Beth Hohlier owns one of the longest-running businesses in Carmel’s Arts & Design District. For nearly 28 years, she’s run Muldoon’s. But in her spare time, she operates a nationwide nonprofit out of her living room.
Hohlier started Wally’s Smile in 2015. The organization, which uses her dog, Wally, as its mascot, creates care packages for those going through cancer treatment – dogs included.
“When I was going through cancer, my dog Billie was a puppy, and she was my comfort. She didn’t leave my side,” Hohlier said. “Eventually, she got cancer, so when that happened, of course I was there for her, and that’s why I added the doggie package.”
But it wasn’t Billie who inspired her to start the nonprofit. Rather, it was a total stranger.
“When I was going through treatment, and when I would leave treatment, I always saw this older lady, completely bald, and she was having to get on public transportation,” Hohlier said. “She looked lonely, beaten down, and I thought, wow, how awful to have to go through this alone – not having a ride, not having someone to comfort you for the three hours of injections of poison. So, I was trying to figure out a way to reach that lady and people like her. I told myself if I got through it, which I did, I was going to give back and reach that person.”
Care packages are free for anyone to send to someone they know who is going through cancer treatment, but patients also can send themselves a care package. Funded partially by donations and partially out-of-pocket by Hohlier, care packages include comfort items for treatment sessions, such as socks, a blanket, hat, lip balm, water bottle, journal, queasy drops and crossword puzzles, along with Hohlier’s favorite item, a stuffed animal version of her golden retriever, Wally.
“Wally is the mascot, the face of it all. He won a photo contest because he was smiling in a photo,” Hohlier said. “So, when we tried to come up with a name for it, everyone told me that if I put that picture in every box, it will make people smile right away. It’s pure joy.”
Kids packages include similar items but a larger version of the stuffed Wally, and dog packages include various types of toys, a collar tag, treats and a blanket. All packages include the photo of a smiling Wally.
Now cancer-free, Hohlier said she is fortunate her cancer was diagnosed at an early stage.
“I found out during my very first mammogram. I got a voicemail on my way home from the appointment saying that they saw microcalcifications on the mammogram, which is a sign of cancer in the area,” she said. “I went in and got an ultrasound, and that confirmed it. There’s no family history, so I was totally shocked. I actually canceled the appointment (for the mammogram) twice. My doctor made the appointment for me, or I wouldn’t have done it. The cancer was rapidly growing, and doctors said if I had waited a year, the conversation would have been different.”
Fortunately for Hohlier, that wasn’t the case.
“Whether you get a positive diagnosis or not, it really affects you,” she said. “It’s a very lonely time. You could have a million people around you, but it’s internal. It’s lonely, but people being around you doesn’t make up for it. The idea of Wally’s Smile is to put a smile on their face and make them feel less alone.”
For Jocelyn Owen, the care packages did just that for her mother-in-law, Karen.
“She was diagnosed with breast cancer in September (2019) completely out of the blue,” Owen said. “Having worked with Wally’s Smile, I submitted a request for her to receive one while going through treatment. She was going through chemotherapy a lot, and she was sitting there for four hours at a time.
“She loved (the box), and definitely appreciated it. Beth is really good about trying to find out the interests of the individual and catering it to them.”
Owen runs her own not-for-profit, Braxtyn’s Bounty for Bones, which raises money for the National Canine Cancer Foundation.
“At our event every year, we feature dogs that have had cancer, and Beth’s dog has had cancer, so I reached out to see if we could tell her story,” Owen said.
Upon that meeting, Owen said she quickly became involved with Wally’s Smile in 2015, eventually leading the charge for the canine boxes that are sent to dogs with cancer.
With interest from various local corporations and organizations to volunteer their time, Hohlier said she hopes to eventually have a space for organizing and putting together each care package.
Hohlier graduated from Carmel High School and lives in Carmel, just east of the Arts & Design District, with her three dogs, Wally, Cookie and Sadie.
Still giving during a pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the operations of many nonprofits, with some halting operations and some getting creative to stay afloat.
Wally’s Smile has been no different. With some delays and pauses in deliveries to cancer patients, the nonprofit is back up and running with some changes.
“We had to pause sending care packages to humans as we were having issues getting contents to fill the boxes. That’s a big need,” Hohlier said. “We’re shipping again, but still having a hard time getting supplies.”
Hohlier said she’s looking for donations of BPA-free water bottles, throw blankets, puzzle books, fuzzy socks and more. Small bottles of hand sanitizer also are being accepted. Those interested in donating can drop off items at Muldoon’s, 111 W. Main St., Suite 100, Carmel.