Written by Debra McCormick
Karen Fullerton is the Founder and Board Chair for The Sergei Foundation, a non-profit organization that assists people with their pets in need when funds fall short for their life-saving care. The organization was born from a deep love and respect for her Siberian husky named Sergei. Described in her own words as her greatest teacher, his legacy lives on through the help that the foundation is able to offer.
Fullerton’s own painful experience with losing Sergei to an illness was the impetus for creating the organization. Of all the lessons he taught her, the ultimate one would come from losing him. “Sometimes it’s in their passing that teaches us the most,” said Fullerton. Fullerton tells Sergei’s story in her book, Sergei’s Eyes: Reflections of Soul Lessons, where she reflects back on what she learned from the little daily experiences of living with and caring for him.
In 1997, out of a strong need to have a bond with a pet, Fullerton began her search for a dog. She found Sergei after seeing an ad in the Classified Section of a newspaper for red and white Siberian huskies. Early in the book, she describes a time she had to travel for work, and left Sergei at a boarding kennel. She dropped him off without saying goodbye or telling him how long she would be gone. Upon her return to pick him up, she noticed he was not the happy, high-energy dog that she knew and loved. He looked sad and forlorn and his tail hung down. He was extremely happy to see her again, but back at home he slept for twenty-four hours.
It was then that she knew he could not have slept much over the course of his three-day stay at the kennel, and she felt terrible for having put him through such an ordeal. Realizing this made her relate to abandonment issues with her father, who rarely communicated with her or reassured her, especially after her parents’ divorce. Those memories rose to the surface after she became aware that Sergei had felt abandoned. The lesson learned — consistent and open communication is vital for all healthy relationships.
In 2009 she lost Sergei to a devastating ear infection that was antibiotic-resistant. Fullerton knew he would have to be euthanized, which made her feel helpless. It was through this traumatic experience that she created the Sergei Foundation. Helping other pet owners in their greatest time of need is how she chooses to honor Sergei’s life; the foundation is designed with the intent to empower them and help them avoid tragic loss.
Contemporary veterinary care can be expensive nowadays, so there is always a great need in the community. The Sergei Foundation serves a wide area, spanning Raleigh, Charlotte, Asheboro, Winston-Salem, and now there is a coastal chapter to serve the New Hanover and Brunswick areas of North Carolina. Approaching the foundation for help is done by filling out a simple online application at the foundation website. Fullerton emphasizes that applying for help through the online application is the best way to initiate the process because it is designed to ask for vital information about the pet’s health care history and veterinary information. Rather than consulting with each applicant on the phone, a completed online application allows Fullerton to multi-task with each applicant in a time-efficient way. Help is offered on a case-by-case basis; it’s important that an applicant show what portion of the cost they have been able to provide or how much, in good faith, they can provide for a future treatment or surgery; the Sergei Foundation helps fill the gap in cost after that point, depending on the treatment needed. Help can range from $1,000 for surgery to $100 for general veterinary care. She emphasizes that the foundation cannot cover preventative care, but Fullerton can put the applicant in touch with the help they need and will guide them in getting a correct diagnosis for the pet.
Fullerton recalls getting her first case shortly after starting the foundation in December 2009. It involved a Skipper Key dog that had been hit by a car. She immediately got on the phone with a board member, and they were able to fund a $2,000 portion of the emergency care. This important work is made possible through her dedication, the compassionate donors who contribute to the foundation, and the veterinarians and board members who volunteer their time and expertise. Helping people with their pets in dire need is very fulfilling work for Fullerton. Most of all, she is grateful for having had Sergei in her life, the true inspiration behind this very worthy cause.
If you would like to become a donor to The Sergei Foundation or if you seek assistance for your pet, please visit the website at sergeifoundation.org
You can find Karen Fullerton’s book, Sergei’s Eyes: Reflections of Soul Lessons on Amazon.