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Poodle Patrol : Sallie Perkins knows the world of hurt. And that's what drives her to heal others in pain--especially the abandoned dogs who need her.

November 21, 1994|DUANE NORIYUKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Matted hair falls in clumps over his eyes. His bark is loud but not fierce, and he turns cautious and shy as he is released from his pen at the Orange County Animal Shelter. Gently he moves toward Sallie Perkins and licks her face.

He was found four days earlier roaming the streets, wearing no identification. No one came to claim him, and Perkins knows how that must feel.

As a child, she was a victim of abuse: tied to a tree and horsewhipped, raped, locked in her room for weeks at a time.

And as a mother, she suffered the loss of 3-year-old twin daughters and her first husband, killed in a San Francisco car crash.

"I know what it is to feel unwanted," she says. "I know what it's like to wish you were dead."

In many ways, her life has been a process of healing and helping others to heal. Years ago, following the death of her daughters, she took in hundreds of children to assist in crisis intervention.

A former opera singer, actress, stand-up comic and nightclub performer, Perkins has sat with the elderly, holding their hands and singing "Shepherd Show Me How to Go" softly into their ears as they lay dying.

Past president of the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, Perkins, who lives adjacent to Beverly Hills, also helped raise money to build children's waiting rooms for the Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services.

What consumes her now is her role as an animal rights activist. She works full-time rescuing dogs, almost all of them poodles. Each year she places 500 to 600 dogs in homes, which she screens carefully. At any given time, she is caring for upward of 75 poodles, spending up to $10,000 a month out of her savings to care for them.

She has driven through rain and riot to rescue these dogs.

One dog she adopted out was subsequently given to the circus, and when that didn't work out, the dog was given away. Perkins tracked the dog down and determined that the new owner did not meet her standards, so she grabbed the dog and stormed down the street in her Jaguar--with the poodle riding shotgun and the woman pounding on her car.

It is more than an obsession, more than passion that motivates her. It's as if, she says, she can climb inside the soul of all living things who have been abused or are unwanted and feel their pain. And it is that pain that drives her.

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This shaggy, tangled mess of a standard poodle in Orange County will be beautiful once groomed and loved, Perkins says. He, like some of her other dogs of show quality, should easily be placed in a home.

There are others, however, like Baby--old, blind and deaf. Or Arthur, with his incessant wheezing, who probably will never find homes no matter how many ribbons are placed in their hair. So Perkins will care for them until they die.

"Let's get out of here," she says to the dog as she takes the leash. "Tonight, you'll be pooping in Beverly Hills." Such a prospect is enough to bring life to the meter of his tail, indicating he senses life is about to improve.

Perkins keeps tabs on 40 animal shelters throughout Southern California, taking in poodles that have been turned in or abandoned. She searches classified ads for dogs being given away or who are left unclaimed.

"Two-thirds of all dogs in this country lose their original homes through no fault of their own," she says. "Poodles are the fourth-highest killed in animal shelters."

Because of their overpopulation and because she has a special affection for the breed, Perkins focuses on poodles.

She was 16 years old and living in Santa Cruz when she rescued her first dog and owned her first poodle, Cleopatra. Soon she took in another, then another and before long had reached double figures.

It has, Perkins admits, grown out of control. It has become too much for one person to handle. She is on the road racing from shelter to shelter, delivering dogs to the vet, the groomer, the kennel. She buys their supplies, receives 50 to 60 telephone calls a day from people wanting to adopt or give up dogs.

Reyna Melgar, Perkins' housekeeper, helps with the animals during the day. She recently brought in a dog that was hit by a car. Perkins paid for surgery and found the dog a home.

At night, Perkins plows through paperwork, oftentimes until 2 or 3 a.m. Her savings will not support her work much longer, she says. Yet, she cannot stop.

Perkins also has taken over the New Hope for Animals Foundation, which provides vouchers to people who cannot afford to have their pets spayed or neutered.

On Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, she will be marching in the streets of Beverly Hills in an anti-fur demonstration sponsored by Last Chance for Animals.

"What makes Sallie unique is her total devotion to saving animals' lives," says Caroline Rose, 73, owner of the Double E Kennel in Woodland Hills, where Perkins boards many of her dogs.

"She will go way out on a limb, to the tip of the branch, to save an animal," says Rose, who has been rescuing dogs for 61 years.

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