‘It’s helping and healing’

For all Candace Lopez had been through in one year, no one would have blamed her if she’d crawled into bed and stayed there forever.

First, she lost her father. Then, she lost her father-in-law. And in August 2005, her husband Michael died unexpectedly at age 37. But rather than letting grief consume her, Candace, who lives in Plano, Texas, let it fuel her to do something good.

With the help of family members, she started the Michael Lopez Ferlin Memorial Fund at Best Friends Animal Society. Michael loved animals, particularly a little Lhasa Apso named Ferlin who was his constant companion from middle school through college.

"He idolized that dog and made sure everyone else idolized him, too," Candace said. "And he was the meanest dog ever."

You might say that Ferlin was a little dog with a big attitude.

"He was very temperamental," said Michael’s mom, Sue Lopez. "That dog bit me, my husband, everyone except Michael."

Sue found out about the fund in her son’s name in a letter from Candace, who told her not to open it until July 19, 2006, which would have been Michael’s 38th birthday.

"I was so happy, so thankful," Sue said. "It was so thoughtful. Michael would have wanted that. He was just so kind to people and animals, especially animals."

Candace and her family managed to raise more than $10,000 for the fund in the first year alone. Half of the money has been put toward the Michael Lopez Ferlin Memorial Scholarship Fund to help fourth-year veterinary students travel to Best Friends to do their two-week externships. The way Candace sees it, helping future veterinarians will benefit a lot of animals in the long run.

"They’re going to be helping many, many animals over their lifetimes," Candace said. "They’ll be saving a lot of animals’ lives."

Best Friends recently awarded the first of 10 $500 scholarships to Kristen Engel, a veterinary student from Iowa State University. Students will be able to use the money to help pay for travel and lodging.

"It’s a wonderful opportunity for veterinary students who come in," said Jill Simpson, a humane educator at Best Friends. "They have to do externships in order to graduate and those don’t come cheap."

Each year on Michael’s birthday, the family will decide how the money will benefit animals the most.

Candace first heard about Best Friends from Cathy Ramsey, a friend and groomer who tends to Candace’s Shih Tzus, Freon and Pretzel.

"After volunteering with Best Friends in New Orleans during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, I do know for sure that money donated to Best Friends really goes to help the animals," Cathy told Candace.

Candace is a busy woman. Besides helping to run the Lopez family air conditioning and heating business, she also runs her own marketing firm and teaches yoga three nights a week. But she and her family will still find time to raise money for the Michael Lopez Ferlin Memorial Fund and come July 19, on what would have been Michael’s 40th birthday, they’ll designate even more dollars to help animals.

"We feel it’s something that’s helping us and healing us," Candace said.

For more information on how to apply for a Michael Lopez Memorial scholarship, call Jill Simpson at 435-644-3965, ext. 4317, or e-mail her at jills@bestfriends.org

For more information on how to start a memorial fund in a loved one’s name, call Sheila Johnson at 435-644-2001, ext. 4811, or e-mail her at sheila@bestfriends.org.

Written by Sandy Miller

Photo by Molly Wald