By Amelia Santaniello, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO)Twice a month, WCCO teams up with American Equity Mortgage to give out the “Making a Difference” award to honor those people who make our community better. The winner gets a prize of $500 to spend any way he or she wants.

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In 2000, when Ashley Van Oert was 12, she lost her dog Coco. She was crushed, but her Mom told her to start something positive in her dog’s memory.

Last year, she did it. She started Coco’s Heart Dog Rescue whose mission is to help pets find foster and “forever” homes.

That’s why she’s the winner of a Making a Difference Award.

“You don’t have your own building, so you have to rely on people in their own homes,” said Van Oert, Making a Difference Award Winner. “We rely on everyone here to house them until we have a forever home.”

Judy Bartel nominated Van Oert.  Bartel is a teacher at Van Oert’s alma mater, Hill Murray, and now she’s a pet foster parent.

“They don’t just take puppies that are very easily adoptable,” said Bartel. “They take pit bulls, they take cats.”

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The Coco’s Heart crew will even take on a three-legged dog like Moose.

Right now they’re looking for homes for around 50 dogs and a couple cats.

Since getting started last May, Van Oert and her friends have found homes for 150 pets.

“It’s fantastic, and it’s really good when you see these little guys have a good fresh start and finally have a family of their own,” she said.

If you’re looking for pet — or you’d like to help out by fostering one, click here.

If you know someone who’s making a difference in our community — let us know about them with a nomination form.

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Paula Engelking, Producer
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Amelia Santaniello