When Diane Monahan refers to her children, she's not talking about her four grown sons but the 80 or so canines living in her care until they are adopted.
Monahan, founder of Friends for Pets in Sun Valley, rescues sporting dogs--such as Weimaraners, golden retrievers, pointers, Dalmatians and Labradors--in need of new homes because their owners can no longer care for them or have abandoned them.
Her "children" are a motley and enthusiastic crew.
Three-year-old Sadie, an English setter, will gulp down cigarette butts if you don't watch carefully.
Seven-year-old Sam, a Weimaraner, loves to hang around the bathroom. In fact, he regards it as his space.
Zipper, an exuberant 2 1/2-year-old pointer mix, is very good with cats but she does jump fences.
Katie, an 18-month-old English pointer, can bark for a biscuit with a tennis ball in her mouth.
"It's like running a day care center," said Monahan, smiling as Tatiana, a 3-year-old chocolate Labrador, galloped through the Friends for Pets office, heading for the exercise yard with volunteer Wendi Westbrook in tow.
"Tatiana, where's your collar?" Monahan called out.
"I think she ate it," said Westbrook, who has adopted two Weimaraners and works as a disc jockey at KIIS-FM.
Rescue dogs--as they are called--bond tightly to their new owners, who pay $175 per dog to help cover the organization's expenses, Monahan says. They appreciate the comforts of their new homes, recognizing that they are lucky to have them, Monahan says, noting that there seems to be no shortage of dogs in need of rescue.
Every year, tens of thousands of dogs are euthanized in Los Angeles city and county animal shelters. In some cases, popular movies increase the demand on these facilities.
After the movie "Beethoven" came out, Saint Bernards began appearing at animal shelters as neophyte dog owners discovered that the large dogs were unhappy in small quarters. Similarly, border collies turned up at shelters after the release of the movie "Babe." So Monahan cringes when she contemplates the opening next week of "101 Dalmatians."
For her, it means she can expect to see scores of Dalmatians abandoned as owners realize that pets are more than yard ornaments. (Most dogs at Friends for Pets are brought in by owners, but the group also rescues some dogs at animal shelters.)
"No one would spend hours and hours doing this if there wasn't such a tremendous need," said Monahan, whose nonprofit group, established in 1985, chalks up about $4,500 in monthly expenses that include the kennel lease, dog food and veterinary bills.
Some dogs who end up at Friends for Pets come from loving homes. One family brought in their 9-month-old golden retriever because they were moving. On their application form they wrote, "Never, ever let anyone hit him." They called later to say they missed him and to find out how he was doing.
Monahan and her staff of 20 volunteers attempt to discover the personal quirks of each dog in their charge. When a dog has a behavioral problem, like peeing on the group's file cabinet, the Friends for Pets staff works with the dog, retraining it to learn more socially acceptable habits.
Does the sleek Weimaraner like to dig tunnels or chew sprinkler heads? Is the high-spirited Dalmatian transformed into the Terminator at the sight of a kitten? Does the retriever believe its destiny includes sleeping on love seats and couches?
Once the dog's idiosyncrasies are understood, the staff attempts to match it up with a like-minded owner. The octogenarian, for instance, will probably get a sedate 9-year-old who knows better than to yank on the leash or chew the sofa.
The average stay per dog before adoption is six to nine months, Monahan said, and older dogs who are not quickly chosen join the facility's "geriatric" unit.
In the case of Mandy, her adoring new owners said they would teach the Weimaraner that furniture was for people. When Monahan called to inquire about Mandy's progress, her owners always replied: "We're working on it. We're working on it." Eight months after the adoption, Monahan received a photo of Mandy sprawled on a couch with a caption that read: "Mandy won."
Monahan and her staff are protective about the dogs. Potential owners must fill out an application and are screened with a home visit to ensure that they can provide a dog-friendly environment.
Friends for Pets does not forget their former clients. The group regularly hosts reunions--potluck dinners for the humans and bowls of biscuits for the dogs.
"It's like adopting a child," said Westbrook. "It's a lifelong commitment. It's not like you get a puppy for a year or two and then return him."
At Friends for Pets, the phone rings throughout the day with calls from people wanting to adopt and from those who need to relinquish the family dog. Sometimes callers get impatient. Monahan can only sigh.
"It's hard to say we were out playing with the dogs or giving Basil a much-needed bath."
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Today's centerpiece focuses on Friends for Pets, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving dogs and placing them in secure homes. The Sun Valley group is staffed by volunteers. For information call (818) 767-5919 or fax (818) 767-7805.