Iliana Belinc, a first-generation Mexican American, shares her inspiring journey from life in the fast lane as a model, to founding a groundbreaking nonprofit – PalsNPets – that supports homeless people and their pets with the belief that anyone with the right support and motivation can make a change – either within their own life, or within the lives of others.
By Tracy Yasinni
Iliana Belinc lived a seemingly glamourous life as a model signed with the legendary Wilhelmina Agency. However, the reality behind the makeup, clothes, and travel to exotic locations was much darker. She struggled with alcoholism, eventually putting both her personal and professional life in jeopardy.
At the most challenging time for the model, she happened to see a trivial incident that ultimately inspired PalsNPets, a nonprofit established to help homeless pet owners and their pets. She shares, “As I was crossing the street, I saw a homeless man sitting with his pet dog beside him. I asked myself the natural question: Why would a homeless person keep a dog – it must make life harder on them both?”
As she passed, a stranger stopped to pet the dog, and he and the homeless man exchanged natural, genuine smiles. This interaction opened her eyes to the positive energy a pet can bring to the life of someone who has almost nothing. It seemed to tap into an awareness just beneath the surface, an understanding of the importance of dogs to the lives of humans.
Iliana grew up in Los Angeles, alongside three sisters, as a first-generation Mexican Americans. After high school, she began studying at college, with the dream of gaining a PHD in psychology.
In addition to the eye-opening chance encounter, she also credits her own grandfather’s capacity for compassion and bond with dogs. He rescued and cared for stray dogs in their native Mexico – a culture that didn’t see his actions as the norm for that time. Iliana notes, “I know he’d be proud that family members who after years of being unconnected are now involved with PalsNPets. Together, we’ve found a deep healing energy in the work of helping others; this energy continues to attract people who join us in our efforts.”
If there’s a message to take away, it’s that anyone with the right support and motivation can make a change – either within their own life, or within the lives of others.
PalsNPets also works to break down barriers and change perceptions, just as her grandfather did. Inspired by her grandfather’s compassion for the stray dogs no one cared about, PalsNPets has become successful very quickly. At times, she feels that PalsNPets wasn’t truly her idea at all, but a continuation of the work her grandfather began over seventy years ago.
For more information about PalsnPets visit, PalsnPets.org