If there is one thing about me that is blatantly obvious, it would be that I love animals, especially dogs. I work as a pet sitter and dog walker and am also a live-in doggy nanny to two very sweet dachshunds. I am surrounded by animals 24/7. About two months ago, I was looking into doing some volunteer work for an animal shelter or rescue organization. My Google search brought me to the Ace of Hearts website.
Ace of Hearts is a 501c-3 dog rescue foundation dedicated to rescuing dogs. I was instantly interested when I read that Ace of Hearts rescues dogs, literally rescues dogs, that are about to be euthanized and puts them into foster homes. I also saw that three Saturdays a month, they bring their dogs that are ready to be adopted to Petco in West Hollywood from 12 noon until 4pm for a big adoption event.
After a few e-mails exchanged with Sebastian Valdez, the volunteer coordinator, I was not only invited to volunteer for the event, but was also asked to transport a dog, Bruce, to and from the event. I was a little hesitant when he told me that he wouldn’t be caged in my car. I have never had a dog I had never met ride in my car before uncaged. He told me not to worry and when I picked up Bruce, I understood why right away. Bruce was a happy young American Bulldog mix that didn’t have an aggressive bone in his body. He settled right in to my back seat and rode with his head on my shoulder wagging his tail furiously the whole ride.
When we arrived at the Petco, I parked my car and Bruce and I found his cage and he went right in with no effort and sat down. He knew the routine. I however, did not. I looked out at the cages of beautiful dogs that lined the street. Some were barking and very excited, but not Bruce. He looked up at me with his sweet eyes and leaned against the door of the cage in just the right position so I could scratch his ears. How anyone could even consider euthanizing this amazing dog was completely shocking.
Shortly after, I met Sebastian and he gave all of the volunteers a job. My job was treats and water. I had to make sure the dogs had enough water and give them treats. It seemed simple enough. For the next few hours, I walked around making sure the dogs were happy and staying relatively quiet. There were dogs of every shape and size. My eyes and heart immediately went out to a small Corgi mix with a sweet disposition named Roy. Then there was Boomer, the biggest Rottweiler I had ever seen, and Maverick, a very handsome American Bulldog mix, and a little long haired Chihuahua mix named Tye, who was very nervous and clutched tightly to his foster mom, and a plethora of other dogs who had all mastered the sad puppy face saying, “Please take me home!”
The other thing that I struck me was Kari Whitman, founder of the Ace of Hearts foundation, and how passionately and efficiently she ran things. She personally spoke to every person interested in adopting and believe me, there were a lot of people interested. She asked them all a series of questions to make sure that the dog they were interested in was a good fit. If they weren’t, she would immediately on the spot think of and lead them to another dog that was perfect for them. She was a matchmaker for dogs and people.
Also, I noticed that she knew everything about every dog. She knew not only every behavior issue that they could have, but she knew their favorite toy, their favorite place to be scratched and even their favorite treats. I don’t know how she was able to know all of this about every dog considering that these dogs are not kept in a facility. Whitman spoke very strongly about why “all of our dogs are in foster care. A lot of other rescuer organizations have a facility. I don’t believe in facilities. You can’t place a dog you don’t know. You can’t know a dog sitting in a cage the whole time. Our return rate is extremely low. We get our dogs into foster homes. We get them into training. We rehabilitate them before they are placed so we know what we’re dealing with.”
The staff was obedient to Whitman’s instructions. Everyone had a job whether it was showing the dogs, walking the dogs, monitoring the dogs, helping with adoption forms or getting donations. After doing it for over 10 years, Whitman certainly knows how to run things. “Ace of Hearts got started after my beloved dog Ace died, hence the name Ace of Hearts. When he died it was a really rough time for me and I just decided that I’m gonna look at the glass half full.” Thus, she began Ace of Hearts. Since then, the organization has saved close to 1000 dogs from euthanasia. Many celebrities have gotten involved. “Jessica Alba, Virginia Madsen, Harvey Levin, Ellen Degeneres, Kristen Bell, Penelope Cruz – all of these people have adopted dogs from us.” Harvey Levin of “TMZ” fame actually stopped by Petco that day to check in and say a warm hello to Whitman and the volunteers.
The day went by quickly and there was a lot of interest in just about every dog. Even though many people were interested in adopting, no one was taken home that day. Each dog went back to its foster home. Whitman has a very specific process that everyone has to go through to adopt one of her dogs. “We do a house check, you fill out an application, you pick out your dog, we make sure you’re suited to the dog and vice versa. The dogs go on a three to five day trial in the home, we do a house check and if it works out that’s great. We ask for a $350 donation minimum.” If that sounds like a lot to you, do not worry. Whitman added, “If you don’t have the money, you can do volunteer work, you even can make $50 a month payments.”
