This article is part of our Local Heroes series, featuring people in communities across the country who are doing good work to help dogs in need. PupJournal wants to thank these heroes for their incredible work by highlighting their stories here. Know a local hero? Send their story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It would be an understatement to say that NYPD Officer Ileen Estevez has a full schedule. And yet this career detective and single mom somehow finds the time to run a one-woman, volunteer animal rescue operation that assisted in the location and rescue efforts of 36 animals—and that was just in 2016.
A vet tech for 10 years before she joined the police force, Estevez has a long-standing love of animals, and a need to see lost and stray animals find a safe and welcoming home.
Estevez does everything from rescuing stray dogs and cats to tracking down lost dogs and reuniting them with their owners.
Before Estevez was promoted to detective, she honed her sleuthing skills by searching for lost pets—and with her knowledge of animal behavior and her instincts for police work, she had a great deal of success.
It turns out that in locating missing animals, a little police training can go a long way. And just like a good cop drama, even these cases can get a bit dramatic.
Estevez once staked out a block where she noticed fliers for a missing dog kept getting torn down—and sure enough, her early-morning stakeout revealed a woman in the neighborhood, walking the missing (stolen!) dog. After a brief confrontation, the dog was reunited with its grateful owner. Case closed.
When Estevez isn’t solving a case of a missing dog, she’s rescuing stray animals, often putting them up in her own home where they live with her, her seven-year-old son, and her own pet dogs and cats until a foster or permanent home becomes available.
Whenever she finds a rescue animal, Estevez waits one month before putting it up for adoption. During that time, she posts flyers all over the neighborhood and on Facebook, hoping to make contact with the owner.
She also makes sure the animal is neutered or spayed, up-to-date on vaccines, and microchipped in case it should get lost again. For a while, Estevez was working overtime just to keep up with the additional vet bills.
Estevez traces her first animal rescue back to when she was living on her grandmother’s farm in the Dominican Republic. Her grandmother tells her that two-year-old Estevez learned to walk by toddling outside to bring a brood of new kittens inside the farm house, one by one, so they could stay warm and dry.
Later, living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, eight-year-old Estevez was grounded for shimmying down the fire escape at 2am to rescue some more crying kittens. Unable to resist the call of an animal in distress, Estevez was built to protect and serve.
Why does she do it? “Everyone is born with a purpose and when I was born I knew from an early age…[that] my purpose here is to help those that didn’t have a voice,” says Estevez.
“I try not to be the crazy animal person, but the thought of knowing that there’s a cat or dog in the street that’s hurting that I can help, it makes my stomach hurt not to do it.”
It’s good news for animals and pet owners everywhere that Officer Estevez is working the pet rescue beat in her off time. But you don’t need to be a trained detective to help locate a missing dog, or rescue a stray—and if anything, Estevez wants to inspire others to do more to help these animals.
“If I can find the time to help one dog a month, everyone can do it,” she says.