I recently spoke with Robin Jampol, founder of Westside German Shepherd Rescue of Los Angeles. She’s the focus of the WIGS Unscripted channel’s latest documentary in a series focusing on the extraordinary and untold stories of real women and the passions that drive them. The video, which premiered Sept. 15 on the WIGS channel on YouTube, showcases Jampol’s endless quest to rescue, heal and find homes for unwanted German shepherds. Watch the video.
ROBIN: We do mixes and we do … we had, just a couple weeks ago, a shepherd that was in a run with a Lab in an East Valley shelter, so we took the Lab, too. We didn’t want to leave the Lab behind. There’s one shepherd right now up in San Bernadino that came in with a chihuahua. They can’t be separated. So, we’ve some little dogs, too. A lot of the mixed moms that we rescue — so often these dogs are pregnant — and we’ve had some little mixed breeds, too. So we’re flexible, but basically the format is the shepherds and shepherd mixes. We do a lot of mixes.
ROSE: On your video, it looks like you have some gorgeous dogs after you work with them a little bit.
ROBIN: Yeah, I mean, that’s why I love to get the word out, let people know what you can find in rescue. You can find the most amazing, incredible dogs. And the good part about our rescue is that we have a whole format of adoption coordinators, we have people do applications, we get a sense of their family, their needs. And we have a trainer who’s evaluating the dogs and really trying to match people with the right dog for them. Most people’s inclination as they’re shopping, they come with a look; they have a picture of their dog that died or a dog whose appearance they like. oftentimes, the one that looks like that is not the right dog for them. Of course, they have to feel it, too, but we try to steer them in the right direction for the right dog for them.
ROSE: I think sometimes they get stuck in the thought that just because it looks like the dog they had before, it’s going to act like that dog, and that’s not always the case.
ROBIN: Right, true. And you get somebody who’s 15 years older than when they had their last dog that weighed 100 pounds, and maybe it’s not the right match for them at this time in their life.
ROSE: I saw in the video clip that you’ve lost funding?
ROBIN: Yeah, we lost the funding we thought we had, so we’re just kind of bare-bones, now. We had a staff of 16 that we cut down to a fraction of that, and everything that we could cut down, we have. We had a paid trainer, now we have a volunteer trainer, who’s wonderful — Tim Williams. So we have had to go back and rely a lot on volunteers, and people have stepped forward. You know, it’s still a precarious situation. We definitely need donations to continue what we’re doing. But, you know, we’ll exist, it’s just that we want to exist at the level that we have been, where we’re saving so many dogs, not steering away from taking dogs swith medical needs that are intrinsically really adoptable dogs once they get their treatment. Because in this economy, a lot of people are deferring, they’re not taking care of their dogs, they’re dumping their dogs because they have an ear infection or flea dermatitis, things that are easy to fix.
We get a lot of the broken-leg dogs, we get calls from emergency hospitals because the owners disappeared. These dogs are amazing dogs. We just had one, Augie, when he came in we thought his leg was just broken. It turned out it had been like a month before and he’d been in the shelter. So they had to do a bone graft and everything. It was just an incredible surgery, and he’s been adopted and the people just love him to death. He was at the Porterville shelter. We actually named him after the guy who works at the Porterville shelter because their vet, the private vet they use, wanted to euthanize Augie the dog because they didn’t think anyone would want him, and Augie the man said no, we’re going to contact Westside German Shepherd Rescue.
There are just amazing dogs that just had a bad — I don’t want to say bad break — but occurrences just didn’t work for them. And actually, this dog, some of the volunteers had put flyers around when he had come into the shelter. And somebody had called, saying “that’s my dog,” but when they found out he was injured they didn’t want him. So, anyway, it was their loss, and one of our families is very, very happy to have him.
ROSE: My vet has said that they make people prepay now because people would not come back and pick up their animals. I cannot imagine abandoning an animal like that.
ROBIN: No, I mean it’s just incredible. We were just talking about that with some people in Colorado who adopted a dog from us. These two dogs had ended up in an East Valley shelter and the male had been hit by a car, had a broken leg. The owners came and got the female and left the male behind. So we got him, and he had surgery. It happens often, unfortunately.
We just got a puppy with parvo — we get a lot of calls from Good Samaritans or social workers who work in a commercial area of town — and somebody had dumped this really sick puppy with parvo in a parking lot. So we got the puppy. The puppy had to have plasma and some new drug that stimulates white blood count through the marrow, and all that stuff. But he rallied, and he’s sitting up and eating now. He’s still at the vet. He was really, really close to not making it. Even with all the IVs, the antibiotics, the drugs, if he hadn’t had the plasma, he didn’t have the protein level to make it even to the next day. That was Monday morning I called, I was so worried, and he was sitting up and eating his first food so, you know, stuff like that’s really exciting and motivates us.
ROSE: How long have you been rescuing?
ROBIN: We started Westside German Shepherd rescue in 2002, but I was helping with Burbank German Shepherd Rescue for a few years before that. So I kind of learned how to do it, what I wanted to do. They do mostly owner surrenders; I like doing the shelter rescues better. So we had a couple people come together, and we would foster or board 6 or 7 dogs in the back of a vet hospital that had room. We kept outgrowing places and ultimately ended up with about 85 dogs under the 10 Freeway.
What you see on the website … we have fans on Facebook,it’s just grown to be a really large organization and it’s wonderful. There are so many great, generous people. We just need more great, generous people. But there are so many good people who just want to make a difference, do something.
We are in West LA — I live in West La also — and you see such a disconnect between there and what happens in South LA. If you go on the freeway, it’s hardly 10 minutes away and it’s totally a 100 percent different world. I mean, west LA has doggie bakeries and specialists and physical therapy for dogs. And if you go to south LA, the shelter there, dogs come in that have never even had a leash. They come in on phone cords. They haven’t had a bath or haven’t had vaccines. I just think there’s so much work to be done, reaching out to different communities and educating.
ROSE: Do you have a lot of issues with stray dogs in that area, or is it more just owners who don’t take care of their dogs?
ROBIN: I think it’s probably a lot of issues, but also because the shelters rrequire a relinquish fee — I think it’s $25 now — a lot of people walk in and just say it’s a stray because they don’t want to pay the $25.
Before I started rescue, I thought “They should charge them $100, that way they won’t relinquish their dogs.” But what happens is, they just let them go, you hear it all the time. They take them to the desert or the forest. When we were in the garment district, under the freeway, we had a lot of people who came by, the thing they were going to do was just open their car door and let the dog out. Or litters of puppies, there was no way these people were going to pay $25 per puppy. They would just leave them somplace. So it’s a complicated problem. But spay/neuter is a big issue; microchipping, all dogs should be microchipped so the owners can’t do that, they’re accountable for their dogs.
I was always hoping that big companies would donate money to like Target or something, so that everybody who brought their dog in for a spay/neuter, low-income people, would get a voucher to Target or someplace they like to shop. Something to help motivate that. Because I think that’s a big problem. There’s just way too many dogs here.
ROSE: Have you had any companies that did something like that?
ROBIN: No, but I’ve talked to some people who are working on that. But it’s just like, in LA, there’s a spay/neuter law but the reality is, the dogs we get in, maybe one in 20 is already spayed or neutered before we spay or neuter them. So the law is definitely not working. It used to be that people would go door-to-door licensing. You have to pay $100 to license an unneutered animal and it’s $15 for spayed or neutered. So if they could really reinforce the fact that people have to have licensed, spayed or neutered dogs, and when that is done, they’re also microchipped to keep track of it … that’s definitely a big issue in rescue.
ROSE: For your adoptions, do you work with transporters to get them to their new homes, or do the people have to come to the shelter to get them?
ROBIN: Most people come to the shelter to get them, but we do out-of-state adoptions. We’re one of the few resuces that do that, but we’ve had really good success, and the people who go through that effort, they’ve proven themselves to be wonderful homes. We have a lot of … like in the video, there’s one puppy, Maxwell, he’s the third-generation dog to go to this one family in Virginia. Economically, it would have been cheaper for them to go to a breeder, but they said they just couldn’t do it. They believe in the concept of rescue and they felt like we were their family, and they wanted to get another dog from us. They’re very happy with Maxwell.
We’re really careful to screen out-of-state adopteers. If they have a little dog or cat, you know, we try to stick with the really easy fit because it’s really hard to take an adult dog and make sure it’s going to be OK with a cat, so we keep those pretty much local.
ROSE: Yeah, you never know how they’ll be. I had fostered a dog once that was supposedly great with cats, but I had a few more cats than the place he came from, and he was just obsessed with my cats, couldn’t let them be.
ROBIN: Yeah, my first rescue dog, I had four cats and he would shake and almost go through the window when he saw them. It took me two months, but it was only those four cats he wouldn’t kill. I mean, he could have gone to another home and he would have gone right after and destroyed their cats. So you never know. I remember early on, we adopted a dog named Catty to these people, and this dog was supposed to be good with kitties. And these peopel said their neighbor thought their dog’s name was Catty No Kitties, because they would yell at her all the time because she would go after the cats.
ROSE: What happened that you lost your funding? Was that one business that was backing you or was it a group?
ROBIN: It was a foundation, unfortunately. It’s kind of a complicated story, not what we had expected.
ROSE: But your building is already done and everything, they were just funding to keep it going?
