‘One day he sat me down and said, ‘Stop bullsh-tting. Start your OWN non-profit.’ It was the little push I needed.’: Young woman opens non-profit animal rescue

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“This is the story of a girl who always felt like she was different, but being different does not make you weird or ugly. When you are different it makes you like a new species, something unexplored. That’s exactly how I always felt since I was little. I would like to first share how my childhood was to walk you through my history and show you why I am who I am now.

Two girls wearing matching white shirts with masks on, volunteers in the back
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

When I was around 5 years old, I remember always seeing animals in the streets. When my mom or grandmother used to take me to kindergarten they used to say ‘these stray animals are dangerous don’t touch them,’ but I knew they were not dangerous and they were just there wagging their tails as we pass them. At such a young age, I remember thinking if I could bring them inside my house to sleep with them and cuddle; they seemed so innocent. As I grew a little older I tried to sneak these stray dogs in my grandmother’s house, but I was too obvious. As the dogs started to cry and bark, my grandmother made me bring them outside. I remember saving a few pieces of food, like bread or chicken breast that I didn’t eat (I hated eating meat at such young age), and I used to throw them outside the window hoping these stray dogs or cats would eat it.

Photo of young girl going to school
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

I was probably 8 years old when a neighbor’s dog had puppies in front of their house, and with my cousin Camilo, I ran outside to see them (we were the craziest kids). We grabbed these little black lab puppies and gave them a bath, fed them, and even gave them names. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the names we gave them, but I do remember going inside my grandmother’s house and finding some rope. I tied one of the puppies to our front door, hoping by the time my mom would come back from work she could let me keep this puppy inside. But this was not my lucky day. My mom didn’t convince my other family members, and this cute black puppy had to go back in the streets. I was devastated. It’s incredible how I am 29 years old and I can still remember this.

smiling dog with puppies
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

A couple weeks later, my aunt who lived two blocks away from us got two Dalmatian puppies for my cousins. They were the cutest puppies ever; I was so in love when I met them. One of the puppies was named Princess and she was the cutest thing ever. I was so disappointed that my cousins had a puppy and I tried so hard to convince my mom to get one for us, but I still had no luck. In the meantime, I tried saving dogs and cats off the streets, as well as chickens.

smiling girl holding two Dalmatian dogs
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

Growing up, they used to do raffles. For a couple of pesos you could win a baby chicken to be painted (I hated these individuals, and honestly wanted to steal all these chickens and take them home). You could also have a turtle, bunny, and even hamsters painted. I spent my lunch money trying to win these animals, but every time I brought one to my grandmother’s house, she made me give it away or return it. Back in the days in Bogota, people only allowed animals outside; they believed animals had to stay in the rural areas. Bogota is a huge city with very few green areas to have animals, or at least this is what my family used to say.

girl holding a dog in front of a city landscape
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

As the years passed by, I gave up and didn’t force my mom to let me get animals. I started learning about them by watching Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, and documentaries. My love for animals has been inside my soul forever. As I stated in the beginning, I was so weird and different. A tragedy happened with my family when my grandmother died, and she left her biggest legacy in our heart. She didn’t let me have animals inside her home, but she always made sure we had left overs outside her house for the stray dogs. Her and my mom used to take me to the main plaza by the big church in our neighborhood and feed the bird bread and grains. My mom and grandmother’s kindness was beyond that too. We used to go in areas where homeless adults and kids used to live and we would bring bread, sandwiches, soda, and some fruits for them to eat.

dog with someone's arms around it
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

I was blessed to have such a wonderful childhood. When I was around 12 years old, and after my grandmother died, my mom took me to a foundation where they rescued homeless dogs and we left with a beautiful white puppy. This was probably the happiest day of my life. We got home and my mom bought this puppy food, a bed, and toys but unfortunately she got sick and we had to take her back to the rescue only to find out she was dying from Parvo virus. The poor puppy was defecating blood; it really hurt our feelings, and after this day, we decided to not adopt again. However, we never stopped feeding the stray dogs, bathing them, and even preventing people from hurting them. I can’t tell you how many times people tried to run them over with their bikes or cars and I was there yelling at them to stop, even cursing for them to respect these sweet animals.

