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This Saugus Man Is Dog's Best Friend

June 15, 1989|DAVID WHARTON | Times Staff Writer

The Dog Man of Saugus was fighting a losing battle.

He had decided that he was going to single-handedly save the dogs of Los Angeles. He was cruising the streets after work, picking up strays. Sometimes he'd go into an animal shelter and buy a dog that was about to be destroyed.

The Dog Man brought home 22 dogs in the last 1 1/2 years. He found new homes for most of them, but there were always five or six dogs living at his house.

"My wife is extremely forgiving. Most people would have been divorced," he said. "It got to the point where I could hardly walk into a shelter because I wanted to take every dog home with me."

These efforts, however, were but a drop in the bucket. About 3,000 dogs are destroyed each month at Los Angeles County's six shelters, and more are destroyed at the 15 municipal shelters throughout the county.

"It all seemed pretty futile," the Dog Man said. "If I had the money to purchase a thousand dogs from the shelter, a thousand more would die in their place."

So the Dog Man got smart.

He started Citizens for Sheltered Animals, a grass-roots organization--with volunteers--that is raising money and supplies for the Los Angeles County animal shelter in Castaic. He has persuaded several kennels to provide space for strays when there isn't room at the shelter. He has persuaded a cable company in Newhall to broadcast pictures of dogs in the pound."I don't see any limits to what I can do," he said.

Said Lt. George Enriquez of the county's Department of Animal Care and Control: "Hopefully he'll make a big difference. He has a lot of good ideas, a lot of plans for the future."

By day, Richard Kerr is an engineer for Lockheed. The soft-spoken, 36-year-old man designs machinery and buildings for manufacturing. He has a wife and two daughters. He owns a home in a middle-class Saugus neighborhood.

Until a few years ago, Kerr hadn't been overly emotional about dogs. But then, in the winter of 1986, his pet Irish setter, Zebulin, died.

"You don't realize what you have until it's gone," he said. "He changed the way I feel about animals."

Dog in Road

Soon afterward, Kerr was driving home from work and saw a golden retriever standing in the middle of the road. He picked up the dog and put him in the car.

"Ever since," he said, "it's been one attempt after another to help animals."

The engineer discovered places where strays could usually be found--a parking lot in Arleta, a spot beside the Golden State Freeway. If the dogs wouldn't come to his car, he left bags of dry food for them.

If the dog came along, Kerr would bring it home and put an ad in the newspaper, hoping to find the owner. Sometimes that worked and sometimes it didn't. After he kept the dog for awhile, Kerr would have to find it a new home.

"He meant well," Enriquez said. "But a lot of dogs won't go back to the owner that way. They'll go to a new home. That isn't really fair to the person who lost the dog. He didn't realize he was doing more harm than good."

Breaking Law

Kerr also didn't realize that he was breaking the law. A county ordinance requires that anyone who finds a stray report it to the county within four hours, Enriquez said. Kerr eventually abandoned his strategy not because of the law, but because of common sense.

He still picks up the occasional dog, but most of his efforts and passion are funneled into Citizens for Sheltered Animals. Kerr and his volunteers are busy on the telephone, asking Santa Clarita Valley businesses and charity organizations for donations of money, office equipment, pet supplies and pet food--anything that will further the cause.

Oddly, the first donations will not go to dogs. They will be used to build a shelter for horses that are kept at the Castaic shelter.

Other plans call for organizing a program in which volunteers take dogs from the pound and display them at local shopping malls for a few hours each day. Kerr would also like to raise enough in money and materials to help the shelter build more space for dogs so the county can keep dogs longer before having to destroy them.

"I'm trying to do anything I can to help the animals," Kerr said. "Everywhere I go, there are people who want to help and I'm very encouraged by this. I don't know what the answer is for all the problems, all the dogs that are being destroyed, but people shouldn't just turn their back on all these animals."

Citizens for Sheltered Animals can be contacted by phone at (805) 296-6953 or by mail at P.O. Box 800353, Santa Clarita 91380-0353.

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