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Dog rescuer is rescued herself in heartwarming 'prank'

Sherri Stankewitz once dreamed she'd be a fashion designer. She even moved from Michigan to Los Angeles to realize that dream. But then the abandoned dogs she saw on the street stole her heart, and changed her life.

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Sherri Stankewitz at her kennel, before the prank that would change her life.

"I actually rescued [animals] my whole life," Stankewitz told TODAY.com. "When I moved to LA and was working downtown I noticed all these dogs running loose, and people said they were just street dogs. So I started picking them up."

Today Stankewitz is the owner of Long Beach-based West Coast Animal Rescue (WeCARe), which saves dogs from the streets and beyond. The no-kill rescue shelter can hold up to 75 dogs at a time, and is rarely empty. And Stankewitz is so devoted to her cause that she actually lives right near all her furry friends (plus one turtle).

Courtesy Sherri Stankewitz
Stankewitz and one of her rescues at the West Coast Animal Rescue.

"I have this little house on the property, which is great but I can honestly say I haven't slept in four years," she chuckled. "Be careful what you wish for: I said I wanted to live in a kennel, but I should have been more specific."

Stankewitz is devoted to her four-footed charges: While she does want them to find homes, she's also careful that they be the right homes. "It's about education, and getting everyone on the same page," she explained. "Some people want the dog they saw on Petfinder. I try to tell them, 'This might not be the dog for you, so come to the facility.' Many times people come with one dog and leave with another."

MORE: Puppy for the holidays? Here's how to avoid mills and get a healthy, happy dog

The problem is that there are too many dogs who need help and just not enough funds. Enter Prank it FWD (pronounced "prank it forward"), a group of merry do-gooders. In August, the gang (with a little help from wine merchant Barefoot Wine & Bubbly) got together with Stankewitz's friends and colleagues to "prank" her with an "epic pet adoption."

When it was posted last month, the video of the prank went viral, racking up more than 2.8 million views. And not only did every one of the WeCARe pets get adopted that day (including some hard-to-place senior animals with the help of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue); Stankewitz also got an Airstream trailer to help transport her pets, as well as a much-needed vacation trip to Aruba and her business' operating expenses paid for the next year.

MORE: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson donates $1,500 to save abandoned puppy's life

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Inside the West Coast Animal Rescue (WeCARe).

"I was like, this has to be a joke!" Stankewitz recalled. "I almost passed out, I was so overwhelmed."

But though she vows to kick back and relax on vacation, Stankewitz knows her job will never really be done. "It's a constant struggle," she said. "But seeing these dogs, some of whom were pretty much dead on the street, going to a great home — that keeps me going."

Follow Randee Dawn on Twitter.

This story is part of NBCUniversal’s Season of Kindness. Together we can grow the good this holiday season. #ShareKindness

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