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Getting Involved

Making A Difference in Your Community : Lonely Pets Looking for Helping Hands


Judy Levine walks down the lonely row of bars and cages as the captives howl and plead.

"You know some of them came from homes," Levine says. "Where are their owners?"

Around her, shepherd and Doberman mixes, toy dogs and cocker spaniels, vie for attention, as though trying to lick and plead with visitors to take them home. The dogs drum their beds with their tails when they see Levine. They recognize her and somehow know she is trying to help them.

As a volunteer with the city's West Valley Animal Shelter and the Pet Mobile Adoption Program, Levine, a fund-raising consultant, works to find new homes for a wide variety of dogs and cats.

"I have to get this one out," she says, as she approaches the cage of Amigo, a shepherd mix taken to the shelter by his owner. "He's been here too long."

After seven days in the shelter, the pets become available for adoption. When the shelter runs out of space, the animals are euthanized, Levine said.

The shelter's population has dropped since the Northridge earthquake Jan. 17, when Levine became a volunteer. Hundreds of frightened, lost pets wound up at the shelter after the temblor, some boarded at five or six to a cage.

But most of those animals were either reunited with their owners or found new homes. The success of that effort has inspired shelter volunteers to find new ways to get the animals adopted and bring down the 70% citywide euthanasia rate in Los Angeles, Levine said.

Under a new program called Mobile Pet Adoption, volunteers like Levine take animals to stores and shopping centers so people can see them outside cages. Volunteers also have persuaded shelter officials to let prospective owners take animals from the cages at the shelter so they can get a better sense of what the animal is like.

"Outside, they have more personality," Levine said. The cages and bars are sometimes too depressing to inspire an adoption, she said.

"We're trying to change the image," Levine said of the shelter. "We're trying to get people to come here to adopt before they go to a breeder."

Since the Mobile Pet Adoption program started in June, more than 250 cats, dogs, puppies and kittens have found homes, shelter officials said. The group is expanding the mobile program to other shelters in the city and needs more volunteers.

The next mobile pet adoption is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Body Shop at Topanga Plaza in Canoga Park. Information: Levine at (310) 455-3709.

Volunteers are needed in a low-income housing project for 1,200 residents in Palmdale that is part of AmeriCorps, President Clinton's national service program. In exchange for 1,700 hours of services, volunteers will receive a living allowance, benefits and loan repayments or tuition vouchers at their school of choice. The AmeriCorps volunteers will be helping to put together and run programs and activities at the housing project. Information: Peggy Tapping at (714) 835-0406.

Project Caring, sponsored by Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles, is looking for groups of volunteers to adopt a nursing home in their neighborhoods. Activities include monthly visits to the home to bring Jewish culture programs and holiday celebrations to residents. Information: Tara Eisner at (818) 905-2125.

Best Buddies, a nonprofit group in Santa Monica for people with mental handicaps, is looking for donations of old cars for recycling to raise funds and improve the environment. The cars can be in any condition so long as ownership can be proved. The cars can be written off on tax returns for their wholesale value. Towing is provided for free. To donate an old car: (800) 213-8800.

Getting Involved is a weekly listing of volunteering opportunities. Please address prospective listings to Getting Involved, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, 91311. Or fax them to (818) 772-3338.

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