ROBIN: Yeah, the building is a leased property, so we’re paying the lease now, which is $15,000 a month, which is definitely a stretch for us. So we’re hoping to get some help with that. Unfortunately, in LA, everything is super-expensive. The improvements in the property were donated so that’s good, that we have, but we have to come up with $15,000 a month to pay the lease payments. It is a lot, but just to give you an idea, when we were under the freeway in the garment district it was $7,000 a month there, for the pits. LA is expensive.
ROSE: You didn’t lose your on-staff vet, did you? (Westside’s vet bills were averaging $20,000 to $26,000 a month, so it was cheaper for them to hire a staff vet.)
ROBIN: We’re paying for the vet through donations and fundraisers. We’re on our own, so every penny comes through our supporters. We have some good supporters that give us some chunks of money, but we need more chunks. My son has a museum that’s a nonprofit museum, and they get most of their funding from one person. We’re different. Right now, we get our funding from thousands of people. Every hurt dog, every situation we have, we put out the pleas for help and we get it, and that’s how we’ve been existing.
ROSE: Facebook seems to be a big help with that type of thing.
ROBIN: Absolutely. The internet has totally changed rescue, Facebook has changed it. That’s really important; particularly for the medical pleas, it’s super-important.
I remember when my youngest son started one of the first rescue websites when he was 18 and we were with another group. We decided it was the most incredible thing that people would see a picture of a dog and drive from San Diego to meet that dog. We were blown away.
We had a dog named Van Gogh — her ears were eaten away by fly bites — and these people came up for Van Gogh. They said “She needed us and that’s why we’re here.” I always remember that.
ROSE: We have some people in our area who help with pet transports, moving dogs from high-kill shelters in places like West Virginia, Kentucky and OHio to no-kill shelters and foster homes that have room for them. The transports are usually arranged online, through message boards and Facebook.
ROBIN: I think that’s so, so important. Here, you see it to some extent. There are some people like Rick Broudy here, he’s just like this amazing force. He’s a volunteer at the Baldwin Park shelter. At this Baldwin Park shelter he said there can be like 60 people lined up giving up their dogs this summer. It’s so defeating. But he’s worked tirelessly to do transport of, like, chihuahuas up to Canada or to New York, all over. And these shelters are just foiling him step by step. And you know, they’re going to reliable people, they’ve been checked out, other rescues. But it’s just a small-minded kind of mentality. We really, particularly in southern California, have to network everywhere because there are just not enough homes for the amount of dogs that are here.
We just helped raise money for two dogs at the Porterville shelter that just touched our hearts. One was a 7-year-old pure shepherd with this older beat-up Lab/who-knows-what guy, and they were found together. We’d never be able to place him, and they were just so devoted to each other in the shelter. We were heartbroken, too. But they’re limited in how long they can keep the dogs, so we did a plea on our website and within minutes Washington German Shepherd Rescue said they would take them. Then we needed to get money for help with transport, for heartworm tests, shots, chips, everything. So our Facebook people helped raise the money and off they went. They’re in foster up in Washington.
So I think networking is wonderful. We also have a group in Oregon that has helped us. I think that’s the way to go. I really think California needs to do more of that. Also, change our spay/neuter laws so we aren’t such a disaster.
ROSE: We don’t have a law here that people have to have pets spayed or neutered, but I think they do get a bit of a break on the cost of licensing if they’re spayed or neutered.
ROBIN:So you don’t have this overpopulation problem?
ROSE: We do, so we probably should have a law that requires spaying and neutering. There are a lot more stray cats than stray dogs in my area, but I’m not sure what the numbers are as far as pets who are spayed or neutered.
ROBIN: My family was originally from Switzerland, and we were there in October for a couple weeks. You should see the animals there, I mean, the value put on them. They’re all on vacation with the families, in the hotels and the restaurants, and people transport them in these really solid crates in the back, not like our crates. These are major, in case there’s an accident. It’s probably a law that they have to be transported like that. Hotel rooms have a note on the back of the door about the meal that’s included in the room rate for the dog. I love that; I want us to be like that.
ROSE: So they don’t have an overpopulation problem there?
ROBIN: No, I looked at their shelters there. They had like five dogs. I looked at the shelter in the capital, and they had one shepherd there, he had problems with children and that’s why he needed to be rehomed.
ROSE: It seems like it’s neverending here.
ROBIN: Yeah, particularly now. The summer is the worst for us, and then after Labor Day it’s supposed to settle down, but our adoptions haven’t been great since after Labor Day. We’re hoping tomorrow’s a good day. That’s one of those things, too, with the volunteers. When 10 dogs get good homes, it’s just like this high. We’re all so happy at the end of the day when we see these guys go home. And they love us, but they all know they’re outta here; they’re ready for their new homes. They’ll give us one little lick, like “Hey guys, bye, it’s been nice.”