Sylvia Eston routinely donated $30 here or $50 there; enough for essentials like antibiotics and vaccines. So imagine the Michigan Humane Society’s surprise when, in her will, she bequeathed $50,000, all of it for homeless animals’ medical care. But to understand why requires a trip back to 1920s South Bend, Ind.

Sylvia acquired her love of animals from her father, a local grocer. It was he who purchased Sylvia’s first dog at the farmer’s market, and Sylvia loved that dog. She loved it so much she later asked if she could have another — one with papers. But as the story goes, her dad informed her their dogs did have papers … in the bottom of the box he brought them home in. Such was Sylvia’s first lesson in selflessness.

Sylvia instilled this same value in her daughters: Dr. Amy Eston and Marcia Lester. Together they cared for turtles and a guinea pig. However, it was their childhood dog that needed their comfort most as she succumbed to kidney failure at age 4.

The Eston family tradition continues today with Sylvia’s grandchildren, nieces and nephews. What’s more, thousands of animals will now live fruitful lives, all thanks to the seeds her father first planted nearly a century ago after a chance encounter with a dog — with papers.

Learn the different ways you can support the Michigan Humane Society.

Photo credit: Marcia Lester