Dog Mom Turns Despair Over Golden Retriever's Death into an Effort to Help Grieving Pet Parents

Following the death of her dog, Alexandra Bonfiglio started a nonprofit called Stella's Angels, which provides support and painted rock memorials to grieving pet owners

Alexandra Bonfiglio 
Photo: Courtesy of Alexandra Bonfiglio 

Alexandra Bonfiglio was walking on the beach when she spotted a smooth, flat stone. She took it home, painted a rainbow on it, and added a paw print in memory of her beloved, golden retriever Stella.

Weeks later, this simple handmade treasure had inspired an effort to comfort grieving pet owners everywhere.

"There's definitely not enough support in the world for people who lose pets because they are like kids in their own way," says Bonfiglio, 33, who founded the nonprofit Stella's Angels.

Stella's Angels, run out of Bonfiglio's Virginia home, provides comfort to those who suffered the loss of a pet by gifting grieving owners with a painted rock memorial for their pet, similar to the one Bonfiglio made in honor of Stella.

Alexandra Bonfiglio 
Courtesy of Alexandra Bonfiglio 

Bonfiglio adopted a 7-week-old Stella Thanksgiving weekend 2012.

"She was the perfect dog," Bonfiglio tells PEOPLE. "She was so mellow and calm. She was really just super sweet … She always seemed to know who needed her the most."

On November 9, 2018, Bonfiglio was driving from Springfield, Virginia, to her brother's house in Virginia Beach when her roommate called her.

"She was crying hysterically," she says. "They had left the door cracked when they were walking out to the car, and Stella had pushed the door open, ran out, and a truck ran her over."

Bonfiglio was distraught. "I've cried more over this dog than any human in our family that's passed away," she says. "She really, truly part of the family."

To channel her persisting grief into something positive, Bonfiglio recently posted on Facebook offering to paint rainbow rocks with paw prints — like the one she made for Stella — in memory of her friends' lost pets.

Alexandra Bonfiglio 
Courtesy of Alexandra Bonfiglio 

Bonfiglio got such positive responses from her Facebook friends; she decided to open up her charitable offer to the community, posting her painted rock project to a neighborhood Facebook page on October 30, again offering to paint and gift rocks with a pawprint on the front, and the name of a late pet on the back.

"Within an hour, my phone was blowing up," she says. "The messages that I've gotten are heartbreaking."

In the first week, she and her 13-year-old son, Noah Winters, painted and distributed 57 rocks. The heartfelt requests continue to roll into the Facebook page for Stella's Angels, which has also become a safe space for grieving pet owners to share stories about the furry friends they dearly miss. And Bonfiglio continues to set time aside each night to paint the little memorials to lost pets with her son.

"We have to go rock hunting every other day," she says. "Not only are we healing, but other people are getting healing from this too. They're getting to share their stories. They're getting to feel like their pet isn't forgotten."

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