener said. “With the pages I would say probably 70 percent of the animals posted on these pages are reunited.”
Amanda Sims, another administrator of the Facebook group, said she wanted to bring attention to Hegener as “one of our Yukon residents who has brought a lot of help to our community.”
“One of the main reasons that I would like to recognize her as an outstanding Yukonian is because of her willingness to jump up at the drop of a hat to go catch a lost or stray animal, no matter the weather or time of day, in Yukon and surrounding areas, which she happens to be pretty darn good at,” an email from Sims read. “She is regularly called, texted, and messaged through Facebook when a dog has been spotted and needs to be caught. The catching part is what she is very good at.”
Hegener said the use of social media to find lost pets is probably the most important.
“It is amazing, especially because you can educate through the pages too. A lot of people don’t know how to look for a lost pet. The first thing is microchipping and where you can get microchipping cheap because not everyone wants to go through a vet. They’re normally pricy,” she said. “We try to get as much information on the pages out to make it easier to get your dog reunited in case it ever gets lost.”
Hegener also volunteered at Yukon’s shelter after moving here to walk dogs and cleanup after the ice storm and things of that nature.
She said she’s been rescuing animals her whole life.
“I just love animals. I have my own animals and I could not imagine how it feels losing one,” Hegener said. “I don’t know, maybe I just have a touch for them. The other day there was a German Shepherd running around in Yukon for two days. People know me by now—they tag me in every post and luckily it was in my area and I had time so I just went after it and I caught her. It took me a while after gaining her trust and getting her to the side roads because she was on the highway.
Hegener said it’s important when trying to catch a dog to never chase them and avoid looking them in the eyes.
“Chasing it is the worst thing to do. Just patience,” she said.
She also said that every dog is different.
“You have to try to read the dog,” Hegener said. “If it’s a younger dog, it might react to you wanting to play with him. An older one is more food driven. It depends. An injured dog you have to be very careful because that dog might bite you. It’s so different.”
Hegener said she does it just because she loves do it.
“It’s the most rewarding thing there is,” she said. “Seeing an animal finally going home and finally be able to relax and be themselves.”
In Germany, they’re all no-kill shelters, Hegener said. People also have to pay annual taxes on their dogs in Germany.
“People are more cautious to have multiple pets because they cost money,” she added. “[Germany] spays and neuters. We’re very big in spay and neuter. That’s what I would like to change here. I would like to see Yukon changes to a mandatory spay and neuter and I would try to get rid of all these backyard breeders using dogs as a source of income.”
Hegener also said she tries to encourage people to adopt a pet instead of shopping for one, always.
Other than rescuing animals, Hegener said she loves photographer and just being in nature. She described her perfect day as just taking photos outside in nature with dogs around.