Article Launched: 02/15/2006 11:22 AM PST
Kyra Kirwood, Doggie diva
Rande Levine, 35, left, and her rescued pit bull mix, Sol, and Florence Lee, 23, with her rescued Jindo mix, Beau, run Karma Rescue, a rescue group for large dogs, in Santa Monica. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photo)
Fourteen years ago, when Rande Levine was in college, she adopted a dog, Rufus; at that point, her world changed. Rufus provided so much joy in her life, Levine was inspired to make the world a better place for abandoned dogs left languishing in shelters, waiting for someone to fall in love with them and take them home.
She volunteered for various pet rescue groups, but in 2003, she founded her own: the Los Angeles-based Karma Rescue, devoted to rescuing and finding homes for death-row dogs.
'It really was about karma, and the great feeling one gets when a homeless dog finds its safe and loving home,' said Levine, 34.
All I can say is, thank you. Last Christmas, I donated toys to a local animal shelter, and visited with some of the pups. There were so many good dogs there needing homes.
They looked at me with pleading eyes, and put their paws on my hand to get my attention.
That's where animal rescue groups like Karma Rescue step in. Many of the dogs in shelters, especially in Los Angeles, are larger, older and often part or full 'bully breeds,' such as pit bulls. None of this adds up for easy adoption.
Karma takes over from there. They pull dogs out of Los Angeles County shelters at the eleventh hour, no matter their appearance or pedigree.
The group rehabilitates each dog and teaches him manners. Then they seek the perfect 'forever' home for each one. Levine and her volunteers never, ever give up on any dog. How can they do it?
I went home after my trip to the shelter and cried on the phone to my mom for 20 minutes, feeling powerless and depressed. What keeps Karma from crumbling under the strain of it all?
A purpose. 'Until the 8 million animals a year getting put to sleep drop to zero, we will have work to do,' Levine said.
'Until all people spay and neuter their animals, and until backyard breeding stops and until all the animal abuse ends; this is what keeps us all going.' Hundreds of the so-called 'bully breeds' are euthanized each week at the 12 Los Angeles County-run animal shelters, Levine said.
Most wound up there because their owners were negligent or abusive, and not because the dogs themselves were dangerous, she said. 'The problem is that people get these dogs for the wrong reasons and have no clue how to raise them,' Levine said. 'Pit bulls, or any of the bully breeds, are just that: bullies.
These dogs need boundaries, they need exercise, they need domination, and they need affection.
"People adopt these breeds because they are the cutest puppies in the world, but they turn out to be big dogs with strong personalities,' Levine said. 'Yet, if you give them what they need, they are the happiest dogs in the world, the most gentle, and the most loyal and balanced. They are excellent learners; they just need the direction.'
Levine and Karma Rescue's vice president Florence Lee, 23, said not every person should own a pit, but for others, they are ideal.
'If raised right, they are the best companions in the world,' Lee said. Q: Tell us about your first dog rescue.
Levine: The first dog I pulled from the South Los Angeles shelter was a pit bull. The picture of her on the Web site was so sad.
She had scabs all over her face. I came to find out that the scabs were from someone pouring acid on her, trying to make her aggressive. From the second I got her, she was perfect, great with other dogs and great with people.
Q: What happens right after you rescue the dogs from the shelters?
Levine: All our 'bully breeds' go to a dog psychology center, Canine Communications in Los Angeles, where they are taught balance, socialization, how to be a dog, and their place in the pack.
They are given direction, exercise and the attention needed to get them ready for adoption. Brandon Fouche of Canine Communications is a master with these dogs.
Q: What would you like people to know about the dogs you rescue?
Levine: All our dogs are healthy, spayed/neutered, and, most important, mentally balanced. We do not adopt out aggressive dogs. Ever. They have all gone through rehabilitation if needed.
We choose the right dog for the right home. People sometimes pick out the dog they want, but if it's not the right fit, we don't place the dog there. Because for us, it's not just about finding a home for the dog; it's about finding the right home, and we will wait until that happens, as long as it takes.
Q: What should people ask themselves before they adopt?
Levine: Are you ready for an 18-20 year commitment? Are you ready to wake up every morning to exercise your dog, and again in the evening before you go out with friends? Are you ready to plan your day around the needs of taking care of the dog?
Do you have the time to keep your dog socialized? Do you have the time to train them, and keep it up? Are you ready to live with hair on the floor and the furniture? Can you financially take care of the dog, especially if it gets sick?
Q: Tell us about your own dogs.
Levine: My dog Rufus, who I got 14 years ago, taught me what it truly means to be a dog guardian. He is my motivation behind everything I do for dogs.
Charlie has no teeth, and her ears were burned with a cigarette lighter.
Her skin is so thin that during allergy season, she breaks out in scabs.
My little Welsh corgi Bently is a doll; he was sitting in the shelter because his family moved away without him. Then there's Sol, my first pit bull. She is my princess.
Lee: My dog Beau is a loyal companion who will go the ends of the Earth for me. I got him from Karma Rescue. Someone cut off his ears, either with scissors or garden shears.
He was emaciated and a creative escape artist. Karma Rescue raised more than $2,000 because he had a heart murmur and needed heart surgery.
Q: What are the most difficult challenges you struggle with in rescue? Levine: People! Always people. People who give up on their companions.
People who don't take responsibility to be their dog's guardian, who don't make sure their dogs get enough exercise and then blame the dog for destructive behavior. The dog is the one that suffers.
Lee: Another thing is the heartache. The fact that you cannot rescue them all and, inside, you really wish you could.
Q: What are the joys?
Lee: Watching a dog go from a horrible situation into a loving and wonderful home. Someone dumped them and didn't even care that they might die, and then this amazing home comes along, scoops them up and treats the dog like a prince or a princess and loves them forever.
After a stressful day, coming home to your dog is one of the best things you could do. They are so happy to see you. The joy!
The wagging tail and slobbery face. No matter how stressed you are, once you see them, a weight is lifted off your firstname.lastname@example.org