In the season of giving, weary pet rescuers need love, too

It’s the holiday season, and before I start writing the usual twinkly, tinselly, holiday-with-the-pet fluff—that’ll be next week—I need to get serious for a minute.

Rescuers, shelter staff, volunteers, even veterinarians—they’re all exhausted, probably and indirectly because of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Tireless but very tired animal advocates are posting things like “I’ve sacrificed my own health and heart to help save animals,” “So many days, I just want to walk away and move to another country and close my eyes to what’s going on in just the USA alone,” “We have been very busy cleaning up other people’s messes.” Comments like this pop up among multiple posts pleading for help with animal transport, wounded animals, mounting vet bills, adopting pets that used to be in the direst of circumstances and are now adoptable to people who will make the commitment for better or for worse.

Sometimes, the rescues remove the posts out of embarrassment over a rant. They have nothing to be embarrassed about, They work continuously for animals and frequently get rewarded by a perspective that they’re invincible and magical, and exist only to take in a pet that the finder can’t do anything with.

Well, guess what. Animal rescuers are mere humans like the rest of us. The difference is that they have an internal need and desire to help every animal who needs help. Rescues and shelters badly need support. They need funding. They need volunteers. They need adopters—good, able, forever ones—for the animals they take in, and fosters in case you can’t commit right now. They need breeding and mandatory spay/neuter laws enforced, and they need everyone to fix their pets. They need no-cost or low-cost medical care and spay/neuter help. They need you to adopt and not buy from an unregistered breeder, and they need help in getting every stray cat fixed so that they won’t litter the planet. They need you to share their social media posts in the happy off chance of them sticking to someone’s wall and getting results. They need people to not add to their distress by calling them and begging them to take an animal and getting cheesed off when they say they can’t. Maybe cartoonist Patrick McDonnell can get points like these across with gentle humor in his Mutts comic strips, but I don’t have that gift, and besides, I feel cheesed off and helpless, too.

I went to see one of these friends this week, and she looked wrung out as a cat after an hour’s bout with a vacuum cleaner. Sherri Stankewitz and her rescue, Sparky and the Gang, have been featured frequently in The Scratching Post for their nonstop boots-on-the-ground advocacy for injured, homeless, mistreated pets and strays (who may have once been pets), mainly and the transformations they do.

When I got to the building that Sparky shares with the Fix Long Beach pet clinic, a shar-pei and a Dalmatian poked their cold noses against the play yard screen door.

“All the rescues have purebreds now,” Sherri said. “I have more purebreds in my group than I have mutts—a complete reversal. I mean, every rescue has at least one Frenchie. People buy dogs and can’t afford the medical, so they’re dumping them.”

For the first time, Sherri said that she’s not moving dogs out quickly. Even with the rescue’s strict adoption requirements, she’d always been able to find homes for puppies.

“Now, it’s one a week, one a month—I have two puppies who are now 10 months old,” she said. “Never has a puppy grown up in my rescue.”

All the dogs now under Sparky’s umbrella come from Long Beach Animal Care Services because of the extreme and growing number of pets there. Sherri’s distressed by the number of dogs who spend months and sometimes over a year in the shelter because of the rate they’re coming in and the limited space for them, so she’s pulling them out at a similar rate to when she used to take dogs off the streets.

“I hate to walk into the shelter and see dogs in cages in hallways because they have no room,” Sherri said. “The shar-pei was left at the dog park, the Frenchie was dropped off, a poodle was dropped off—we’re trying to take as many as we can.”

Several of the dogs either had contracted or were exposed to parvo, a potentially deadly virus that’s easily preventable with vaccinations. Unable to find a veterinarian able to treat parvo cases because of a veterinarian shortage, Sherri and the volunteers stayed with the dogs at the clinic, caring for them in isolation into the night.

“They were so flea infested, their gums were yellow, they were extremely weak, dehydrated, anemic and unable to even get an IV line due to low blood,” Sherri said. “We syringe-fed them little by little every hour.”

Like I said, rescue isn’t magic, and it takes superhuman efforts to do it right. Sherri may be a superhuman, but she’s indeed dog tired. She admits to occasional despair over the animal-advocacy situation in general.

“A lot of rescues are burned out financially,” she said “You can get grants, but do you want to sit up at night after cleaning up kennels full of mess and write them? It’s a very sad time, it’s very scary how many animals are sitting in the shelters for years. We’re not talking about months—it’s years.”

The lack of enforcement of breeding and mandatory spay/neuter laws also troubles her. “Heck, we have it everywhere!” she said. “We won’t hold to our own policies. Procedures aren’t followed, it’s a free-for-all. There’s no enforcement”

Understandably, she’s concerned about her future as a rescuer.

“There has to be a day when I can no longer do this,” she said. “I’d really like to slow down. I’m getting tired. I’d love a Sunday where I just wouldn’t have to care for dogs. I’d just sleep. Brunch with my friends like the good old days. I always tell other people to take care of themselves, but . . .”

I asked Sherri what she and other rescues need from the rest of us. There’s donations, of course, both cash and in-kind, and helping to volunteer to walk and cuddle dogs, change the litter boxes of the occasional cat, clean poop in the play yards, foster a pet. Forward her posts, and please, please don’t call her with a dumped dog. Come in to volunteer.

“And just be committed and follow through with animals,” she said. “I think people just aren’t committing, not just to animals but with everything else. We have to connect.”

This holiday season, remember rescue and shelter volunteers and the animals they love. A list of rescues is always at the end of Scratching Post articles, and you can find their donation links.

Donate to Sparky and the Gang at this link or Venmo @sparkyrescue. To volunteer or find out what’s on their wish list, email [email protected].

