Saturday, June 27, 2015

Hell in the hallway....

Everyone has heard that old saying, "God never shuts a door that he does not open a window, but sometimes?... it is just hell in the hallway."   And for the past 6 weeks, I have 'lived' this saying over and over and OVER...

We have spent the last almost two years being told we'd have to relocate once the redevelopment reached our location at the Simi Valley Town Center (SVTC)... And I won't kid you - this temporary status affected a lot of what we did and the decisions we made... We held off installing an air purifier on the roof because of cost and knowing our location was temporary... Any modification we made was made with the mindset it had to be movable and was temporary... That one day we would have to move it from the #587 space to another location inside the mall somewhere... 

When we were told on May 20th by management that they "could not offer us a permanent location and it would behoove us to look outside the boundaries" of the mall, it was a very dark night indeed... 

The morning brought a reprisal of what we had accomplished in the almost 3 1/2 years at that location - we had effectively stopped the sale of puppymill puppies in the previous pet shop location and had saved the 2,226 lives of dogs and puppies since the rescue was formed... We could NOT have reached that number without the generosity of free rent and the graciousness of the management of the mall... 

Business is business, and it was time to get out and get BUSY!   A decision had to be made - either we shut down TLC permanently or we found a new location to be moved to... After a lot of soul searching, we came to the decision we had to try and save TLC somehow, some way.... There were too many canine lives depending on us, not just today but in the future of Ventura County... 

My volunteers started mentioning this commercial location that has sat empty for a year, two years, etc.  Each time, I'd go hunt down the leasing agent and ask about the property...  

In six weeks, I bet I have seen, inquired about or discussed over 50 vacant commercial properties... Either we could not afford the location or it was too small (too big)... Or we could afford it but did not like it... We might be able to afford it, we liked it but then the landlord did not want a rescue center there... Or the landlord felt like we would be a bad risk because we had not been paying rent (but hefty vet bills instead, getting sick dogs healthy)... 

I was really getting pretty discouraged... I learned more about commercial property in the past two months than I EVER wanted to learn in my life time... "Triple Nets", "CAM", lease lingo - you name it - I had to learn the lingo, piece by piece... And you would be ABSOLUTELY AMAZED at the empty locations around our city that the landlords preferred to keep empty for one reason or another... But my volunteers would keep finding yet another location for me to investigate.... (sigh)... 

Finally, we found a landlord who believed in our mission and cause... It was more than enough room... But the monthly rent scared the socks off of us... Almost $5,000 a month... Geeze louise.... How are we going to do this?

I have always told myself and my volunteers... "If God wants this rescue train to stop rolling onward, he will stop laying down tracks for us to run on...." And my husband repeated this numerous times back to me... 

Each time we faced a mountain, someone would help this rescue train overcome it... One of our volunteers is very familiar with leases - I could not have waded my way through all of that without Steve... Never once did he allow me to feel stupid (although I certainly did) because this is not a part of life I have had much experience with.... Because the grant from the city would not be issued until the beginning of July, he offered to loan the money to the rescue so that we could move forward with the signing of the lease in the meantime, and not lose the two, three weeks...

Our new landlord has been exceptionally kind and generous - compassionate beyond belief... I do not have the words to express how much he has helped us to find a new home for TLC at a time I thought we never would... It has restored my faith in mankind that 'business can be business', but not devoid of community spirit and forward thinking... 

Another volunteer works at Sherwin Williams and talked to his boss about getting the paint at cost for us... And when you need 20 gallons of good quality paint, that becomes a substantial savings... Joe not only picked up the paint and delivered it, he carried up the stairs and came back later to help us paint!

Even our adopted dogs are jumping in to help us get the rescue center painted!  This is Miss Allie who was adopted by Jill last year... She's doing a great job and not wearing any of the white satin paint, HUH?

When faced with the costs of putting down the flooring and 'gobsmacked' with the first estimate (OMG $19,000+), other volunteers ran auctions of artwork and raised the money - something we could not have overcome without the help of Kayre and Bill Morrison, along with Carmen who donated the balance when we came up short covering the total cost.

Our landlord recommended a general contractor when we ran into problems trying to get the permits from the city to remodel a few things.  Pete was able to negotiate the paperwork and help.... another Good Sam donated a professional phone system to the cause... And 'Santa Don' along with his lovely wife came by, took a tour of the rescue center gave us a $1,500 donation towards the shelving we need for the back room and other items on our punch list, plus the moving costs... 

