‘It’s not just the friggin’ houses!’ Introducing four Long Beach Realtors and one corporation that share profits with pets

Even though there’s no landlord to fix stuff for you anymore—if they did—it’s nice to own a home. It’s even nicer that there’s no landlord to tell you that you can’t bring in your four cats or a pit bull. Realtors walk off with a chunk of change from the sales, but if you’ve work with a Realtor or an agency like the ones in this article, part of the commission goes to a pet-welfare organization.

If you’ve coveted any of the dwellings that the Long Beach Post’s Tim Grobaty frequently writes about and decide to buy one, see if you can talk the Realtor into donating part of the proceeds to pets. Possibly, they may already do that. Here are four of them, plus a corporation that knows that animals need homes, too.

Kelly McHugh Lopes, Keller Williams Realty, [email protected]
woman wiht long black hair and wearing a black dress pats a tabby-patch cat lying on his side.

Kelly Lopes gives a tummy rub to Benny the Cat at his recent Birthday Bash for charity. Photo courtesy of Kelly Lopes

I met Kelly Lopes a few years ago when she was dividing her time between teaching comparative world literature at CSULB and spending every penny of her less-than-princely salary on trapping feral cats, feeding and vetting the kittens and the tame adults, and rehoming them. I was interviewing her about her neighborhood organization, Wrigley Kittens. Lopes founded Wrigley Kittens five years ago in an effort to involve her neighbors in controlling the population of the neighborhood cat colonies.

“For the next four years, I did a lot of TNR—trapping, fixing, returning,” Lopes said. “Adults are released back to where they came from, and kittens are taken into care and adopted. They can be turned into very fine house cats. I have a couple.”

Teaching part-time and being an adjunct didn’t give her a viable income, so she got her real estate license. When she became successful enough to have a full-time career, she left her teaching position.

“I wasn’t making enough money to support my own rescue efforts,” Lopes said. “It’s never all about money, but when it becomes a situation where you’re spending more money on rescue than you’re earning at your job, it’s not viable. I made a full, conscious decision that it would not be all about the money—it’s one way that I could ensure that I felt good about choosing real estate even though it wouldn’t give me enough time to be boots-on-the-ground rescue.”

Lopes gives a percentage of each commission to any charity the client chooses, rounding the percentage up to the next zero. She got the idea from a flyer she saw at an open house when she was new to real estate and working as an assistant to another agency.

Woman with long black hair and a dark-purple, taller woman wiht glasses and a tie-dye shirt reading "Keep Austin Weird" and glasses, and a man in a blue tank top and gray hair, all toasting with glasses of white wine.

Kelly Lopes toasts the sale of a home with clients India and Greg Griffin. India is the founder of FAR Side Rescue, which matches foster homes with shelter pets. Of course, that’s where the percentage went! Photo courtesy of Kelly Lopes.

“I saw at the bottom of the flyer that that their team made donations back to a charity of [the agency’s] choosing,” she said. “I wanted it to be the organization of my clients’ choice so that they could feel that they were contributing back to something they were passionate about.”

Some of the donations have gone to research organizations for melanoma and Alzheimer’s disease and to Disabled American Veterans. Most of Lopes’ clients thus far, however, have been members of or referrals from her rescue circle, so the greater number of her contributions have gone to animal rescues and organizations such as Fix Long Beach, Far Side Journey and the Long Beach Spay & Neuter Foundation.

With the increase in her workload, Wrigley Kittens has become a networking site because Lopes is no longer in a position to foster kittens. She still manages to do some hands-on transport because who can keep their hands off kitties?

“When I become aware of an animal that needs rescue or rehoming, I do what I do in real estate—that is, connecting people and whatever they might be ’in the market for,’” Lopes said. “For instance, if I find a cat that needs a home or meet a person thinking about adopting, that’s where my energies go. This speaks to my two passions: finding homes for animals and also for people.”

Denise Reesha, Keller Williams, 562-273-9028

I became aware of Denise Reesha long ago. Reesha has been a Realtor since 2004 and used to fill everyone’s inboxes with photos of cats that needed homes. If the cat I wound up adopting after one irresistible email was any indication, they were all fine animals. Reesha’s pretty neat herself.

“I lost my cat before I knew better [about keeping them inside],” she said. “I never did find her. I went to the shelters looking for my cat—it was depressing to look at the cats in the kennels. I adopted one. I got to loving animals, and once you get into it, you don’t give it up!”

A lot of strays roamed Reesha’s neighborhood, and Reesha began trapping with the help of a feral feeder. She connected to a number of rescues who helped her find homes for the kittens and the ones who were tame enough to be adopted. She sent emails with photos of her little proteges to her network of contacts. Using part of her commissions, she gifts pet rescues with donations—she once shipped a washer/dryer to Forever Home Pet Rescue—and takes care of some of the medical bills for pets.

“I do what I can for them,” Reesha said. “If a client wants me to give a donation to their favorite pet rescue, I do—dogs, cats, rabbits, whatever—and to trapping and rescuing, too.”

Mark Vinton, LB Brokerage, [email protected]
woman wiht green apron and short red hair stands with a large man with glasses in a light-blue shirt. The woman holds a small tan dog. They're standing on grass with a cement path and an outbuilding behind them.

Realtor Mark Vinton with Long Beach Animal Care Services volunteer Colleen and a fuzzy little guy who’s up for adoption. Photo by Kate Karp

In the spirit of a disclaimer and also as a handy transition to his own spirit of generosity, Mark Vinton acted as our real estate agent at one time. I told him about Kelly Lopes’ practice of donating part of her commission to charity, and his response went something like, “I do that, too!” Shelter pets were his inspiration.