Virtually pets

Follow this link to find out how to adopt any of the pets that Sparky and the Gang is fostering. Here are a few candidates:


Dalmatian sits up on wood floor and towel, head cocked to one side

Nala, only 5 months old, is a Dalmatian whom Sparky and the Gang pulled from the shelter. Dalmatians, like most big dogs, need a lot of exercise and are extremely sweet and loyal but can be very protective of their humans. The breed is unique in their spotted patterns, but they’re not decoration, fashion accessories or Flinty the Fire Station Dog, which is likely how Nala wound up dumped after her owner found out that the dog has needs, too.


face of tan Great Dane mix with floppy ears and long snout.

Zeus is a Great Dane/Doberman mix, but the Gang at Sparky think he looks more Danish. He’s a big softy and loves to meet people on his walks. He does well with other dogs, too. He’s also great in the car and enjoys the ride to dog parks, a hike, a trip or dining out. He’s 2 years old and about 100 pounds of pure love. He’s currently in a foster home with another dog—they run, play and sleep well together.

adorable gray and white poodle mix sits, paws forward, on the grass and looks at camera

Miss Holly was found as a stray on the street and brought to Long Beach Animal Care Services. No one came to claim her, and Sparky thinks that she was dumped. When the Sparky volunteers arrived at the shelter to pick up another little guy in need of major medical, they noticed Holly sitting in her cage looking sad, so of course, you know what happened. Holly needed minor surgery and medication to treat an infection and is now on the mend. She’s now looking for a foster home or a forever home.


tan French bulldog stands on cement near body of water

And then, there are the French bulldogs. Sparky has five of them, all with fosters, and Dugan’s one of them. Again, Frenchies are a popular breed and are also among the breeds most likely to be stolen for breeding and selling the puppies at exorbitant prices, usually into the thousands. Dugan’s been neutered, so he’s safe in that respect, but like all other brachycephalic breeds, e.g., English bulldogs and Persian cats, they are subject to breathing difficulties. Anyone wanting to adopt one—and please adopt instead of buying one online—needs to be aware of this. Could be that that’s how Dugan wound up in a rescue.


A helping paw

Pet License Amnesty extended to Dec. 31

 The city of Long Beach has extended the fee and penalty waivers for pet licenses to Dec. 31. Anyone living in the highlighted Community Development Block grant neighborhoods, as shown on the above map, may request a waiver by phone at 562-570-7387, by applying by mail at 7700 E. Spring St., or in person at the shelter. The waiver program is not available online. Visit this link for license requirements. Call 562-570-7387 for additional information.

Great furballs of fun!

Courtesy of Long Beach Animal Care Services


Home for the Pawlidays: Saturday, Nov. 12, 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Long Beach Towne Center, 7460 E. Carson St., Long Beach, adoption fees apply.


Find the perfect furry friend to spend the holidays with! Join Long Beach Animal Care Services, The Little Lion Foundation, The Cat Cove rescue, the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation and PetSmart for our third annual Home for the Pawliday’s Adoption Event and Craft Fair. You can pick up holiday gifts from local craft vendors, and 200 dogs and cats will be waiting for their holiday gifts—forever-and-ever homes. Don’t miss out on photos with Santa! Come out to this fun family event, and if your pet’s on Santa’s good list—that is, vaccinated, leashed and well behaved, they’re invited, too! This is an indoor event, rain or shine. Located in the Long Beach Towne Center next to Sam’s Club and Bob’s Furniture Store.

Pupsgiving book-signing party: Saturday, Nov. 19, 2 p.m.–5 p.m., Barnes & Noble, 6326 Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach, $40 admission includes signed book, swag bag, raffle tickets, and lunch for humans and dogs.

Grab your pooch and join author and YouTube channel host Katy Cable for an early Thanksgiving picnic and the release of her new book, “Katy Cable’s Party With Your Pup!” On the menu for friends with any number of legs will be cranberry cocktails, pumpkin mousse pie, and all kinds of recipes from her book, including something called Pilgrim Patties! Meet dog-celebrities and learn tips for throwing the perfect “dog-inclusive” party for every month if the year, all in her book! What a gift idea!

$40 includes admission to event for you and your dog, signed book, sWAG goody bag, and raffle tickets. Attendance is limited, so RSVP by calling Barnes & Noble at 562-431-2253.

 Foster for awhile—or furever!

National Adoption Week event, featuring Zazzy Cats: Saturday, Nov. 12 and Sunday, Nov. 13, 11 a.m.–4 p.m., see graphic for PetSmart locations

Zazzy Cats are, well—just zazzy! The Zazzy crew would be jazzed if you gave your home some pizazz with one of their fabulous felines!

Long Beach Animal Care Services has expanded adoption hours as follows: Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Guests are welcome to browse until closing. To speed up any adoption process, email [email protected]. To foster, email [email protected].

If you’ve always wanted a pet but aren’t sure if you’re ready for a lifetime (the animal’s) commitment, or if you’re past the pet-roommate days for any reason, fostering might be a great way to go, especially with one or more of the kittens popping up during kitten season. Every one of the organizations listed below is in desperate need of fosters who’ll social them and help save their little lives. Who knows—maybe one of those lives will change your mind about the not-ready-for-roommate thing!

These nonprofits also regularly feature cat, dog and rabbit adoptions. As of now, adoptions are mainly by appointment. Click on the links for each rescue in case of updates or changes. These organizations operate through donations and grants, and anything you can give would be welcome. Please suggest any Long Beach-area rescues to add to the list. Keep in mind that the rescues are self-supporting and need donations and volunteer help. Most of them cannot accept found or unwanted pets. Contact Long Beach Animal Care Services for options.

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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.”