Once we get up and running, Santa Don is also going to take care of the wide screen TV and BluRay player we want to run training videos and other things inside of the workshop areas we have laid out in our plans for the new rescue center... We want to teach people how to keep their pets instead of surrendering them, do senior citizen therapy sessions, show children how to not get bitten by strange dogs - and the list goes on and on.... Dreams we've had of making this community a better place in our lifetime... 

I have had more opportunities in the past month to get 'mushy-gushy' from the amount of generosity and belief in the mission of No-Kill for our county than ever before... I'm not one to get 'misty-eyed' easily because I'm a w*tch, but I have been totally overwhelmed at the number of people who share my vision of a rescue center for Simi Valley and have stepped up in either energy, sweat and/or hard labor... Or with financial donations to the cause of making this all happen... 

We hope to be moved in by the middle of July and hold our grand opening ceremony in September...  This is some amazing stuff - miracles occurring almost on a daily basis - at a time when the 'hallway' appeared pretty dark and gloomy!

EXCITING stuff, huh?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Support - we can't do it without you!

Support - we can't do it without you!
Without a doubt, we could not save dog and puppy lives without the financial support of the community... Adoption donations seldom cover the amount of money we have invested in any dog, especially if there are high vet costs involved in getting them back on their feet and ready to be adopted...
The easiest way to join the cause of helping to save dog and puppy lives is to set up a monthly tax deductible donation via your credit card through our PayPal account... And there are just SO many ways to do it!

  • I am giving up one Starbucks a week to help save a dog's life! Donate $20 a month 
  • I am donating enough to do one puppy's most needed puppy vaccines to help prevent them from getting very sick as they grow up! Donate $48 a month 
  • I believe in spaying and neutering your pets to help in the cause of No-Kill in our county.  Please speuter a rescue animal this month on me! Donate $60 a month 
  • Save one dog a month for me! Donate $100 a month 
  • Feed a nursing momma dog through the 8 weeks of giving her puppies mommie's milk!  Donate $167 a month 
  • Give a senior dog the gift of extended life - please do a dental on a senior dog for me!  Donate $252 a month 
  • Goodwill Ambassador - Save 5 dog lives a month for me! Donate $500 a month 
  • I want to be a TLC Guardian Angel!  Donate $1,000 a month 

Select your level of commitment with the drop down menu below and then hit the button - it is just THAT easy to help save a dog or puppy's life each month at TLC!

Monthly donations

Tax Deductible

TLC is a 501c3 nonprofit, registered with both the I.R.S. and the State of California as a charity (26-4639832).  As such, your donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent of our tax code and regulations.  Seldom do we have enough funds to cover all of the expenses TLC incurs to save these dogs and bail them out of high kill shelters, get their medical needs attended to and just simple board and care.  Any and ALL donations are GREATLY APPRECIATED!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

6 Years of Saving Dogs' Lives - June 6th, 2015

TLC's story - from beginning until now... 

I started out in rescue in 1980 after reading a news article about Greyhound breeders in Florida. They were breeding these dogs, racing them, and when the dogs no longer could race and win, they were killing them.  

A group of rouge rescuers were organizing ‘trains’ that would transport dogs destined for death from the Florida racing tracks up the Eastern Seaboard to homes that wanted to adopt them.  I was so horrified about the idea of anyone breeding dogs for racing and killing them in this manner, that I knew I had to get involved somehow.

This was LONG before the advent of cell phones, the Internet or ATM cards.  It was all done via long distance calls and snail mailing the breeders and the tracks.   

Each train was a long and tedious process, starting from Florida and sometimes going as far as Maine.  You would meet someone at an arranged truck stop or rest stop along I-95, take the dog(s) from one Good Sam and drive the next leg of the trip.   Depending upon where you were, you could drive 300 miles one way, turn around and drive another 500 miles north to then return 200 miles back to your home. 

It was tiring but always filled with the great feelings that at least today on your watch these dogs did not have to die because they were getting older, weren’t fast enough to win or ‘didn’t have the right stuff’; addicting feelings that made you want to do it over and over again – as long as you could afford the gas and the long distance charges.

At the age of 22, I just could not believe our society was doing this kind of canine killing.  My youth was spent on a farm where stock and crops are raised for food.  You didn’t get attached to that new litter of piglets because you knew they were destined for the smokehouse eventually – but killing dogs like this for no good reason?  ::shudder::

I stayed involved in rescue, volunteering at various ‘animal pounds’ through my young adult years and moved to the West Coast in 1997.  Once here, I got involved in the local Chinese Crested rescue.   This breed is not as prevalent on the West Coast as it is the East Coast, so there wasn’t as much for me to do in California.  I began to also volunteer at local ‘all breed’ rescue groups. 