“One of the things I’ve always done is to visit shelters on my own time,” Vinton said. “I got to where I was bonding with dogs at the shelter waiting to be adopted. One of the ways I give back to the local community is sponsoring shelter animals for folks who want to adopt, meaning that I would pay the adoption fee for them.”

Vinton gives his clients the choice of donating either the adoption fee of a shelter pet for a military veteran who qualifies for adoption or to purchase a bicycle for a child.

“Amazingly, all the clients want the pet option,” he said. During the Thanksgiving season, he said he’d offer only the bike option as balance, no doubt.

Vinton knows that the only way to make a true match between a human and an animal is for the person to actively choose the pet at the shelter. When the veteran finds the new best buddy—cat, dog or rabbit—Vinton provides them with a gift card with enough credit to pay the shelter fee. The veteran completes the application, Vinton gives them a few tips about allowing the animal to adapt to the new environment, and Bob’s your uncle and Fluffy, Fido or Felix is your pet.

“I started out thinking that this would be a way of giving back for us, but it’s become more like a personal thing,” Vinton said. “Every time we get a dog out of the shelter, we feel a great sense of satisfaction.”

Vinton’s favorite adoption was a pit bull named Danny, with whom a former Marine fell madly in love. Vinton utilized his real-estate connections to find a pet-friendly condo with no weight or size restrictions for animals. Danny has since received his paperwork that specifies him as an assistance dog.

Large man in a blue shirt with red lines and wearing sunglasses, the face of a long-haired young woman half concealed by a white bichon frise in a blue collar.

Vinton and his wife, Heilyn, only consider shelter animals for themselves as well. Their latest addition to the family is a little white malti-bichon-something from the shelter in Upland. His name’s Bobby. Yes, Bobby Vinton. Photo courtesy of Mark Vinton.

Jennifer Peterson and Coldwell Banker Coastal Alliance, [email protected]
smiling woman with auburn hair holds a white dog with a black half-mask and one white ear and one black ear.

Jennifer Peterson and her foster, Rebel. Rebel is a senior doggie who’s become the light of Peterson’s life. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Peterson.

Like the other Realtors in the article, Jennifer Peterson gives a percentage of her commission to an animal-welfare organization of the client’s choice. What’s different is that the company she works for has as part of its mission a huge effort to find homes for pets as well as humans.

Peterson is a hyperactive activist for animals—she’s organized protests against pet stores that sell puppy-mill dogs, which was all of them before the Pet Rescue and Adoption Act went into effect Jan. 1. (The act states that stores may sell only pets from rescues and shelters.) There are businesses remaining that flout the laws, and Peterson dogs them as well.

Peterson interviewed with several real estate companies and selected Coldwell Banker Coastal Alliance because of its solid efforts to find homes for pets as well as for humans. Their nationwide Homes for Dogs project, which is done in tandem with Adopt-a-Pet.com, and the localized annual events for all pets called Home at Last have introduced 20,000 animals into new families since the projects started in 2015. The company’s website includes a pet blog that features videos, events, and new-home-related topics identifying pet-friendly neighborhoods and transitioning a dog into a new home.

Marketing director Casey Lukowski plans the local events and is readying the one to be held this Saturday in front of Centinela Feed & Pet Supplies (see Things to do, pets to support and Friday’s adoption column for more details and a few of de tails themselves). Lukowski is a self-proclaimed “rescue mommy” for a pit-bull mix for 11 years—she says she comes by it naturally from her animal-advocate mom.

“We had about seven dogs and 20 cats at one time—it was overwhelming,” Lukowski said.

When Coldwell Banker started the Homes for Dogs and Home at Last programs, Lukowski was the company’s events coordinator. She grabbed at Centinela because of its convenient location in the same shopping center as the company, near the Traffic Circle and Pacific Coast Highway. Lukowski is looking forward to the Saturday, Sept. 28 Home at Last, which will include a raffle and possibly a silent auction. All the proceeds will go toward the rescue groups that attend.

Part of Coldwell Banker’s creativity in finding homes for dogs are seen in its topic-specific videos. They inspire adoption of disabled and senior pets, which the company considers as much turnkey listings as any pet with all its limbs and more recent construction date. Peterson, who is an American Film Institute graduate and has a resume of filmmaking and direction, said that Coldwell Banker’s videos are high-quality platforms for its message and show further commitment of the agency to demonstrate that more pets are adoptable than people might think.

“Coldwell Banker is making content that doesn’t just say ‘go rescue a dog’—it’s actually showing what they do for us as humans, and the human-dog bond and how powerful it can be,” Peterson said. “I was blown away—there’s a video of a young disabled boy and a disabled dog. It makes me cry every time I think about it. The one they put out last year is about adopting a senior dog. And it’s brilliant. I thought, someone’s actually doing a video about how incredible that can be—a little girl picking, out of all the dogs she can choose from, a senior dog at a rescue event. It’s brilliant! And it’s like, they’re not just doing this to sell friggin’ houses!”

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Kate Karp is the Pets Columnist for the Long Beach Post covering the world of animal activism, pet adoptions and lots of cute cats. She’s called Long Beach home since 1994 and has written for the Post for about 10 years. Kate’s day job is as a copyeditor, which she discovered a love for during her 30-year tenure as a teacher. She describes the job as “like taking the rough edges off a beautiful sculpture.”