How did you get involved with animal rescue?
I’m an actress and singer by profession. One of my musician friends e-mailed me my first plea for a dog that was at an L.A. shelter and going to be killed at the end of the day. Not realizing that this happens every day at shelters across the country, I was horrified. I picked up the phone and called the shelter. I got an extension until the next afternoon. Long story short, this dog was adopted 20 minutes before I arrived at the shelter to pick him up! The supervisor told me that if I hadn’t called, he would have been killed rather than adopted. A light bulb went off, and I suddenly realized the power of one person and one action.
Two days later, my young son and I headed to our local shelter in Camarillo, Calif., and became volunteers with a rescue organization. Within a few short months, I was pulling and fostering dogs. I recruited and organized over 30 foster homes, held weekly adoption events, and pulled from the shelter on a weekly basis.
I met my first pit bull, Guiness, and fell in love! Then I found out that most of the pit bulls didn’t make it out of the shelter. There were not enough homes for them, and they were killed weekly for space. It was heartbreaking, and I felt powerless to save them.
I started going to the shelter five days a week, in between my own work schedule, and soon I was working night and day meeting the dogs, taking their photographs, finding fosters homes, e-mailing pleas, networking them to rescues, and raising money for boarding and for dogs with medical needs.
Rescuing dogs took over my life. My little boy was my helper, and he fell in love with many of the dogs, including another pit bull named Cinnamon, whom we fostered for several months until she got her forever home. As it became painfully clear to me that pit bulls were the first to be euthanized, and yet were some of the sweetest dogs I had ever met, I began to concentrate on them, and in a relatively short time, I became the main rescuer getting them out of the shelter. I couldn’t let go of this responsibility, because it was clear that they had no voice, and no one fighting for them. I truly love all animals, and I rescue all breeds of dogs, including the many Chihuahua mixes that are at the shelter. But I made a promise to myself that I would stand up for pit bulls and try to save as many of these precious lives as I could.
Tell us about your organization.
We are an all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) nonprofit animal rescue group working to save animals from high-kill Southern California shelters. We focus on the breeds most at risk for death row, pit bulls and Chihuahuas. We advocate for animal welfare, affordable spay and neuter programs, community education, and ending backyard breeding. We depend completely on donations to support our work. In 2013, we rescued almost 300 animals from the Camarillo shelter alone. I’m proud to say that AFLAR pulled more than any other local rescue group or organization last year.
What are the biggest challenges facing rescues right now?
Rescue groups never have enough foster homes. If we did, all the dogs could go straight into foster care, and wouldn’t have to be temporarily boarded. Boarded is better than dead, but it’s not ideal, and it costs a tremendous amount of money, which I would rather use to save more dogs and pay for medical treatment. Rescues also need volunteers who can help with computer skills, fundraising, and public relations. And we need regular monthly donations. We have received a couple grants (from the Humane Society and Warner Brothers), but we have huge monthly boarding and vet bills and need a consistent source of income.
What do you think needs to be done to stop the high rate of euthanasia at shelters?
Affordable and accessible spay-and-neuter programs are first and foremost, educating communities, incentivizing landlords to allow pets, and changing housing and insurance company breed discrimination so that people don’t have to give up their animals.
A dog I’d really like to see adopted is …
Bella. I met her at the shelter about two years ago. She was six months old, and was the most joyful, happy pit bull girl I’d ever met. She was small and energetic, and ran around on three legs because she needed hip surgery badly. She was going to be euthanized but we got her out.
We finally raised the money to have her surgery, and she went through months of rehabilitation. We didn’t have a foster, so this little girl lived at the vet. We finally found a foster, but this sweet girl has waited so long for her special family to come along. Bella adores children, just lights up when she sees them, and they can hang on her and cuddle, and she actually purrs. Bella is very, very special.
Do you have a great success story you’d like to share about an animal you’ve helped?
Chloe, who is one of our older girls, a pit bull sweetheart that just loves everyone, and has such a gentle, beautiful soul. She was limping when I pulled her from the shelter, and we ended up needing to do two surgeries. Chloe now lives in a wonderful, loving home with a little Boston terrier for a buddy.