On the farm when I was younger, we were a sort-of-retirement home for canine officers being retired from service.  It was not uncommon for us to have 10-15 highly trained Dobies, Rotties or German Shepherd dogs at any given time.  

Today, in 2015, no one would think of allowing a preadolescent teen, to handle a dog pack of this size and advanced training.  Back then, there was a kennel already built on the farm when we bought it, and my biggest challenge was to teach them not to chase the wild deer on the acres around the farm or our chickens in the coops (one of their favorite things to do).   

I think back now with a bit of an ‘inner grin’ about those times – for no one ever came to the farm after dark and just opened their truck door to step out.  We did not need a security alarm; there were too many pairs of watching eyes aligned around the vehicle, waiting for that person.  The kids at school gave me the cruel nickname of being a ‘honker,’ ‘cause at our house, you honked your horn and waited for someone to come out and whistle for the dogs to back off and retreat to their kennel runs!

Once out here in California in 1997, I ran into my first Pitty hands-on at a rescue - another breed more prevalent (at the time) on the West Coast that was not prevalent on the East Coast or Deep South.  Pitties that I had seen in the South were all fighting Pitties that were kept chained, usually waaaay back in the woods, and you just didn’t mess with them.  Owners were pretty selective about who knew about their fighting rings, breeding areas, etc.

I was volunteering with a rescue in Woodland Hills and another volunteer knew I had experience as a kid with big, powerful dogs, so she asked me to work with their Pitty at the rescue events.  Nice dog, it did not take much to get her through all of the basic obedience commands quickly and she got adopted shortly thereafter.  I was assigned another one, and I just stayed on this track for some time.

In 2001, I was sent by a Chinese Crested rescue to Camarillo to look at a dog who was reported to be up for adoption.  It turned out to be a Poodle and not a Powderpuff, but I found a skinny, scrawny NASTY little dog as I was leaving that had the notation on their kennel card – “Untrainable” – and it just struck me as odd.  EVERY dog is trainable – you just have to find their hot button.  I went back the next day, looked at her again, and fell in love with my first Chihuahua.

And she was a pistol – I won’t kid anyone.  She wore a harness and leash on around the house for the first six weeks so I could catch her when I needed to.  She bit my husband numerous times and to this day, he carries a small scar on his nose from Peanut.  

But oh, she taught me SO much about this breed.  There is something SO magical about Chihuahuas – not just that they look like puppies all of their lives, but their brain power is absolutely amazing.  And their hearts?  They love you more than the state of Alaska and Texas together, even if they are only 5 pounds.  I have always said, “Chihuahuas are 5 pounds with 100 pounds of attitude.” 

Eventually (just because I could), I took Peanut back to Camarillo and put her through the dog obedience classes that were being given at the time with every adoption.    It was with a lot of personal pride that Peanut and I graduated from the class (Only two dogs did and both were Chis!) I was especially proud of us because we were consistently standing aside of huge, powerful dogs in class who wanted to eat Peanut for lunch!  “Untrainable” – HMPH… yeah, right!

Peanut was my alpha dog for many years and quickly showed any new foster the ropes – she potty trained more dogs in her lifetime than I ever had.  If a foster was not quite balanced yet, she got them in line right away.  If I close my eyes, I can see that look of hers as she appraised the behavior of a new foster and quickly established some canine manners and decorum to any disturbance in her pack!

I continued to volunteer and foster heavily for local rescues, doing whatever I could (and that was a lot).  I was (again) so horrified by the amount of healthy, adoptable dogs that were being killed for space at the local shelters in our county and the surrounding counties.  These are not just numbers on a sheet of paper.  

I will never be able to erase the visual image I got one day of seeing the ‘killing fields’ I accidentally stumbled upon at a local shelter…. rows of steel drums with sets of paws facing the sky, waiting for someone to shove down the paws and put a lid on as the truck was coming to cart away their bodies for the rendering plant.

I was “No-Kill” long before it was fashionable or politically correct to be… I just did not know it.  

I have stood outside of BarkWorks and protested.  I stood outside of the pet shop in the Simi Valley Town Center and protested the sale of puppymill puppies (and almost got arrested).  I did counts at that petshop in fact, and was heavily involved in the anti-puppymill crusade - a nation-wide movement.  I have gone into puppymill auctions in the Mid-West and watched that horrific example of a billion-dollar business built on greed and profit.  I networked across the nation with other like-minded individuals in the cause to stop the needless killing of healthy, adoptable animals and the production line of backyard breeders and millers into the shelter systems.

