The Help Fill A Dream Foundation became a success almost from its start in 1986. Founder Rick Thomas and those he called on to help him in those early years, including Barry George, the organization’s first executive director, had very little experience running a charitable organization and had to learn as they went along. Despite being green at running an organization, nothing ever interfered with their goal and mission of helping Vancouver Island families.
Help Fill a Dream had early success and fast growth. It expended to mainland B.C. and then into Alberta and Saskatchewan. With demand and expansion came the need to raise more money and the logistical challenge of raising funds and providing services across three provinces soon became apparent. It didn’t take long for Help Fill a Dream to turn its sights back home with a focus on helping Vancouver Island children.
With a confirmed mandate to provide services on the island Barry liaised with other organizations and worked diligently to gather information that would turn Help Fill a Dream into a well run organization with tight controls and a strong commitment to providing the best possible service to children with life-threatening conditions and their families.
One of the main changes that came out of this period of review and renewal was the decision to exert more control over the types of dreams and wishes being granted. In those early days almost all requests were granted, which worked out fine in most cases.
The problem came with the frequent requests for pets. No one could deny the positive impact that a pet could have on a child’s spirits or the sense of, “normal life” that a dog or cat could bring to a family. The problem was that not all the children survived and not all the pets worked out. This led to difficult decisions about returning the animals to a shelter or previous owner.
In the end, one particular case was the straw that broke the camel’s back. A seriously ill young boy had a tremendous desire to have a pet but a side affect of his disease was a serious allergy to almost all types of animals. Barry George heard of his situation and, researching, found a pig would be virtually the only animal the boy could be around. In the spirit of the organization’s philosophy at that time Barry set out to find him one.
Coincidentally the animal farm at Beacon Hill Park had just welcomed a new litter of pot bellied piglets and on hearing about Barry’s search offered one for the young boy. The presentation was made, the piglet was taken home and everyone lived happily ever after, at least for a while.
The boy loved his pet pig but living in a small townhouse with his single mother and the growing pig soon presented two problems; an equally growing need for food and a lack of space. Barry solved the food problem by arranging for a donation from a local vet but the space problem refused to go away. In fact it got worse! Whenever the family went out the pig had to be shut out in the small backyard but it soon began to dig up the lawn and root under the fence.
The next step was to shut the pig in the kitchen while the family was out. This worked for a while but eventually the pig substituted the kitchen floor for the lawn and proceeded to tear up the linoleum. Help Fill a Dream stepped in again and with the help of some special donations managed to have a ‘dog house’ built to house the pig – a dog house so big it had to be lifted into the back yard with a crane.
Despite the generosity and hard work of many people the expenses continued to mount and the ongoing problems became harder and harder to deal with. Eventually the pig had to be taken away to a local farm, an unhappy end for it and a sad loss for the family.
There you have it, a perfect example of good intentions leading to a bad result, not just for that family but for all the families after that who had to be told that pets where no longer a dream that could be filled.
story by Ray Dampsy-Jones