Oh, the joys of having a dog. The long walks, the games of fetch and a companion for Netflix-binging. Studies show that dogs lower our blood pressure, lessen our stress levels and make us happier humans overall. Keeping them happy and healthy with veterinary care—for everything from routine vaccinations to major surgery—is our part of the bargain.
Expense sometimes makes it difficult to get your four-legged friend the necessary vet treatment. Options seem limited: maxing out a credit card, setting up a GoFundMe or sometimes, in extreme cases, giving up your beloved dog to a shelter so it gets medical care.
A nonprofit organization in Bolinas, Love Dogs for Life, works to keep West Marin human-canine families together by funding a dog’s vet bills when their person can’t afford it. Founded in 2009 by Cheryl and Damiano Ruggiero, a husband-and-wife team, Love Dogs for Life helps dogs stay healthy while giving their guardians peace of mind.
Prior to starting Love Dogs for Life, the Ruggieros privately assisted people living in their cars in Bolinas by paying for dog food and vet services out of their own pocket. The couple even paid for a dog at the end of his life to be euthanized humanely, because his owner couldn’t afford it.
When anyone in need asked, the Ruggieros lended a hand. This model wasn’t financially sustainable for Cheryl, an attorney specializing in animal-related actions, and Damiano, a property manager, yet they strived to find a solution.
“We were spending thousands of dollars a year and we’re not independently wealthy,” Cheryl said. “We ended up forming a nonprofit to do more of what we were doing individually.”
Today, the process for getting financial assistance is a bit more formal. Those in need fill out a confidential application and Love Dogs for Life uses the CalFresh income guidelines for Marin County to determine eligibility for funding. Once they’ve established the need, Love Dogs for Life works with the dog’s vet to pay for treatment.
Love Dogs for Life realizes that it’s often tough for people to ask for support. Cheryl says the group doesn’t make any judgments, as their focus remains on the dogs.
Since its inception, the organization has helped approximately 75 families keep their dogs fed and healthy. Their goal is to raise enough money to ensure that no one turns away a West Marin family in need of dog food or veterinary care.
“Animals are at our mercy,” said Cheryl. “It’s incumbent upon us to take care of them properly.”
To learn more, visit lovedogsforlife.org.
The Kern Project
Many dogs never make it out of the City of Bakersfield Animal Care Center—a high-kill shelter located in Kern County, California—alive. (In 2016, they euthanized 4,751 animals, 49 percent of the total they took in.) A paralyzed Chihuahua-mix named Stella had a next to zero chance of getting out, until The Kern Project rescued her from the shelter and brought her to a foster home in Marin County. Today, Stella is walking, fully healed and ready for adoption.
The Kern Project, a nonprofit animal rescue based in Marin, began in 2012 when dog-groomer Cookie Snyder perused Petfinder, an online searchable database of animals in need of homes. She discovered a Kern County shelter with over 600 dogs and knew she needed to help. Snyder, who owns Tamalpais Dog Grooming in Corte Madera, showed the information to fellow dog-groomers Janine Schengel and Melinda Bowser, identical twins who own Doggie Styles in Mill Valley.
“We could see those dogs were highly adoptable,” Snyder said. “And, at the end of the week, over half would be euthanized. The problem comes from the lack of spaying and neutering in Kern County.”
The three women, who grew up together in Mill Valley, traveled to Bakersfield, pulled a few dogs from the shelter and brought them back to Marin. The dogs were adopted quickly through word of mouth, and the trio returned to rescue more.
“It was hard to just take a few dogs out of hundreds,” Snyder said. “We were all choked up every time we left, but we got inspired and motivated. Being in the dog-grooming business, everything we have and own is because of dogs, and we just had to give back.”
Snyder, Schengel and Bowser decided to start a formal rescue program. Because the group didn’t have a nonprofit status, they partnered with Family Dog Rescue in San Francisco and continue to operate under its umbrella.
Seven years later, The Kern Project is a well-oiled rescue machine run by a team of volunteers who pull 10 dogs from the City of Bakersfield Animal Care Center every two weeks. They’ve built a network in Kern County, where the dogs are initially boarded and provided with veterinary care at a cost lower than in the Bay Area.
Once the pooches are healthy and spayed or neutered, The Kern Project transports them to foster homes in Marin or to a Petaluma ranch owned by volunteer Carol Lacey from Tiburon. The 100-acre ranch is now a dog nirvana, complete with a renovated dairy barn–turned–dog lodge that’s furnished with living-room sofas and littered with toys and nutritious doggie treats. Hiking trails abound on the property and the dogs and their caregivers take full advantage of playing and exercising on the open land. Whether at the ranch or in a foster home, the dogs learn to interact with other animals and people, blossoming into wonderful pets ready for adopters to take home.
The Kern Project Facebook page shows off the dogs for adoption. Most of the pooches look like purebreds or designer mixes. Snyder attributes the cuteness overload to dog-grooming acumen. The dogs are tangled and matted when in cages at the shelter, but she and her rescue partners see right through the mess.
“We’re dog groomers and we can make them look like they lived in Marin all their lives or we shave them and start over,” Snyder said. “We spend time grooming them on our days off.”
Schengel and Bowser run another critical part of The Kern Project called the Pet Partnership Program. Dogs and cats are pulled from the City of Bakersfield Animal Care Center and provided with necessary veterinary treatment. Once the animals are hale and hearty, they’re delivered to the Marin Humane Society and other shelters and put up for adoption. The goal is to keep moving animals from the overcrowded shelter in Kern County to Bay Area shelters that have room to accommodate them.
To date, The Kern Project has rescued more than 1,800 dogs, puppies, cats and kittens from Kern County and placed them in new homes, mostly in Marin and San Francisco.
“People buy dogs like these,” Snyder said. “It’s about adopting versus buying, and we have great dogs to adopt.”
To see the lucky dogs for adoption at The Kern Project, visit facebook.com/thekernproject.
Compassion Without Borders
The bleakness of the overcrowded animal shelter in Mexico City haunted Christi Camblor, when she volunteered at Refugio Franciscano, the largest animal shelter in the world, home to 2,000 dogs. The refuge made no rehoming efforts. Illness was widespread. No programs existed for spaying or neutering or even for providing simple vaccines.
“I wanted to help them when they were homeless and sick,” Dr. Camblor said. “I wanted to prevent them from being that way in the first place.”
The California native’s passion and love for animals prompted her to enter veterinary school at UC Davis, but she never forgot the dogs from Mexico.
Dr. Camblor, now a veterinarian, and her husband Moncho Camblor, a native of Mexico City, founded Compassion Without Borders (CWOB) in 2001. Since its inception, the Santa Rosa–based non-profit has saved more than 5,500 dogs and performed over 31,000 wellness exams and spay/neuters on both sides of the border.
The group rescues dogs from high-kill shelters in California’s Central Valley, as well as strays from towns in Mexico. They also provide low- to no-cost veterinary care and spay/neuter clinics in Sonoma County and Puerto Penasco, Mexico (a four-hour drive from Phoenix).
“Folks of all income levels should be able to have animals,” Dr. Camblor said. “We have clinics quarterly to provide care to animals belonging to the homeless, and every month we conduct clinics for animals belonging to people with low incomes, especially in the Latino communities.”
Though they work in two countries and several cities, their headquarters is now a three-and-a-half-acre property in Santa Rosa—formerly an old chicken coop—called Muttopia. The Center for Animal Protection & Education (CAPE) gifted the funds to acquire the land, by way of a substantial bequest from San Rafael–resident Lisa Landey, a lifelong dog lover who passed away in 2016. Landey stipulated that the money must go toward helping as many dogs as possible.
Muttopia, with room for 90 dogs, has proved a game changer for CWOB. Prior to Muttopia, CWOB relied on other organizations to adopt out the dogs they treated. Now they have their own adoption program.
“We specialize in taking the most-injured animals: the ones that most other shelters won’t take or rehabilitate,” Dr. Camblor said. “Muttopia allows us to take a lot more animals that really need our help. That’s our strong suit—we take the most-difficult cases.”
With the important work they’re doing in California, a common question for CWOB is, why do they rescue from Mexico? The answer is that Mexico still possesses virtually no programs for the animals, much like when Dr. Camblor first visited.
“Mexico is overwhelmed and inundated with animals running on the streets” said Jordan Gilliland, United States Program Manager for CWOB. “They resort to barbaric measures, because animal control is not about rehoming. It’s the last step for that animal.”
The stories from Mexico are rough. A large, beautiful dog named Oso suffered greatly when a harsh chemical was thrown on the side of his body. Gilliland speculates that someone probably tried to kill Oso. CWOB saved him.
Their veterinary clinic in Puerto Penasco is well-known in the community. After receiving medical treatment, the dogs are usually transported to Muttopia for adoption.
The rescues on the U.S. side of the border primarily take place from shelters in the Central Valley. CWOB helps out when the organizations get full or need assistance with specific medical cases. Those dogs are also brought to Muttopia to find new homes.
Another successful program involves hand-selecting Chihuahuas from the Central Valley and shipping them to Minneapolis. Shelters in California are overrun with Chihuahuas and it’s difficult to find homes for them. Once they arrive in Minneapolis, they find adopters quickly. To date, CWOB has saved over 4,000 Chihuahuas.
There are many moving parts at CWOB, yet all work together seamlessly on both sides of the border to save the lives of thousands of at-risk dogs and prevent overpopulation.
The biggest issues CWOB faces are funding and sustainability. They have the right teams, facilities, tools, models and backgrounds, Dr. Camblor says, but they can’t possibly stretch their current staff further. Additional funding would allow them to hire more personnel and expand their work.
“What sets us apart is that we’re working really hard to get at the root cause of animal homelessness,” Dr. Camblor said. “We’re in such a unique position to help animals and communities.”