If you had asked her 15 years ago, Sandi Heffner would never have guessed that something so simple as a friend's choice in dress attire one day would have changed her life, and the lives of so many others, forever.
"My friend was wearing a T-shirt one day that had a Maltese on it," Sandi explains, "and I commented that I had always wanted a Maltese. Ironically, she knew a show handler who had a Maltese recently retired from the ring that was literally living in a cage."
Appalled at how such a beautiful creature could be living under such sad conditions, Sandi was moved to action. Later that week, and with the permission of the owner, Sandi brought home CH Marcris Heaven Sent, called Angel—the first in her long line of Maltese.
Angel's history in the show ring intrigued Sandi and eventually led her to a close friendship with a handler who, Sandi realized, exemplified the positive side of the sport. Over the years, Sandi and her husband, Steve, became the parents of several other Maltese dogs, even breeding a pair that resulted in their first and only litter.
"Dogs are my family," she says. "There is simply nothing that compares to the feeling of watching them being born to watching them grow old—it's truly been a joyous high point in my life."
It was this love for her Maltese and Doberman Pinschers (another breed she has been very involved with), coupled with losing many of them to a wide array of diseases, that propelled her to first donate to Morris Animal Foundation.
"It kills me to think that there are owners and dogs out there going through what I've been through—being torn from a loved one. That's why I support research, so we can find cures and answers," Sandi says.
In 1995, Sandi strengthened her commitment by becoming a member of the Foundation's Lamplighter Society, which consists of people with hearts so big that they choose to include Morris Animal Foundation in their estate plans. Sandi's donations, along with the donations of others, light the way for Foundation-funded studies to prevent, treat and cure disease in dogs, cats, horses and wildlife.
Every Lamplighter has a story behind why he or she gives, and Sandi is no exception. Like many others, she donates because of her love for her dogs, those who have died and those who are alive. Yet, unlike many others, her story just happened to begin with a shirt.