girl taking a photo with a dog
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

And now the time when I finally got my first dog ever. One day we were visiting my mom’s friend who owns an animal clinic, and Rombo, a tiny puppy, showed up. I had to take him home. I was only 16 and recently graduated from high school. I was responsible and old enough to take care of him, so my mom finally let me do it. Rombo was the best puppy ever. He brought so much happiness to my life; I swear I was excited every day to take him out to potty, to feed him, and to teach him everything a puppy needs to learn. Rombo was now 4 months old and I started taking him to my university where everyone loved him. When he was about 5 months old, he started to lose weight and I had to rush him to the vet. It was the worst day ever — the vet gave him a set of vaccines when he was fighting a virus and his immune system deteriorated so badly that in couple of days he could not move. He was so sick that we took him to my veterinarian friend and specialist to find out he was having seizures and he was suffering, and it was time to let him go. 13 years later, I remember the pain in his eyes when he died. I would forever remember the love I had for him and how I hope one day when I leave this earth I see him again.

Rombo- a dog
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

That same year after Rombo died, I received my invitation letter to come and go to school in United States. So, in October 2009, I moved from Bogota to Tampa, Florida with the goal of learning English and going to vet school. I remember arriving at this pretty apartment complex where there were ducks and squirrels everywhere, and I loved it. I made a new friend every day. I used to give food to the squirrels that came to my balcony.

There was a pet store right in front of where I lived, and I used to visit this store at least once a day. They had rats, cats, birds… pretty much everything. I used to ask the manager if they could give me a job, but the answer was always ‘no!’ because I didn’t speak good English then (life is funny). Later on I was in school to learn English, and I met a teacher who volunteered at the Humane society and she got me in. I used to go there every week to spend time with the animals. I wanted to take all of them home. I also helped in different events to raise funds for them. I want to take a moment to remind everyone of something I live by: you have to enjoy life to the fullest and have a goal to help those that need you. If you don’t have a goal or a purpose, life is meaningless and so pointless, but if you have a motivation life is incredible and you will enjoy every second.

woman with a dog
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

Every single experience in life motivated me to start my very own project, what I call today Mercy Full Project. This beautiful organization is my heart put out in three words. Everything I ever dreamt of and wanted to accomplish. Never forget your dream because one day it will come true.

girl with a dog
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

Why did I start it myself? After volunteering for many organizations and helping many animals in need in the Tampa Bay, I decided to use my own ideas, processes, logos, and words. Everything. But I needed a little push from someone so special, my husband, Nash. He knew where my heart was. One day in 2019, he sat me down and told me to stop literally ‘Bullsh**ting’ and start my very own non-profit and animal rescue. He even funded the things I needed to start it.

man with a cat
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

Then together we came up with the name Mercy Full Project. Project full of Mercy. Mercy is a word often misused and underestimated. Mercy is not only what God has for us, but what we need to have between us and all species; it has to be shared with everything around us. Mercy’s synonyms are kindness, love, patience, and happiness.

girl posing with a dog
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

It’s more than just a word, it’s an action, a verb that we need to execute and not just talk about. That is what Mercy Full Project is really about. Actions, not words in the air.

