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No Stray Is Too Mangy for a St. Francis of the Mean Streets

July 28, 2002|DANIEL GUSS

At the L.A. Department of Animal Services, a 'rescue' means any field assignment-but animal control officer Armando J. Navarrette is the guy they call for the hairier situations. Home base for Navarrette is the large new shelter in South-Central, where L.A.'s stray crisis is at its worst. Colleagues call him a 'humane-iac,' but he's really just an unsung hero with a heart of gold.

How did you get involved in animal rescue?

We always had pets when I was a kid, and I rescued strays whenever I saw them. That evolved into serving as an [unpaid] reserve humane officer for the city of Los Angeles. I worked in a bank at the time.

Were you going the extra mile right from the start?

During my training, I was working with an officer who was huge. We got a call for a dog that was trapped under a house, but he was too big to get under there. So I did it because I fit. Ever since then, people knew that I'd do just about anything to save an animal. I have a passion for it.

Tell us about your toughest rescue.

A month ago, we [could hear] a kitten under a house, but couldn't locate her. I spent nearly five hours under the house, and her cries were getting weaker. My spotter [animal-care technician] suggested that she was trapped between the walls, so we cut three holes and she crawled out. [The L.A. nonprofit group] Kitten Rescue is now fostering her. Her name? Wallie!

This stuff sounds a little dangerous.

My scariest rescue took place at night, without a spotter, and without proper equipment [helmet, pads, safety glasses].A pit bull had fallen into an 8-foot hole underneath a house. I crawled down to get him out. Once he was out, I had trouble getting out myself and almost panicked. I'm smarter now.

What makes you go that extra mile?

If an animal is in peril, it's the result of a person who either beat them, neglected them, didn't spay or neuter them, or just stopped caring about them. I want to be the opposite kind of person. Just about every day, someone calls me a 'humane-iac' or says I love animals more than I love people, [but] I wear that as a badge of honor because it means I'm doing the most important job in the world.

Tell us about your own pets.

To be honest, I only have a couple of goldfish. But there's an important lesson here. I am not allowed to have them where I live. People should only take on this responsibility when they are able to. When I buy a home, then I'll have a lot of pets. In the meantime, I spend time taking our shelter dogs for walks, helping to give them a little emotional rehab.

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