In January of 2006, I came home from volunteering at a rescue and my husband was watching football.  Again, I was complaining that the rescue did not microchip or do rabies before they adopted a dog, etc. and because it was not a commercial break, he wanted to get rid of me as quick as possible.  

“Linda, why don’t you just start your own damned rescue then?!!”  “Really?”  “Sure……” as his attention went back to the game.

Six months later on June 6th of 2009, Tiny Loving Canines, Inc. (my “own damned rescue”) held their first mobile adoption at Petco in Moorpark.  There were not many of us – 5 volunteers in total (and three of those were my family members and me).  We thought we had TOO many dogs up for adoption (there were seven dogs), but we adopted our first dog that first Saturday and the ‘little rescue engine that could’ – DID.

For 2.5 years, TLC successfully held mobile adoptions in Moorpark.  At the end of 2009, we had saved 83 canine lives.  In 2010, we saved another 242… not bad – 325 lives in 18 months!  The rescue grew in volunteers and foster homes.  By this point, TLC held pull rights in our county and 5 surrounding counties… I did not discriminate. 

In my life, it seems I come across a very deep fork in the road once every 5 years... life- changing forks in life’s journey.  In 2005, my physical health went into the toilet and I spent 5 months in a wheelchair, having to teach myself how to write my name by hand, type and even walk again.  I had a lot of time to think during those months – my brain worked fine – it was my muscles that were not cooperating.

And in 2010 another deep fork in life's road, but it was mental and not physical this time.  “Why is my county killing so many dogs?  What is wrong with us here in Ventura County?  What is wrong with the system that we are failing so many of these creatures that cannot speak for themselves?”  

We live in one of the safest cities in America – unless you are walking on four paws… this really began to grow from a nagging thought to almost another crusade, but one of a hometown variety.

It was not easy to save a dog in our county at the time – one dog could take the better part of your day, standing in line, waiting, getting the paperwork done, etc.  To bailout a dog as a rescue, you paid just a few dollars less than someone in the general public, but if you were a No-Kill rescue, you could keep that dog for months, going into your pocket just to feed them and do the vet bills necessary.  Unless you had big bucks or wealthy supporters, each dog you saved put you back financially.  And if they were sick or needed a lot of veterinary care?  Your rescue days were over before they started.   

As I saw my fellow rescue members headed out into out-lying counties or into Los Angeles, I struggled a lot with this internally throughout 2010.  I fought a lot with Ventura County Animals Services (VCAS) directly – never with the personnel (well, not much) but with the system, which was dreadfully broken. 

I started documenting case after case of poor medical care.  One day after pulling a dog and paying the bailout fee, I was standing in the lobby at Camarillo waiting --- to be told the dog had accidentally been euthanized.  I told myself on the drive home – empty handed without the dog – that this carnage had to stop… somehow… some way.

In 2011, I began to pull dogs for that same pet shop location in the Simi Valley Town Center, which had gone from a pet shop (FINALLY) to a quasi-rescue called Pets Hope.  We continued to do mobile adoptions in Moorpark every Saturday and when I pulled dogs for TLC, I also pulled them for Pets Hope. 

By the end of 2011, TLC’s saves numbered 292 or 617 from our birth on June 6, 2009.  And then the other shoe dropped – at the end of 2011, the owner of Pets Hope called me and said she was closing down the pet shop rescue, effective January 1, 2012.  The board of TLC quickly huddled together and took a major leap of faith; taking over the ‘brick and mortar’ location. We realized that the only thing that could replace Pets Hope in that location was another pet shop - or we could REALLY turn it into a full blown rescue shop. Once again, we did what no one else could do. The little rescue engine that could – DID.

We didn’t even know how to turn off or on the air conditioning unit.  Shortly after we took over, the previous manager quit.  The TLC volunteers were not that many in number and the first year was a major struggle.  We could not have gotten through the first six months were it not for two volunteers – Joseph and his dad, Big Joe.  

In October of 2012, Big Joe died unexpectedly of a heart attack.  No advance warning… one day he was my ‘work husband’ and the next day he was gone.  I do not know how we got through the rest of that year – it is still a blur in my mind.  But by the end of 2012, TLC had saved 449 dogs and puppies in that year (for an accumulated total of 1,066 since our birth). 

More importantly, VCAS and our county committed themselves to the pathway of No-Kill in the summer of 2012, and in turn, TLC committed itself to pull first from our county always.

We will do whatever it takes within our resources to save the life of a dog.
Our save numbers stayed steady in 2013 – we saved another 465 canine lives that year – we were now up to 1,531.  

