Meena Kumar, a California teen who lived a year of her life in an orphanage, has raised almost $20,000 for an animal shelter serving senior dogs.

The 14-year-old understands the difference that second chances and a loving family can make. 

As a baby, she was found abandoned in a basket on a college campus in India, and sent to the orphanage before a couple from Mumbai eventually adopted her.

In Mumbai, Meena discovered a deep love for animals while caring for a litter of puppies. She carried that passion with her to San Jose, Calif., where the family later moved.

Out on a walk with her dog Bambie, the then 9-year-old Meena met gentle George, a hospice dog, and Kathy Stecco, his guardian. Stecco told Meena about Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, a San-Francisco based, cage-free rescue, through which she had fostered several seniors.

Intrigued by the rescue, Meena went to visit Muttville. She fell in love with the kindly older dogs and the staff’s commitment to creating better lives for animals and asked to volunteer. But the rescue’s policy requires volunteers to be at least 17 years old. 

The young girl came up with an alternate plan. With the support of her family, she posted an ad on Next Door for pet-sitting services and soon received her first assignment: walking a neighbor’s dog on Sundays.

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Meena Kumar discovered a love of animals while caring for a litter of puppies in Mumbai, India- a passion she carried with her to California. (Photo Courtesy of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue)

After a successful start to her new hobby, Meena pitched a larger idea; she wanted to start her own pet-sitting business. As a member of the San Jose Youth Symphony, she also wanted to start playing her violin on the streets for donations. Meena said she would donate all proceeds to Muttville to help the dogs she had come to love so much.

Jayashree Subrahmonia, Meena’s mother, agreed to the plan, as long as Meena only fundraised when school wasn’t in session, and Meena’s business, Pet Fairy Services, finally came to fruition.

Meena raised $1,000 in one year, giving up her summer and winter vacations to do so, according to Subrahmonia. 

“We decided to support her because she came with such a passion to help animals,” Subrahmonia told Lady Freethinker. “We are truly grateful to her for bringing that passion to help all of us, and I know that our family is so much happier for the opportunity to spend more time with animals.”

The teen’s love of animals was also apparent to Sherri Franklin, the founder and CEO of Muttville, who told Lady Freethinker that Meena “melted” when she first saw the senior dogs.

“Her face lit up as soon as she walked through the doors of Muttville’s cage-free shelter because all the dogs ran to her!” Franklin said. “She melted, and it was beautiful to watch!”

Franklin said that Meena has raised almost $20,000 for Muttville to date. Intel, the company where her father works, matched the first $7,000, according to CNN.

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Meena Kumar cuddles a pooch at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in California. (Photo courtesy of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue)

Meena acknowledged that juggling friends, family, and fundraising has been challenging.  But she added that any sacrifices have been worth helping senior dogs have a second chance at finding loving forever homes.

“I am really happy that I was able to help the senior dogs at Muttville. I had no idea that I could raise this much money,” she told Lady Freethinker. “That is why I feel that if you have a passion, work hard and persevere, you can do big things.”

The rescue has seen an uptick in adoptions since the coronavirus pandemic hit, according to Franklin. Staff have adopted out more than 130 dogs, using virtual platforms such as Zoom and Facetime for initial introductions with foster families, CNN reported.

The money that Meena has raised for the shelter means that Muttville will be able to save 20 more senior dogs and find them new and loving homes, Franklin said.

“Senior dogs are amazing. They are so grateful and soulful,” Franklin told Lady Freethinker. “They are ready to love you unconditionally. They need less exercise, and they fit like an old slipper. And to imagine that many get euthanized simply for their age!”

As for Meena, she encourages people to consider adopting older dogs.

“Senior dogs have given us so much, and they continue to provide unconditional love,” she said. “I think we can learn a lot from animals to become better people. We can learn to just love each other for who we are.”

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Meena Kumar practices her violin. She started playing on the streets to raise money for Muttville Senior Dog Rescue. (Photo courtesy of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue)