In Search Of…Audra’s Animals

The Spirit of an Onalaska girl lives on thanks to the gift of a pet

Take one look at little Delainey Hayden and you can probably tell life hasn’t exactly been easy.

“She was 15-months-old at the time and we found a lump,” said her mom Shianne Hayden. “We found out that it was cancer. It was totally out of the blue and that’s what gets you. Four kids, everyone is healthy, life’s good and then, wham! One day life is different.”

They made the decision to amputate Delainey’s arm below her elbow and with that, “she was cancer free.”

But at a check up earlier this year, they discovered the cancer had returned.

“It was back below her elbow and in her lungs,” Shianne said.

“There’s obviously a lot of thoughts that go through your mind: Why does this happen to her? It’s not fair. I don’t think we can fully comprehend why or how this stuff happens, ut it does,” said Delainey’s dad, Adam.

It’s been a rough road these past few months. Shianne said they did Chemo all summer in Madison. Which is why the Hayden’s try to cling to the things that make them happy. 

“This fall we took her to Adam’s parents and she saw the dog and cats and horses and she had a smile on her face the entire four days we were up there. And I looked at Adam and said, ‘We need a dog.'”

Enter Linda Bena. Linda and her family head up a charity that provides children with cancer or other challenges a pet. It’s called Audra’s Animals, named after a girl who died from cancer who just happens to be Linda’s daughter.

“She had just finished her 8th grade,” Linda said. “She had been complaining about headaches and fatigue and was seeing double vision, so we had an appointment to see if something was going on. And they were concerned with the double vision and scheduled an MRI. We were sitting in this room and I would venture to guess seven to eight doctors walked in. They never used the word cancer. They were saying that Audra had a growth in her brain and they were talking about treatment and her quality of life. And I thought they meant quality of life through her treatment. But then we found out it was a 12-18 month diagnosis.”

Audra had always been and animal lover and throughout the 345 days she battled her brain tumor, she would find solace in her horse Annie and her dog Ceydi.

“Animals, they have that unconditional love,” Linda said. “There were times Audra would be upset and Tim and I couldn’t console her but Ceydi would lick those tears away. She would be giggling before you knew it.”

Audra passed away in July of 2010 and Linda knew immediately how they could honor her.

“That’s how we established Audra’s Animals from Heaven. How it works is a family can contact us. I instruct them to reach out to the local shelter and talk to them about what fits their needs. It’s whatever they wish. Then we take care of the adoption fees and we provide the family with all the funds for a year. The food, the vet bills, if they need to board the pet because of appointments.”

They helped more than 20 families so far.

“Our very first was Alexis and she got a bird. Another one was Miss Olivia and she was a patient when Audra was being treated. We found her a perfect little kitten. Matthew was born with a muscular disease and they found the most beautiful dog Sunny that was Matthew’s companion when he was ill. He has passed away. But now Sunny has been helping Matthews parents deal with their loss. I’m sure many people remember Aaron Johnson from Holmen. Aaron wanted a tabby cat, orange and white stripped, male. He’s pretty specific! Low and behold Audra’s little wings we fluttering around because they had exactly what he wanted at the Humane Society.”

Which brings us back to Delainey. When the Haydens heard about Audra’s Animals they contacted Linda, “and it was like a week later that we had a dog in our house!”

This fall, Linda hand delivered Bentley to their home for what the kids thought was just a visit.

“It was wonderful,” Linda said. “To watch these four children just light up. A couch full of kids and all of a sudden Bentley is rolling on his back and getting his back scratched.”

Shianne Hayden gets choked up just thinking about the generosity of the Benas. 

“It bring tears to my eyes. She is just an amazing lady. And I know that some people think it is just a dog. But once we saw the happiness in her face and the other kids too. Our kids have had to give up a lot over the last year with everything we’ve had to do for her. This was a decision not just for her, but for the other kids too. To have something they’ve always wanted. What Audra’s Animals does is just amazing. We just have to love him and feed him. It’s just such a simple thing.”

Adam adds, “To see that bond and how it brings everyone together is just so cool. He is a perfect fit for our family.”

For the Benas, there will always be something missing that can never be replaced, but they have found a way to turn their loss into a truly beautiful gift.

“It makes us feel really good that we can share Audra’s love,” Linda said.

There will be a benefit for Audra’s Animals on Saturday, January 31, 2015 at the Coulee Golf Bowl in Onalaska. The event is called, “Placing Bets for Audra’s Pets.”