2 girls in masks
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

I focus my efforts mainly in animal rescue because animals cannot help themselves. Animals are so mistreated and abused every single day from humans. From people so broken inside that have to abuse them to feel better, people that do not understand that we are in this earth with a purpose to change lives, to change what is wrong, to help educate others to be better. For example, if I was not different from my grandmother, and if I didn’t believe animals deserve humane living conditions, I would have changed my mentality and I would have never helped animals in need (mainly dogs and cats). Since I have been working in animal rescue, that’s all I have seen. Suffering, neglect, and pain. All caused by humanity, unfortunately.

smiling girl posing with a dog
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

Mercy Full Project was founded to help and change this story for as many pets as possible. Since we cannot change their past, at least we can change their future. They all come from different situations, but my job is to make them forget who hurt them. To put the pieces of their lives back together.

woman with a dog in a cone
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

How do we do it? I find these animals from shelters, online ads, owners surrendering them for a million different reasons and, my favorite, sometimes they find me! After they are on our radar, we find foster homes who can host them temporarily and give them all the love they deserve (fosters save lives). Then we collect funds or use our own funds to take them to the veterinarian, to get them healthy. We collect donations and buy supplies, or ask the community to come and donate or to believe in what we do.

woman taking a selfie with a dog
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

This is like a metamorphosis process, and once they are ready, we look for their forever homes (like when a butterfly is ready to fly and spread their wings so wide). At this point, these animals overcome all their difficulties, medical and behavioral, and are ready for that well-deserved home. This is just a brief description of what we do, but there are good days and bad days. Some of these animals are too broken, too sick, and too neglected that even after doing everything possible, they cannot become beautiful butterflies again. This was the sad story of my dear Lucas. He will forever be in my heart.

woman posing with a dog
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

One day, I was contacted by the local shelter about this dog that was extremely aggressive and who was about to be put down (euthanized if no one came). Hours later, I was picking him up and taking him to a foster home. He did fine the first night with the foster, but started to show aggressive behaviors towards her and her kid. Then, we had to move him to another foster, my mom (mind you, she never really had any dogs). Well, Lucas bonded with her automatically— it was incredible. He listened us, but was still showing aggressive behavior so we took him to a training facility. Two days later, we had to pick him up because he was biting everyone.

dog with a cone on its head in a car
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

I started to personally work with him, but you could see in his eyes he did not wanted to trust any other humans besides me and my mom, and little by little my step father. Oh! And he hated my husband. A month went by, and he was really getting out of control and jumped my mom’s fence a couple of times. Luckily, he did not attack anyone. Then one day I hired a personal trainer, one of the best of the Bay area. He came over and after trying for a couple of hours, he couldn’t control Lucas. Lucas bit him several times, including his mouth, and almost tore his lip off. But Lucas taught us one of the biggest lessons in life: that even the scariest creatures can love someone after being so mistreated.

man holding a dog
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)
German shephard dog outside, dog in background
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

We have many many happy stories, likethe pit mix, Honey, we found under a bridge. She was bleeding to death with scars all over her body. Or Kona, a pup with a broken hip found on the side of the road who now lives her best life. Or Betsy, whose owner wanted to put her to sleep because they never taught her anything. Or all the momma dogs and cats that we get from breeders that try to make a profit out of them. Those are the worst of the worst, using dogs and cats as cash machines. But you know what’s even worse? Those out there buying these puppies and supporting their businesses.

woman with a cat on her lap
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

In addition to this, we also help the environment; we have adopted two locations in Tampa (a park and a street). We invite the community to come and do clean up campaigns and help us educate others on how to take care of these locations. We also have a food pantry with pet food.

girl holding a baby kitten
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

Mercy Full Project has been receiving so many blessings from all of our supporters since day one. People donating food and supplies, fosters. These are individuals willing to open the door of their homes for these animals in need, volunteers that help transporting, cleaning, and more. I call this organization a family. Together, we do more and more every day spreading love, empathy, and kindness.

And everyone who supports Mercy Full Project supports that little girl that wanted to change the word little by little. That girl who felt that she was different. My biggest advice is for those out there reading this story to be different and to make a difference. Remember you were born to help, to change lives, to love those around you unconditionally, and most importantly, to have mercy for all.”

building with a painting of a girl, dog, and cat
Courtesy of Heydi Acuna (Yeyi)

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Heydi Acuna (Yeyi). You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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