Los Angeles' animal shelters are full of abandoned dogs waiting to be adopted, but those with special needs have an especially tough time finding a forever home. One local woman, however, has made it her mission to find homes for these special needs dogs.
Hillary Benda is a former social worker-turned animal rescuer, and she is most definitely a dog person. Benda has made it her mission to save as many hard-to-adopt dogs as possible.
She developed her passion in 2010, when she fell in love with her dog Beople, who was living in a shelter after being abandoned by his owner.
"He'd definitely seen better days," Benda said. "He was 8 to 10 years old, kind of on death's doorstep, all of his hair had fallen out."
And at just 2-and-a-half pounds, with all of his teeth also falling out, nobody wanted to adopt him.
Instead of giving up on him, though, Benda took Beople home with her, cleaning him up and nursing him back to health. Before long, Beople was thriving.
"I was able to bring him back to life and it really ignited something in me," Benda said.
That dramatic transformation inspired Benda to found Beople's Buddies in 2013. The nonprofit rescue in LA's Pico-Robertson neighborhood helps find homes for senior dogs and dogs with special needs.
One such dog is Princess Coconut. The little Labrador-poodle mix was born with dysfunctional hind legs and, after she was taken from an abusive breeder, she too wound up in a shelter where nobody wanted her because of her disability.
"Princess was scared of everything, terrified of life," Benda said. "She took a lot of socializing to get her to even be touched."
But the tiny dog did learn how to socialize after being fostered by Benda, and she now lives with Alexandria Laine and her family in Long Beach. These days Princess Coconut has a special wheelchair to help her amble about, but she prefers to scoot around on her own.
Laine has never regretted adopting a dog with special needs.
"Even though you're a blessing to their lives, they end up being a blessing to you more than anything," Laine said.
Princess Coconut is just one of dozens of special needs dogs who have a loving home thanks to Beople's Buddies. Though Beople passed away in 2017, the charity named in his honor leaves behind a great legacy.
"We've brought a lot of people together who believe in the cause and what we're doing and it all stems from Beople," Benda said. "So his story, this little guy, he's not forgotten."