Ded­i­cated to res­cues


It’s drag queen bingo night at Ham­burger Mary’s Bar & Grille, and a sold-out crowd has gath­ered in the West Hol­ly­wood res­tau­rant to have fun while rais­ing money for the evening’s des­ig­nated non­profit ben­e­fi­ciary, Pug Na­tion Res­cue L.A.

Be­fore Por­sha, mistress of cer­e­monies, be­gins call­ing out num­bers, the pug fans share cell­phone photos of their flat-faced dogs. Josh and Stephanie Pat­ter­son of Bur­bank have Jack, a 12-year-old “one-eyed pi­rate dog” they adopted from Pug Na­tion two years ago. And they’d just adopted a sec­ond pug from the res­cue, 7-year-old Henry. The cou­ple over­came reser­va­tions about adopt­ing older dogs.

“We want to pro­vide the kind of nice life for them that they oth­er­wise couldn’t pos­si­bly have had,” says Stephanie.

The Pat­ter­sons are the rare kind of adop­tive pet par­ents whom res­cue groups de­pend on amid an epi­demic of aban­doned an­i­mals in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Though the rates of an­i­mals be­ing eu­th­a­nized in city and county shel­ters have dropped sig­nif­i­cantly in the last five years, the Los An­ge­les County Depart­ment of An­i­mal Care and Con­trol eu­th­a­nized 35,031 cats, dogs and other an­i­mals through­out its six shel­ters in the 2013-14 fis­cal year. That’s down from 54,319 an­i­mals eu­th­a­nized in 2009-2010, ac­cord­ing to the depart­ment. Many dogs, cats and even rab­bits have been res­cued with the as­sis­tance of the nearly 200 groups reg­is­tered with L.A. An­i­mal Ser­vices to help find foster and “for­ever” homes for shel­ter an­i­mals.

Pug Na­tion is one of dozens of breed- or mis­sion-spe­cific res­cues in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. The res­cue works like many oth­ers. Fans of the breed scan shel­ters and web­sites for pugs and pug mixes they can re­ha­bil­i­tate for adop­tion, says Gwenn Val­lone, who over­sees the op­er­a­tion. She vis­its homes to gauge whether the dog is a good fit. Pugs are heat-sen­si­tive, so­cial and a bit del­i­cate around small chil­dren, so some po­ten­tial adopters are re­jected.

“Some­times it may not seem fair, but we have to make sure the dogs are safe,” says Val­lone. “I’ve had a few peo­ple miffed at me.”

Those judg­ments add to a per­cep­tion that an­i­mal res­cue groups can be too picky and are prone to fa­nat­ics.

“I hear that ev­ery day, that some­one can’t adopt be­cause they have a young child or don’t have the right yard,” says Marc Peralta, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Best Friends An­i­mal So­ci­ety Los An­ge­les, the lo­cal arm of a na­tional group ded­i­cated to mak­ing shel­ters no-kill. Even his group’s two adop­tion cen­ters that sup­port the No-Kill LA ini­tia­tive get crit­i­cized for re­ceiv­ing city funds and hav­ing fairly re­laxed adop­tion stan­dards. “In­stead of ar­gu­ing over my adop­tion pol­icy ver­sus yours, let’s agree to dis­agree for the big­ger pic­ture of sav­ing an­i­mals,” Peralta says.

Shirl Lud­wig, one of seven Pug Na­tion board mem­bers, has fos­tered 43 of the dogs in 26 years and raised 17 of her own. “I take in the ones who are less likely to get homes be­cause of med­i­cal is­sues,” Lud­wig says. Cute as they are, pugs are high-main­te­nance pets that are af­flicted by ear and eye in­fec­tions, arthri­tis, obe­sity, ob­structed breath­ing and den­tal dis­ease.

None of that mat­ters much to pug fans. Groups and their knowl­edge­able sup­port­ers aim to find like-minded pet par­ents. In Los An­ge­les, there are res­cues for just about any breed of cat or dog — box­ers, bor­der col­lies, bea­gles and Per­sian cats, for starters.

Some res­cuers fo­cus on a de­mo­graphic or is­sue, such as feral cats. Nancy Koch runs the Grand-Paws Se­nior Sanc­tu­ary in Agua Dulce, which res­cues large-breed se­nior dogs from in­di­vid­u­als and high-kill shel­ters. About a third of Koch’s res­cues get adopted; the rest live at her sanc­tu­ary or in foster homes.

Real es­tate agent Brid­get Alves runs Fur­ever Purr Res­cue in Va­len­cia, which takes in the most vul­ner­a­ble, in­clud­ing preg­nant cats and their kit­tens. As a res­cue part­ner with L.A. County shel­ters, Alves also gets ac­cess to cats with be­hav­ior deemed un­suit­able for adop­tion — and des­tined for killing.

“We can de­ter­mine if the cat is just scared or re­ally shy and that’s why it’s not act­ing well. Then we can re­hab it,” Alves says. Since the be­gin­ning of the year, her op­er­a­tion has res­cued 123 cats from the Lan­caster shel­ter alone.

The L.A.-based Pet Con­nect.Us, which has nearly 80,000 Face­book fans, spe­cial­izes in ur­gent shel­ter an­i­mals, those in im­me­di­ate dan­ger of be­ing eu­th­a­nized. More than 12,000 peo­ple shared a post about 32 of the most ur­gent medium and large dogs at the crowded San Bernardino City Shel­ter. Many of the dogs, like Cameron, Mar­lee and Chunky Girl, have the fea­tures of pit bulls, one of the most pop­u­lous breeds at shel­ters.

As the video rolls, the dogs stare out from be­hind the bars of cages, some sad, some happy, most scared and heart­break­ing. Yet the so­cial media ef­fort was ef­fec­tive. With two days to go be­fore the an­i­mals were sched­uled to be eu­th­a­nized, half had new for­ever homes.

‘We want to pro­vide the kind of nice life ... that they oth­er­wise couldn’t ... have.’


who has adopted two pugs

Marta Iwanek For The Times

A PUG awaits a foster or “for­ever” home at Pug Na­tion Res­cue Los An­ge­les in Gar­dena.

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