KINGSTON — Starr was a people dog. So much so that Toni Houck, the 12-year-old Dachshund’s owner, would let her go on sleepovers at other people’s houses.
Starr ruptured a disc in her back while playing in early November. Following the injury, her quality of life was not good and a decision had to be made.
“After many vet visits, I had to make the dreaded decision to put her to sleep after it was concluded that she wouldn’t get better,” Houck said.
Houck rescues horses that are wild or bound for slaughter. When one of them dies, she likes to honor them by doing something for animals. But Starr was such a people dog, Houck decided to do something for people.
“I had seen on social media the idea of putting items for the homeless in purses,” Houck said. “I decided that was what I would do.”
She called it Operation Holiday Starr. The idea was to collect backpacks and purses, filled with necessary items, and then give them to homeless people.
Houck went to Facebook in early November and asked friends to donate. Her goal was to get 50 backpacks and purses by Thanksgiving.
She reached her goal within the first week and finished with 261.
“Every day, I was taking home a Durango full of purses,” Houck said.
Houck collected so many that her boyfriend, Andy Prader, hung doors from the basement ceiling to use as shelves so they could organize them all.
Sony Sewing Co. donated 50. The Seattle-based company is owned by the brother of Houck’s manicurist, who told him of Houck’s plan.
The purses and backpacks were filled with hygiene products (shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste) and clothes (gloves, hats, scarves). Some even had glasses, vests and first aid kits.
“We spent many nights prepping and filling bags,” Houck said.
On Nov. 28, Houck and eight friends loaded the bags into two SUVs and headed to Seattle.
“We parked downtown and carried every single backpack up and down every hill, alley and park we could find looking for people that we could give bags to,” Houck said.
They did it for eight hours. Houck said she was in tears numerous times.
“It was amazing. These people were so grateful,” Houck said. “It was something so devastating,” she said of her dog’s death, “that turned into something so beautiful.”
One interaction stood out to Houck. She approached a man she presumed to be homeless. She was a bit intimidated, but she gave him a backpack and a hug. As she was walking away, he called out to her, “Hey, you! You make a difference.”
“It was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done,” she said of the experience.She said none of it would’ve been possible without the residents of Kingston.
“I just can’t say enough about the town of Kingston,” Houck said. “The people just came through.”
Next time, the plan is to hand out backpacks and purses in Kitsap County and Seattle. One thing Houck will do differently: Not wear cowboy boots.
“Ten hours of walking in boots is not for the city,” Houck said. “Just the farm.”
Operation Holiday Starr is accepting donations from now until November 2016. For more information, go to www.facebook.com/events/414789255380347/ or email Houck at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Toni Houck’s dog, Starr, loved people so much that Houck was inspired to start a campaign to help others during the holiday season. Courtesy photo
Toni Houck shows off a stack of donated backpacks and purses. Courtesy photo