CHEW to the Rescue

A desire to help dogs led Leigh Owen Sendra to launch a nonprofit veterinary clinic.

Leigh Owen Sendra's passion for animal rescue turned into Doodle Rock Rescue and Compassion Hope Education Wellness Animal Hospital. Photo by Mark Graham

CHEW to the Rescue

A desire to help dogs led Leigh Owen Sendra to launch a nonprofit veterinary clinic.

Growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska, Leigh Owen Sendra ’98 was the neighborhood kid always saving creatures large and small. She followed her older brother and sister to TCU, where she earned a BS in psychology and discovered a passion for animal rescue. As a college student, Sendra fostered her first dog, followed by a cat. 

“It was truly innate, a natural desire rather than something I was taught. While my family certainly holds deep respect and love for animals, none of them ever developed a passion for it like I did,” Sendra said. 

After graduation, Sendra spent two years in Atlanta working in IT recruiting and sales before putting down roots in Dallas, where her efforts to help animals gained momentum. Eventually, in addition to fostering, she donated proceeds from jewelry she made to various rescue groups.  

Inspired to do more, Sendra opened a boutique to support rescue efforts, leasing a small building in the Lakewood area of Dallas. There, she sold jewelry, clothing, artwork and even succulents. 

Leigh Owen Sendra opened a boutique in Dallas to help fund her animal rescue efforts and eventually was inspired to open Doodle Rock Rescue and CHEW. Photo by Mark Graham

“Although my boutique wasn’t a booming success, it was so much fun and did generate some money, which I gladly dedicated to supporting rescues,” she said.  

Sendra’s generosity did not go unnoticed. She received a call about a labradoodle languishing in a Corsicana, Texas, shelter. She took in Leroy, who had a mass on his leg, and launched a “Lovin Leroy” page on Facebook to raise funds for his medical care. 

“Within a month we had about 2,000 followers for him,” she said. “We ended up amputating his leg and then chemotherapy, which cost $14,000 for everything. But we had all these followers who wanted to donate and were rooting for Leroy. He was one of the sweetest dogs ever.”  

Leroy passed away eight months after chemotherapy, but phone calls about other poodle crossbreeds were flooding in.  

“Getting all those calls, I realized there was obviously a big problem,” Sendra said. “With all the breeders and people who wanted poodle mixes, I knew we would eventually have more supply than demand. So I decided to close the boutique and open up Doodle Rock Rescue.”  

Since its launch in March 2017, Doodle Rock Rescue and its all-volunteer team has rescued, fostered, rehabilitated and rehomed more than 1,700 dogs. Most are poodle mixes, but some terriers sneak in too. 

“Many of the dogs we rescue have endured difficult circumstances, such as coming from large breeding facilities where they lacked companionship, love and even basic physical needs,” said Sendra, who owns three dogs and still manages to foster on occasion. “Witnessing these dogs transition from such a challenging environment to thriving in a loving home is just amazing. 

“We have an unbelievable group of volunteers. They do everything from intake, mentor fosters, complete medical clearances, social media, adoptions, contracts, fundraising and more. This organization wouldn’t be where we are today without them.” 

In January 2021, Sendra opened Compassion Hope Education Wellness Animal Hospital, or CHEW, to provide affordable veterinarian care for local shelters, animal rescue groups and families who qualify based on financial need.  

“While there are clinics offering affordable vaccines and spay/neuter services, we take pride in positioning our hospital as an advanced nonprofit veterinary hospital,” Sendra said. “We’re the only nonprofit clinic in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that offers everything — wellness, preventive care, full diagnostics with digital radiology and ultrasound, specialty surgeries and even orthopedic surgeries.”  

Leigh Owen Sendra, left, said that CHEW is “the only nonprofit clinic in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that offers everything — wellness, preventive care, full diagnostics with digital radiology and ultrasound, specialty surgeries and even orthopedic surgeries.”

CHEW’s fees are 30 percent to 50 percent lower than those charged by traditional clinics, Sendra said, and its need-based Compassion Fund helps under-resourced families offset costs for larger expenses such as lifesaving surgeries. The fund receives support from private donors and participates in North Texas Giving Day, the largest communitywide giving event in the nation.

Since opening, CHEW has logged more than 12,000 appointments, caring for more than 6,200 pets. Now the 2,900-square-foot clinic has launched a capital campaign, including naming rights, to help fund an 1,800-square-foot expansion that would include two operating rooms, a treatment room, a dedicated dental suite and more room for medical boarding. With the building expansion, CHEW plans to add a HOPE (Helping Owners with Pet Essentials) pantry. 

“Many families find it difficult to afford essential pet supplies, such as dog food, deworming, beds, leashes, etc. due to the rising costs. Through the HOPE program, we aim to provide these supplies for free, ensuring that families have access to the necessities their pets require,” Sendra said. 

Jaime Aronson, who has worked in marketing for more than 20 years, met Sendra while fostering for Doodle Rock. Aronson now serves as volunteer director of social media and marketing for Doodle Rock and CHEW.  

“I absolutely adore Leigh and the work she does,” Aronson said. “She’s an inspiration, and I say that she lives my dream. She founded a rescue and then founded a way to help sick animals and families.”  

Aronson has been involved in rescue work for close to two decades. 

“One of the biggest things I’ve seen with Leigh is when people tell her it’s impossible, she says, ‘No, it’s not. We can work through that.’ There’s no obstacle in front of Leigh,” Aronson said. “She has built a network of people through trust and compassion that has allowed her to not only grow CHEW Animal Hospital and Doodle Rock, but to save animals. And that’s what it’s about.” 

The demands of an expanding clinic and growing rescue group can be hectic, but Sendra, who is also a wife and mom, loves what she does.  

“What I find rewarding about it is being able to support pet owners who may not have a lot of financial resources but still deeply care for their pets,” she said. “It’s important to recognize that anyone can love their pet regardless of their financial situation.” 

Here are some lessons Sendra has learned along the way: 

Fostering is wonderful. It gives your family the opportunity to see if they are ready for a dog, but at the same time, you are helping a rescue group take in another dog. I think people are fearful of fostering because it’s the unknown. For most dogs, if you can give them a little time to get used to the new environment, they will settle in and it’s a wonderful thing.  

Kirstin Eakin, left, is a nurse at CHEW, an advanced nonprofit animal hospital founded by Leigh Owen Sendra, right.

Make sure you are really, really, really ready for a dog. In a lot of the emails we get, the first sentence is, “I really thought we were ready.” Make sure everyone in the family is ready. Are we ready to take on the responsibility of socializing this dog? Do we have the financial means?  

Not every dog is the right fit for every family. Puppies tend to be pretty adaptable, but if you’re getting an older dog, I love the idea of working with a rescue group that knows each dog really well. They should know if they are placing it with the best fit.  

Keep your dog’s vaccinations up to date. Parvo and distemper are everywhere. If your dog isn’t vaccinated, taking him to the dog park or even just for a walk around your neighborhood puts him at risk.  

Make sure your dogs are well socialized. Socialize them at a very young age. Socialize them with children — but safely. Have people come into your home so the dog doesn’t get a territorial personality. If you can’t afford to work with a trainer, there are plenty of training videos online.  

If you have a dream, go for it. Everyone says that, but I literally didn’t even know how to make an e-collar — that big cone dogs and cats wear after surgery — when I opened this vet clinic. I had been in the back of only two vet clinics in my entire life and I opened a fully functioning veterinary clinic. If you’ve got something that is your ultimate goal, you can do it.