At 14 years old, Meena Kumar is already a strong believer in the importance of second chances.
When she was just 9 months old, she was left in a basket on a college campus in India, and subsequently lived in an orphanage for about a year. Then she was adopted by a family who lives in San Jose, California.
“My parents tell me the story of when they adopted me at (age) 2 and they brought me to my grandparents’ apartment in Mumbai,” she told TODAY. “My parents were worried about how to keep me amused in a small place. Thankfully, a dog had laid a litter of puppies, and I used to spend hours every day watching and playing with them.”
Meena’s love of animals continued to grow back home in Northern California. Her favorite activity was visiting the local Humane Society, and when she was 8 years old, the family adopted a mixed-breed dog named Bambie. Meena adores the “sweet” dog and has taught her many tricks, including how to give a hug.
“I just pat on my shoulder and she’ll come and actually like put her paws up and just stay there so I can hug her and stuff,” she said.
One day while walking Bambie, Meena met a neighbor, Dr. Kathy Stecco, who was walking her dog, George. Stecco has fostered many senior hospice dogs for Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that rescues and re-homes older dogs. Intrigued, Meena visited Muttville, where she developed a passion for helping senior dogs.
“I love visiting Muttville,” she said. “The dogs may be senior and old, but they’re so friendly and cute, which is why I want to help them. They’re the most gentle and loyal creatures.”
When Meena’s parents said no to adopting more dogs, the then 9-year-old found a different way to help: She started a pet-sitting business called Pet Fairy Services and donates her earnings to Muttville.
She’s already donated $7,000 of her own money, and Intel, where her father works, matched her donation to Muttville.
“It feels great to know that I’ve saved many dogs’ lives and given them another chance to enjoy life for their last years of living,” she said. “I feel like all dogs should get a forever home just like I did.”
Meena has no plans of stopping. Some friends have started working for Pet Fairy Services, and her cousin works introduced her to the co-founder of Pebble Naturals, which is currently running a fundraising campaign to bolster Meena’s donations to Muttville.
She loves the chance to spend time with neighbors’ dogs — in addition to walks and trips to the beach, she hides treats around her house so they can enjoy a “treasure hunt” — and being able to give back. Helping senior dogs is also a tribute to her love for her grandfather, who died last year at age 88.
“He was kind and caring, just like the Muttville dogs,” she said. “I took care of my grandpa very well and want to help take care of these dogs in some way because they’re old and just like my grandpa.”
Meena’s mother, Jayashree Subrahmonia, is not only proud of her daughter but thankful. She herself was raised without pets and has found it’s a joy to have so many dogs visit their home, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This entire journey of the love for animals in general and supporting senior dogs has been a gift to us,” she said. “I’m grateful to her for this gift that she has given us.”
CORRECTION (July 31, 2020, 7:18 p.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Meena's cousin works at Pebble Naturals. She introduced Meena to the co-founder of Pebble Naturals but doesn't work there.