SHERMAN OAKS — Three years ago, on a Monday morning, Michael West went to work and found his employer out of business, doors locked, offices stripped bare. In one fell swoop, he had lost his job, his savings and his grip on the middle class.
But now, as he prepares the seventh edition of his Get-A-Pet photo adoption magazine, West, 37, is becoming a top dog.
With 35,000 copies of his magazine hitting the stands biweekly in six Southern California counties, West's upstart publication has come to the rescue of overcrowded animal shelters throughout the region. Featuring hundreds of animal mug shots, descriptions and practical advice about pet ownership, the venture has saved numerous discarded pets from death.
The magazine, selling at $1.50 a copy, could also save West from the doghouse.
The publication is being printed and distributed by the same companies that launched the Recycler--the ubiquitous used goods trading magazine with a circulation of 1.3 million.
Like the Recycler, Get-A-Pet couples pictures with brief captions to give readers a better idea about what they may be getting.
For instance, an ad for a spotted tabby named "Harley" reads: "Year old male lover wants to cruise into your home and your heart."
Although there are some advertisements from owners trying to place their pets in other homes, most of the animals featured in the magazine are impounded at animal shelters.
No animal breeders or pet store owners are allowed to advertise in the magazine, West said.
West has worked out arrangements to give free ad space to nearly every animal shelter in San Diego, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties. Peter Persic, spokesman for Los Angeles Animal Services, which impounds almost 80,000 animals each year, said the city will start listing with Get-A-Pet next month.
"We see this as a great way to educate and inform the public that we have a wide variety of animals, from purebreds to mixed breeds," Persic said.
Joe Sykora, animal control supervisor for the Glendale Humane Society, said his staff fields an additional 50 calls every time the magazine comes out. Since the Glendale Humane Society started advertising in the magazine, an additional 25 animals have been picked up from the shelter, Sykora said.
"Get-A-Pet has definitely helped," he said.
Before West started his new life as savior of the canine and feline masses, he was making $65,000 a year as a sales manager. When he lost his job, and the means to support his children as a single parent, he began interviewing daily. After three months without a job offer, he got desperate.
"I spent all my savings, my car was repossessed and I lost my house," West said. "Next thing I knew, me and my kids were living in a hotel room on Roscoe Boulevard" in North Hills.
Then a friend came to West with a problem. He was looking for a pet and had become frustrated with classified listings after he drove many miles to see a dog that was not as described in the ad.
West said his friend told him, "They're never as good as they sound." So West, an owner of two dogs and a cat, got an idea--why not start a publication that would allow people to see what they were getting?
Over the next two years, West and four co-workers turned his $10,000 investment into Get-A-Pet. The first issue came out in June. West expects to turn a profit by the end of the year.
He is now negotiating with several supermarket chains to increase his magazine's circulation to 90,000.
And he has dreams of publishing the magazine in cities all over the nation.
"I kind of stumbled into this," West said. "But we're saving lives, man, and you know, it doesn't get any better than that."