He's the perfect mutt. A survivor. His fur is ermine with golden patches. The eyes are onyx. If you trust, he loves--as this Australian shepherd mix once trusted and loved just one man.
Man and dog were homeless. Nobody knows how long they'd traveled together. Or from where. Or how the dog had lost one leg somewhere along the way. But they were often in the North Hollywood area, man shuffling, dog hopping, the infirm and the handicapped with disability their inseparability.
It ended March 11, 1985. John Doe was found dead where he'd crouched to sleep. No Name whimpered against him. He growled and complained and they let him ride in the coroner's van to the morgue.
The county buried the man. There was even county assistance for his dog. But it threatened to be a temporary stay. At the East Valley District Animal Shelter on Sherman Way in North Hollywood, there weren't too many hopes for the adoption of a three-legged mongrel.
Yet, there was something about this mongrel. He never looked like he wasn't wanted. He had flair and street smarts. Three legs only enhanced his appeal. They proved he had attacked life and its dangers. That front stump was his Purple Heart.
So shelter workers, 20 of them, asked if they could keep the dog. Gary Olsen, the district supervisor, said it wasn't a good idea. They said the dog could become a mascot, a symbol of the humanity and helplessness of the shelter's purpose. Olsen folded.
The dog was named Cassidy after Hopalong. He was given his own cage with indoor-outdoor carpet, a foam-rubber bed, his name on the door and the run of the shelter. For life of Riley, read life of Cassidy.
"He gets more vacations than I do," said Olsen. "Our people take him water skiing. He goes home with them. Boating. Or to the beach."
Yet it's not all play. Cassidy works hard as a symbol.
He visits elementary schools to animate presentations on the work of the city's animal shelters. He has romped at the MacLaren Children's Center. He has been cuddled to ease the loneliness of life in convalescent and retirement homes.
Cassidy isn't a Benji or a Mike. But he's appeared on "Simon & Simon" and "Hill Street Blues." He was a formal greeter for the Los Angeles Street Scene. Cassidy hopped a short but profitable ($400) distance during the March of Dimes Walk America.
Then he met Joy Goldschmidt and became a foundation.
Goldschmidt, haunter of shelters and compulsive adopter of lost animals, was building a crusade against sad statistics.
More than 100,000 animals are brought to city shelters each year and 60,000 are destroyed. That death toll could be reduced, reasoned Goldschmidt, a vice president of Intralink Film Graphic Design, if the animal population could be controlled by well-publicized programs of free spaying and neutering.
The campaign was begun. Businesses combined donations. The city agreed to cooperate and Mayor Bradley spoke his support.
More than 500 billboards and busboards will be used to promote this program of Goldschmidt and the nonprofit organization she has formed as. . . . Well, one look at that three-legged mutt and her unnamed group became the Cassidy Foundation.
Today, the Cassidy Foundation begins its triumph--a free, three-month spaying and neutering program for dogs and cats at all six Los Angeles city animal clinics.
As part of the drive, today also will be "Adopt-a-Pet" day at the shelters. Free collars and leashes. Free food. Free pets.
But don't bid for Cassidy. He's spoken for. He belongs to Los Angeles.
West Valley Shelter, Chatsworth, (818) 882-8800. East Valley, North Hollywood (818) 764-7061. West Los Angeles, (213) 820-2692. Eleventh Avenue Shelter, Los Angeles, (213) 731-8281. Harbor Shelter, San Pedro, (213) 831-2414. Ann Street Shelter, Los Angeles (213) 222-7138.