I was very impressed by how much work Whitman and her staff put into helping these dogs. Sebastian Valdez, a staff member for the last six months, said that Ace of Hearts is “hands down best rescue I would say in the US. We work incredibly hard for the dogs placing them in homes. Not just a home but the perfect home. We work the hardest to make sure the dog that dog goes to a home that doesn’t get returned to us and that it’s going to be a home for life.”
As we started to break down the cages, and one by one each dog was taken home, I walked over to my friend Bruce to give him a ride back to his temporary home. It wasn’t just Bruce I had to give a ride to though. I also was given a couple bags of treats, six cans of wet dog food, toys, and a 40 lb bag of dry dog food for Bruce’s foster family to use over the next two weeks. So anyone who fosters a dog doesn’t have to pay for anything? Whitman says, “No, we get the food, we get the bed, we get all of the medical. We just want people to come in and start working with them.” I was also given something special to take to Bruce’s foster parents, a note with a phone number of a family who was interested in fostering and possibly adopting him. I told Bruce the news and he was pretty happy about it and gave me a big wet kiss on the cheek. I took Bruce and his food, treats and toys to his foster home and gave him a kiss on the head knowing that this wouldn’t be the last time I volunteered for this rescue group.
I returned to the Petco on Doheny this past Saturday and was surprised to see a few familiar faces. I was shocked to see Tye there jumping around in his cage and greeting anyone who came by. He was like a completely different dog! Roy and Boomer and Maverick were still there to my surprise. Roy is one of the most calm well-mannered dogs I have ever seen. I never once saw him bark or heard him whine. He just sat waiting patiently to go home. If you think he is as cute as I do, you’d better come get him or I might have to scoop him up.
Maverick is one handsome guy with a calm and gentle disposition. Boomer is a big gentle giant; he needs a big yard but would be a wonderful companion and protector. All of the dogs are great, and ready for a home.
I chatted with Whitman for a bit that afternoon and she also told me about the designer dog bed company she owns at www.greenerpup.com. “All of the profits go back to Ace of Hearts Rescue. Everything is recycled but the zipper. You choose your cover to match your house. One hundred percent of the profits go back to the dog rescue.” I asked what else people could do if they wanted to help out. She said, “Ace of Hearts needs money. It pays for any type of boarding and any type of medical. The number two thing which would really tie with the number one priority, is foster homes. If you can foster a dog for us, we can save another life and that is the most important thing for us. If you want to donate toys and collars and leashes and food, we can use it all. Every little bit helps. But fostering is the number one thing.”
I also noticed that my old friend Bruce wasn’t there that day. I asked Sebastian where he was, and he smiled and told me that Bruce had been adopted! Yay Bruce!!! I went home that night with a warm feeling knowing that all of these dogs, including Bruce have been saved and given a second chance at life and love thanks to Kari Whitman and her wonderful staff at Ace of Hearts.
If you are interested in getting a dog, I highly recommend choosing a dog from a rescue group like Ace of Hearts. Barbara Gregory, a volunteer at Ace of Hearts for more than four months, feels the same way: “When you adopt or foster a rescue dog, they just appreciate it, you can see the look in their eyes. It gives us a wonderful feeling. Ace of Hearts takes such good care of their dogs. I’ve been affiliated with other rescue groups, but this one really is the best.”
If you are interested in donating, fostering or volunteering visit, http://acesangels.org/. Also visit www.greenerpup.com to check out those cute dog beds! And come meet the dogs! They are there at Petco every other Saturday at 508 North Doheny Drive, West Hollywood. You can see, get to know, and hopefully open your heart and your home to one of these amazing dogs. “Especially now during the holidays,” Sebastian Valdez says, “Give a gift of a home for a dog, it’s fantastic.”
**Liesl Jackson is a writer/actress/comedian/pet sitter living in the heart of Hollywood. She loves the arts, animals, volunteering, traveling, and attempting to learn the acoustic guitar. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow The Pacific Punch on Twitter @ThePacificPunch.***
Liesl Jackson is a writer/actress/comedian/pet sitter living in the heart of Hollywood. She loves the arts, animals, volunteering, traveling, and attempting to learn the acoustic guitar. Email her at email@example.com. Follow her on twitter @SillyLiesl and follow The Pacific Punch @ThePacificPunch.