BITELY — After her beloved bulldog, Lulu, passed away from medical complications, Becky Wilkinson built a rescue organization in honor of her pet, in hopes of helping the animals who cannot help themselves.

"I've always rescued dogs," Wilkinson said. "In fact, the last pair I had, I had them for 10 and 12 years, and I got them out of the animal shelter in Big Rapids. Then I got this little bitty bulldog."

Weighing only 2 pounds, 6 ounces at 9 weeks old, Lulu made her way into Wilkinson's life during a work trip in Baldwin, where a woman came up to her and her colleagues, asking if anyone was willing to adopt a bulldog who seemed too small for her age.

"We weren't sure if she was going to survive," said Wilkinson, a Bitely resident.

Though Lulu only lived for four years, Wilkinson said she faced many challenges with her newfound puppy, coming to a realization after Lulu's death that other bulldog owners may need help like she did, as she learned about the different aspects which made taking care of a bulldog more time-consuming than other dog breeds.

"Bulldogs are medically and emotionally needy. Put aside $1,000 a year, and that's what you're going to spend at the vet, even with a healthy bulldog," she said. "They're not a dog which can be left on their own. There's just so much educating to do about a dog who has a flat nose."

Wilkinson said while bulldog puppies may be cute, as they get older, issues — include aspirating on their vomit or having breathing issues in general — arise due to their short face. Wilkinson said not many other dogs encounter breathing issues as much as bulldogs.

Noting how Lulu became a big part of her life, and seeing all the challenges she had to face as a new bulldog owner, Wilkinson created a rescue and Facebook page called "For the Love of Lulu, West MI Bulldog Rescue," to give owners the opportunity to re-home their bulldogs if they realize they don't have the time or finances to properly care for them.

"It just took off from there," she said.

Beginning her nonprofit organization in August 2016, and with the rescue being out of her own home, Wilkinson got in contact with local animal shelters in hopes of making connections and helping more bulldogs in need.

"Now, the shelters call me when they have a pup who needs me, and I go and get them," she said, noting she accepts dogs from all over.

Wilkinson ensures all dogs in the rescue get spayed/neutered and are up-to-date on their shots. She also does behavioral training for some of the bulldogs, if she believes it's needed.

"Bulldogs are known to be bull-headed, and they are. That's no joke," she said.

As well as making connections with local shelters, Wilkinson's rescue organization has received help from other businesses in the area.

"Tractor Supply in Big Rapids has been my biggest supporter," she said. "We have events there two or three times a year."

Wilkinson said Tractor Supply often donates food for the dogs, which has helped her cut the cost on food by almost $200.

"They've just been tremendous in helping me make sure we succeed in this rescue," she said. "I couldn't have done it without them."

As well as local businesses, Wilkinson said she couldn't have done any of this work without her best friend and volunteer Deanna Wolgamott — who said she is in awe of Wilkinson's work.

"She has a connection to these beautiful animals that I've never seen before in my life," Wolgamott said. "I watched her on multiple occasions get down on the floor and sit for hours waiting for a terrified bulldog to come to her in their own time."

Noting Wilkinson's various responsibilities running a shelter, Wolgamott said Wilkinson does it all from cleaning kennels, to washing beds, to giving each and every one of the bulldogs "individual time" before heading to sleep.

"This beautiful, one-woman-rescuer works full-time, comes home and her day starts all over," Wolgamott said.

In the past year, Wilkinson said she and her volunteers have helped about 55 bulldogs.

"When people reach out to me to surrender their bulldogs, I ask about the bulldog, but we don't judge," she said. "I believe the owners know what's best for their bulldog, and if they don't feel they're best for their bulldog, then I'd rather them bring it to a rescue than to a shelter."

Wilkinson said she'd rather have the bulldogs in her rescue than at a shelter. At the rescue, she said, the dogs are able to roam freely in the space she has available, noting it isn't too crowded for the dogs to have fun and feel comfortable.

Looking forward to the new year, Wilkinson said she hopes to expand her rescue and provide a walk-in shower, as hygiene is another service she provides to the dogs who are surrendered to her.

"It's about the dogs first, in my eyes," Wilkinson said. "I want to give them the best home possible because they're coming from, usually, something horrible.

"Every bulldog has the potential of being a big part of somebody's life."

Those interested in donating items or their time may contact Wilkinson through her Facebook page, "For the Love of Lulu, West MI Bulldog Rescue."

For more information on the rescue, visit westmibulldogrescue.com.