We did a LOT of educating the first two years as a brick and mortar.   People just didn’t “get it” – why the need to retain their pets, the need to spay and neuter their pets, how important it was to microchip and license…as so on and so on. 

Every person that came through the rescue shop was another opportunity to educate and change someone’s misconceptions and mindsets.  

We organized a few transports during these years (our largest was 38 to New York) and each transport was a new learning experience for us.  We struggled to keep the electric bill paid, went through the growth spurts in volunteers and the human element of dynamic personas.  We refined our protocols and procedures.  We had three different rescues fly in from out of state to tour our facility, take our boilerplate, and go back to their communities to begin rescue shops.  We got MUCH better at what we did, got into the use of social media and polished our photography skills.

And on a personal note: On December 26th of 2012, we saved a pregnant momma Pitty and her daughter. Momma gave birth at my home on January 12, 2013 to 9 beautiful puppies. Once she had nursed her pups, they’d all gotten spayed/neutered and adopted, Momma sorta/kinda ‘hung around.’ Every adoption application we would get in on Momma just didn’t have the right stuff for one reason or another. 

It was decided she’d become a ‘shop dog’ as she is a natural ambassador for this breed. We began to use Momma to introduce to children who were afraid of large dogs. The more I trained her, the more Momma sucked up the training; and I would push her some more to learn something new.  By the summer of 2013, Momma passed her Canine Good Citizen certification and therapy dog certification; and I had lost my heart along the way. (Editor’s Note: Momma chose Linda from the get-go. We all knew it even before Linda was ready to admit it.)

We ‘broke the bank’ in 2014, and finally went over that “500” mark of dog saves in one year by 18. It was a busy year, especially when we tend save one “hard case” for every 3 lives we save.  We had some $1,500 Chihuahuas along the way with accumulated vet bills, survived a distemper outbreak, lost foster homes and gained volunteers (and the reverse), had dogs stolen from us, and implemented a foster-to-adopt program that finally worked well.  

We had a lot of learning experiences along the way – including that if you turn down someone for a dog or puppy because it is not a suitable placement, you are likely to find a complaint filed against you with some authority.  That was a very long year in many respects, and we discovered it is darned hard to save a dog’s life, even if you are a non-profit and aren’t making money!

In 2014, we ran a year-long program, based upon a supporter’s desire to donate $400 a month to save dogs.  Our experience has shown that many times if you give someone a dog, there is no value attached to that pet.  They have no financial investment and therefore are not as willing to try to correct behavioral issues.  

We knew our small dogs work exceptionally well in senior citizen homes, so we began the ‘Santa Don’ program with this supporter’s monthly donation.  Once approved and a senior citizen was committed to adopting one of our little ones, the shopkeeper on duty would tell them about the program and lower the adoption donation by $100 in exchange for a photo of the new adopter and their furbaby in a Santa Claus hat!  Thanks to this kind donation, 48 dogs found their way into loving senior citizens’ arms in 2014.  We also began placing ‘mascots’ in senior assisted living facilities.

Now, as we continue along in 2015 and approach our 6th year anniversary on June 6th, it has been one hell of a ride.   

Shortly we will be approaching 2,225 dog and puppy lives saved by 60 dedicated volunteers who keep the rescue shop open 7 days a week.  Our youngest volunteer is 18 and our oldest is 70 (who also manages our thrift shop to subsidize vet bills).   We hold numerous events throughout the year – one being our successful charity book drive and the other being ‘Race for The Bone’ (Chihuahua races basically).  

It takes 300 volunteer hours per week to be open for 60 – we start at 6AM and we end at 8:30PM, open every major holiday with the exception of Christmas and New Year’s Day.  

We are a tight group and are there for each other. It is not uncommon for us to be out at 3AM, looking for one of our adopted dogs who escaped his yard, or doing a mad dash to the ER with a sick dog or pup.

And the sad reality is that there is never, ever enough money.  For the first five months of this year, TLC has spent over $22K in vet bills alone.  Our average weekly food bill is always over $250.  And our electric bill (even hanging up all of our blankets and not using the dryer) runs between $1200 and $1700 a month. 

We continue to explore ways and implement programs to save more dog lives. We are getting the word out through social media, and recently, our app went ‘live’. We are organic and always changing; willing to do whatever it takes to save a dog’s life, within our resources, unless it is illegal or immoral.  

While all of this can be overwhelming and quite powerful, we still adopt love into people’s lives - one dog at a time.  You can’t buy happiness but you sure can adopt it at TLC!

With much love to one and all,

Chief “Poop-picker-upper” and Director