St. Charles canine wins ‘World’s Cutest Rescue Dog Contest’

Move over Donnie Wahlberg and Jenny McCarthy. Another St. Charles resident -- a four-legged one -- is getting the People magazine celebrity spotlight.

On Wednesday, a St. Charles mixed-breed canine called Heaven was named the 2021 winner of People’s “World’s Cutest Rescue Dog Contest.”

Heaven broke through more than 10,000 doggy submissions with loads of online votes to become both a top-10 and then a top-three finalist. A panel of judges ultimately chose Heaven as the winner.

“She’s having quite the day,” said Heaven’s owner, Jackie Rakers, as she fielded a slew of media interviews.

Heaven wins a year’s supply of Pedigree brand dog food, plus a $1,000 donation for the charity of Rakers’ choice. Rakers revealed the recipient will be the Plainfield nonprofit K9s for Veterans, which trains service dogs for former soldiers.

Rakers will also donate the dog food to the Kentucky River Regional Animal Shelter. Heaven was initially rescued by this shelter in Hazard, Kentucky, before she became a foster dog candidate by Plainfield- and Batavia-based Starfish Animal Rescue in 2019.

“I was scrolling through Facebook and saw her picture, and I had this feeling I couldn’t shake,” Rakers said. “I’m supposed to get this dog. She has to come home with me.”

Heaven arrived in rough shape, according to Starfish President Margie Swift. Heaven needed eye surgery and was extremely fearful of men and loud noises.

Rakers fostered Heaven and gradually earned her trust. Rakers took Heaven to dog-friendly places and rewarded her with treats for not cowering away from scary things.

“Heaven really quickly learned that my mom’s got my back,” said Rakers, who also created a Heaven Instagram account (@heaven_is_a_dog) that has amassed nearly 11,000 followers as of Wednesday.

“The dog has been everywhere with her,” Swift said about seeing social media posts of Heaven at ballparks, stores and more. “She’s a pretty popular dog.”

Heaven is what is known as a “foster fail,” as she did briefly have another owner, but Rakers said she was incompatible because she was always chasing that family’s cats.

Rakers is happy that Heaven’s contest win helps promote an “adopt, don’t shop” message, prioritizing adopting shelter rescues over buying from animal breeders.

“And if you can’t adopt, look into volunteering -- whether that’s fostering or just donating your time within a shelter,” Rakers said. “There’s so many things you can do to help dogs get to their forever families.”