Merced Matters: 13-year-old a positive force for animal welfare

Emily Ewing, 13, with Pennies for Precious Paws, gets a volunteer recognition from District 4 Supervisor Deidre F. Kelsey during the Board of Supervisors meeting last month in Merced.
Emily Ewing, 13, with Pennies for Precious Paws, gets a volunteer recognition from District 4 Supervisor Deidre F. Kelsey during the Board of Supervisors meeting last month in Merced. bahbeck@mercedsunstar.com

The birthday wish list for most 9-year-old girls is filled with toys and clothes.

But Emily Ewing is not like most girls.

For her ninth birthday, Emily asked her friends to bring a $5 to $10 donation instead of presents. Every penny raised – almost $100 – went to a local nonprofit that rescues animals in need.

That was just the beginning for Emily. Now 13, she has raised more than $8,000 for New Beginnings for Merced County Animals, a nonprofit that saves thousands of animals by transporting them to no-kill shelters around the country.

Emily’s volunteer efforts were recognized at a Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting last month, where she received recognition by District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey – the youngest person ever to be honored. Among other accolades, Emily also won a nationwide ABC award, earning a $1,000 grant for New Beginnings.

Her passion for animals started when her mother, Kris, brought home Lucky – a 2-year-old black Chihuahua rescued from the shelter. “They said they put black dogs down first,” Kris Ewing said, “and that’s why I got him.”

Determined to help other dogs at the shelter, Emily created a group called Pennies for Precious Paws. She and a friend went door to door gathering donations for New Beginnings, as well as hosting bake sales and selling recyclables – raising $1,356 in one summer.

The Pennies for Precious Paws duo is now just Emily by herself, but that hasn’t slowed her down one bit. She spends hours before and after school working on New Beginnings’ Facebook page, taking animals to foster families and loading them into trucks to be transported to other places where people are waiting to adopt.

“I guess I just figured no one else was doing anything about it – so why not me?” Emily said. “It’s who I am. If I don’t do it, nobody will.”

Outside of working with New Beginnings, Emily has rescued 75 animals on her own – animals that were left under abandoned buildings, thrown out of cars, placed in boxes at gas stations or found wandering on street corners.

Emily said she believes the solution to Merced County’s large unwanted pet population is spay-and-neuter efforts. The cruelty she’s witnessed toward animals in Merced County only pushes her to work harder, she said.

“If I build up all this hate, I couldn’t do it. It doesn’t matter to me who did what to the animals – it matters that they’re safe.” she said. “I’m in this for the animals. If I stop, it’s going to get worse. You’ve got to keep going until you’re not needed anymore.”

Sharon Lohman, president of New Beginnings, said watching the 13-year-old work tirelessly for the animals gives her hope.

“She gives us hope because it’s going to be her generation that’s going to make the change we’re hoping for,” Lohman said. “It’s Emily and others like her that are going to change the world. It makes us want to do more and do better.”

Her mother fought back tears as she spoke of her daughter’s accomplishments and the many animals she’s saved. “No one her age even comes close to doing something like this,” Kris Ewing said. “She has more drive and maturity than most adults.”

That maturity was immediately evident to Supervisor Kelsey, who called Emily a go-getter and a future leader.

“She was just so dedicated to her volunteer efforts, and it’s certainly unusual for a young person to be that interested in helping others,” Kelsey said. “She is fully engaged and very self-confident, and I think she’s going to go a long way.” Emily said she plans to be a veterinarian when she grows up, but for now, she’ll keep saving animals – one at a time.

“I always say, if you don’t want to foster or adopt or donate – stay away from Emily,” Lohman said, “because she’s going to make an impact and make you listen.”

Emily’s latest effort is a pancake breakfast fundraiser from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Applebee’s restaurant, 1734 W. Olive Ave., to benefit New Beginnings. Tickets are $7.50 for unlimited pancakes and can be purchased at the door or by calling (209) 628-0296.