By Laura Beth Heisen

MY identity got stolen earlier this month. It was not the typical identity theft. No one bought extravagant electronics or a Vegas weekend on my credit card. What the thief stole was my good reputation that I worked so hard and so long to build.

The thief falsified an e-mail address using my name to create the illusion of messages coming from me and assembled a list of Web stories about me from a desperate time when I was sick, physically abused and pregnant 24 years ago. The subject line for this e-mail was, "URGENT: SPAY-NEUTER VOUCHERS" knowing the recipients would open it believing it came from me, chairwoman of the Los Angeles Spay/Neuter Advisory Committee.

The identity thief then blasted it throughout L.A. City Hall, to the Mayor's Office, every City Council office, most L.A. Animal Services employees, my fellow committee members, and the humane community.

One week before the identity theft, I presented my committee's 89-page report to the City Council. Council members enthusiastically praised the report for its substance and fiscally minded recommendations. This was a stark contrast to City Council's sharp criticism of L.A. Animal Services' managers the week before.

The e-mail was clearly a malicious attempt to discredit not only me, but, more importantly, the committee's work and excellent results, and our important spay/neuter goals. How ironic that the smear campaign relies on something 24 years old.

I am a recovered abused wife. I got married after law school. When pregnant in 1985, my doctors said I would probably die from complications, including kidney malfunction and extremely high blood pressure.

During this time, my abusive husband demanded that I take the California Bar Examination for him - a violation that could get me disbarred. Each time I refused, he threatened me and threw large objects at me, causing me to relent.

After I was repeatedly hospitalized, my "fight" was worn down from abuse and life-threatening pregnancy complications. With every reason to fear for my and my unborn baby's lives, I took his bar exam, too weak and scared to find another available survival method.

My daughter and I were lucky. We survived; but survival came at a high price. I was convicted of taking the exam for my former husband in 1986, and then disbarred. All but a few kind and understanding people shunned me like a germ.

I worked very hard to learn from my mistakes and in 1987, a judge fully expunged the criminal charges from my record. I earned a second chance; the California Supreme Court ordered me reinstated in good standing with the California Bar, where I remain. As a government servant since 1990 and government attorney since 1999, I earned awards, including two prestigious national awards in the past two years.

My criminal penalty included community service. In that I found self-worth, and volunteerism remains my way of life. I spearheaded development of a new municipal dog park and revived a school district's Child Care Program. I founded and lead a respected animal charity. Mayor Hahn appointed me to a voluntary commissioner position with L.A. Animal Services. Most recently, I was appointed to and am now chairwoman of the Los Angeles Spay/Neuter Advisory Committee.

"The system" of law enforcement and punishment works. My life of public service and volunteerism might not have happened had I not been forced into the nightmare that my daughter and I survived. I spent years rebuilding my life and reputation. Then, an identity thief tried to undermined it with a few keystrokes.

To anyone struggling to overcome abuse or affliction, take heart. We can survive and do emerge from our respective nightmares as stronger, healthier, better people.

Don't let anyone push you back to your weaknesses. Let's keep showing the better person we have taught and grown ourselves to become - who we are today.

Laura Beth Heisen is a founding director and corporate officer of Animal Match Rescue Team Inc. and former commissioner of the Board of L.A. Animal Services (