Since introducing the P.L.A.Y. Scholarship, we have received dozens of wonderful submissions from students who share our love for animals. We are always amazed when we read about the compassion our youth has for both animals and animal welfare. The stories of rescue, fostering, and impacted lives (both the student’s and the animals he/she has helped) is nothing short of inspiring. This year, we continue to see a heartwarming trend - while the students are the ones doing the rescuing, they feel that they are being rescued by animals in need as well.

Not surprisingly, we had another hard choice on our hands. After reading each, we selected our winner based on the following criteria:

  • Compelling and engaging description of volunteer efforts and their impact on the personal life of the student.
  • Thematic consistency throughout the submission around the central thesis.
  • Proper spelling and grammar usage throughout the submission.

One in particular stood out. Nicole Hokkanen of Minnesota shared a story that was not only compelling, it was relatable. Being animal lovers with a number of rescue pets in our pack – her dislike for people who mistreated animals was a feeling very familiar to us. We’re sure animal lovers around the world can relate. The reason we selected Nicole as our scholarship winner is simple. Her story is inspiring... Nicole herself is inspiring. Instead of dwelling on all of the bad, she takes action and helps animals in need. 

Read a portion of her winning submission below: 

Truly Rescued

By Nicole Hokkanen 

Throughout my entire life, I have been surrounded by many animals, including dogs, cats, fish, horses, and turtles. I do not recall a moment in my lifetime when I did not have a pet. I never would have thought that my efforts toward the welfare of creatures could make such a difference in many lives of not only animals, but also the people who need them. I have had my Golden Retriever, Lacy, since I was 3 years old. She is currently 15 years old; one could say we grew up together like sisters. My German Shorthair Pointer, Hershey, was a spur of the moment, impulse purchase for hunting trips. She is 5 years old and has finally mellowed out from her puppy stage. These dogs get dog-friendly birthday cakes and stockings hung by the fireplace. They are family.

Over the past 3 years, we have fostered over 66 dogs and added a new dog to our family, the mom of those seven puppies who was unable to get adopted. We have fostered for three different rescues over the years and have spread our love for animals to the people who adopt and potential new fosters. Ruff Start Rescue, Secondhand Hounds, and Minnesota GSP Rescue have all influenced us equally to pursue our fostering career and had me participate in local adoption events. My dad has a famous motto, "The more dogs I rescue, the more I hate humans," which in no way is stating that we hate all people, but those people who abandon dogs on the side of the road because they don't want them anymore or the one person who shot a dog that was wandering his yard because the defenseless creature "looked vicious". Those are the people we have learned to dislike. In a way, I must thank those malicious people because such experience has influenced my decision on a possible major in college. For that, I thank them.

With the love from these dogs, I am the one who has been truly rescued.

Congratulations, Nicole! Thank you for all that you do for animals. To read her complete winning submission, check out our Scholarship page.