Flint, MI—Bill Heatley, founder of the non-profit Streethearts Animal Rescue, spends his time rescuing animals in the Flint area, including pit bulls. He says his love for animals started at a young age.
“I used to have a zoo in my dad’s two-car garage,” he said, “and I had all kinds of animals. I used to charge people a quarter to come in and see them.”
His zoo included turtles, salamanders, chipmunks, birds, and even rattlesnakes, before it was illegal to possess them. He caught all the animals himself.
“I spent a lot of my time, as a kid, by myself. It puts you in tune to a lot of things, including people,” he said.
Heatley is the man that officers call when they have a dog situation. “I’m a retired military police officer,” he says. “So, I have kind of an inside (perspective) at how officers feel when they respond to dog calls. Most of them don’t want to hurt an animal, but they also don’t want to be hurt by the animal.”
He doesn’t only rescue dogs. “We will rescue any animal in need,” he says. “If it’s an injured animal hit by a car, whether it’s a turtle or a hawk, an owl. We have rescued sheep, tortoises, snakes, rats, I mean, the list goes on.”
In 2014 Heatley decided to start the non-profit because he saw a niche that needed to be filled.
“When I retired from the military and I moved back to this area, I saw a serious need for street rescue. I didn’t feel it was being adequately addressed by government agencies in the local area and there were a lot of animals suffering because of it,” he said.
Heatley says that sometimes people move out and leave their animals in vacant homes. “We get calls from the county 911 dispatch center for assistance. We get calls from police officers that need help. On occasion we have assisted animal control, so, animals on chains behind vacant houses. It just goes on and on, it doesn’t stop.”
Heatley says that COVID-19 has left no exceptions. “There are certain people that believe that they can get COVID from their animals,” he says. “I’ve got to believe that there’s been people that have just been releasing dogs for that reason, because they don’t know any better.”
He says that Animal Control has been limited through the crisis, and many animals are not getting picked up. “We were told in the beginning that they would not be picking up any animals, any strays, unless they were injured or vicious animals. So, that’s when I decided that somebody needs to pick up the slack. We just cannot have stray dogs running the streets.”
They took in their first dog under COVID-19 April 4 and now have around 50 that they’ve taken in.
The current building that Heatley is using to house the animals was lent to him temporarily during the crisis. He has to give the building back by June 1and is looking for a more permanent solution.
“I used to be able to get dogs off the street and, if we didn’t have foster homes for them to go into, we could take them to animal control after hours and have them lodged there. The police would meet us and let us in. Animal control quit letting us do that. So, it makes it difficult, we don’t always have a place for them to go. That’s why we are looking for a permanent structure that we can do that at, after hours intake, even if we have to move them to animal control the next day, we can do that.”
He hopes to find someone with an available building. “We’re a federal non-profit. If I could get a building in a commercial district, not around any homes, in a safe area where our volunteers can come, that would be great. Folks could probably get a tax write-off for more than what they could get if they sold the building.”
Heatley said 3,000 help with the rescue online, while the core group of people more actively involved––doing things like transportation, fundraising and walking dogs––includes more than thirty volunteers.
Heatley said they have an average of twenty dogs in foster homes a month. “There’s dogs, we’ll get thirty, forty, fifty people sending in applications, because they are highly desirable dogs.” He says it’s a lot harder to find homes for dogs like pit bulls. All applicants must undergo a rigorous screening process, including a background check and home check. “We do our due diligence,” he says.
Heatley is grateful to the various donors that keep them going. “We have people that contribute money to us from Australia to California. The donations are what make a non-profit run.”
Heatley said that they are always looking for good qualified homes to foster animals.