Raising funds for corrective lenses for a blind dog abandoned in a trash pile, saving a canine hit-and-run victim, rescuing a dog left to fend for himself in the scorching desert—it’s just another day on the job for Eldad and Audrey Spilker Hagar. These loving souls run Hope for Paws, a nonprofit that rescues dogs from the streets, rehabilitates them, and pairs them up with worthy owners.
After working with area rescue groups and personally fostering over 500 dogs, the Hagars launched Hope for Paws in June 2008. The Los Angeles-based organization strives to stop the cycle of animal neglect and abuse. “To take dogs that were scheduled to die or would have never been picked up from the street, and seeing them become happy animals who end up in amazing homes, gives you the best feeling in the world,” says Eldad.
Hope for Paws is a nonprofit that runs entirely on donations and is best known for its You Tube channel that documents its rescue efforts. The videos serve as a way to educate the public, inspire donations to assist with rehabilitation expenses, and activate animal enthusiasts to help locate foster homes for disadvantaged dogs.
After hearing about the wonderful organization, I was invited to visit a local veterinary hospital that they partner with to check in on some of their recent rescues. Upon my arrival, I was greeted by Lisa Arturo, an animal advocate who works closely with Hope for Paws, who took me back to check on several of the rescue’s animals.
This little guy had such a heartwarming story. Two German girls were on vacation in Northern California and were driving down the freeway when they spotted a dog. They pulled their car over and lured him to them, and scooped him up into their car. Bailey was in bad shape. He was scabby and furless and severely malnourished. After remembering seeing a Hope For Paws YouTube video, the girls called the hotline and drove the dog five hours down to the Los Angeles animal hospital.
“He would have totally died out there if they hadn’t rescued him,” Arturo said. Bailey is currently being treated by Hope for Paws for a variety of ailments. “He has Sarcoptic Mange and Demodex, which basically means that he has mites that have attacked his immune system and he’s lost all his hair. He’s super itchy and bleeding,” Arturo explained. Hagar said that the pup has a hard road of rehab ahead of him but his comeback will be miraculous. “It will take a few months for him to become what he needs to become. But there will be a crazy evolution.”
The plan is for Bailey to soon enter a foster home for about three months for the finishing touches of his care and then he will be ready to be placed for adoption.
During my visit with Bailey, Lisa put on some gloves and checked in on him. She also cleaned out the goop from his eyes and gave him a bully stick to snack on. Bailey’s eyes lit up during our visit and he seemed ecstatic to have some human companionship for a few minutes. And when we left, he laid down to happily to munch on his dog treat. Despite all he has gone through, he is a friendly and loving dog.
Mia was found in a hotel room after her owner passed away. The organization got a call from a man named Jeremy, a friend of the cat’s owner, saying that he had tracked her down at a local California shelter. “He lives in Oregon and wanted to honor his friend by taking in the cat,” said Arturo. Hope For Paws took Mia to their hospital where she was given several blood transfusions and treated for pancreatitis. The plan was to get her well enough to travel out of state to live with her new owners.
At the veterinary clinic, Arturo and I spent some time with Mia, petting her and keeping her calm. She loved the attention and purred away at our caresses.
Sadly, Arturo called a few days later to let me know that Mia took a turn for the worse and the organization had to put her down. Not every Hope For Paws story has a happy ending, but at least the group did all they could to care for and provide Mia with comfort in her final days. “She seemed really happy to have all of our love and attention,” Arturo said.
Though it’s a sad story, Hagar stress that Mia’s situation is really important to share. The reason the cat was in such bad shape was because she was left alone for almost a week by herself after her owner died. Hagar notes that to prevent situations like these, it’s important that pet owners incorporate their pets into a living will and have a back up plan for who will care for them in the event that their owner’s can’t.
The Hope For Paws CEO said he’s seen many situations where a pet’s caretakers have passed on and the family has just let the pet live on the street. “We get a lot of calls like, ‘Oh my cousin died or my grandmother died and if you don’t come take the dog, we are going to dump it or we are going to open up the door,’” Hagar explained. “People don’t really make plans for their pets if they are sick or elderly. Mia would have had a home because his buddy Jeremy wanted to give her a second chance. But without Jeremy, she would have been euthanized in a shelter because no one was coming for her. You should really make plans for your pets.”
Turner was another sweet pup that the Hope for Paws team was treating at its hospital. “She is a total senior,” jokes Arturo. “These girls found her at a McDonald’s parking lot at 3AM and she had a giant tumor hanging off her neck.” Arturo explained to me that Turner had just undergone her surgery earlier that morning and was recovering nicely. She was lying down comfortably in her kennel wearing a cone collar. She perked her head up and wagged her little tail as we passed by her. Lisa took a moment to give the dog a little pet down. The surgery was a success. Turner had her lump removed and was also spayed in the process. The hospital also treated her for a variety of skin issues. “She is going to a senior rescue soon,” said Arturo. “She’s ready for her forever home.”
Our last visit was with a mutt named Oliver. He had spent some time at the hospital and was anxious to get out. Arturo mentioned that he was slated to be released to an animal shelter the upcoming weekend. Upon walking by his dog crate, Oliver started barking up a storm. His excitement riled up the other dogs in the hospital and for a second, everyone chimed in. Arturo scooted down to give him a quick rub on the head and talked in a soothing voice to calm him down. “He was hit by a car and needed to have surgery,” she told me. “And he doesn’t like the glass on the door of his crate. He’s very scared.” Since checking in with the organization post visit, I am happy to report that Oliver is currently doing great in his new foster home and will hopefully find a new family to live with soon.
These are just a few of the many animals that Hope for Paws has recently rescued. The organization has been going strong for seven years and doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
Seeing the work that they do first hand was such a touching experience. It really made me tear up a bit to see these dogs—that had been through so much—wagging their tails at the sight of a friendly stranger coming to visit them. Even Mia, who didn’t make it, was given comfort in the fact that Arturo and I took some time out of our busy days to pet her and shower her with a little bit of attention.
Arturo, who has been with the organization for the past four years got emotional when talking about her work with Hope for Paws. “We really do our best to try and spread compassion and awareness about not turning a blind eye when you see an animal suffering on the street,” she explained. “And in the end, the animals end up being so grateful for the work that the organization does. “They are so amazing and really deserve a second chance—whether they are in the shelter or on the street,” Arturo adds.
Main image courtesy Hope for Paws. All other images by Nicole Pajer.
Nicole Pajer is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, energetic Doberman, and rat terrier.