By Mimi Pollack
Last month, as I was walking around checking out all the booths at a San Diego Humane Society event, I saw two sweet and funny little faces that drew me in. They were two senior Chihuahuas named Fred and Ethel, like the couple who lived next door to Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. What perfect names for those silly little faces!
Fred and Ethel are two lucky pooches that were taken in by Lionel’s Legacy, a nonprofit organization in El Cajon that specializes in rescuing senior dogs.
Lionel’s Legacy was founded in 2011 by elementary school teacher Laura Oliver and her family. Lionel was a 15-year-old pit bull that inspired them to start an organization that specializes in fostering and finding good homes for senior pets.
When Lionel first came to Laura’s family, he was in terrible shape and everyone thought he had little time left to live. He was painfully thin and very scared. Slowly, he began to trust his new family, and more importantly, eat like a lion. He also blossomed into a loving family pet and got along with everyone, including the family cat.
Lionel lived out his last years as a very happy dog, and seeing all this dog had to offer convinced the Oliver family that they needed to do more for other senior dogs. Thus, Lionel’s Legacy was born. Today they advocate for other senior dogs in need through both adoption and fostering. It is their goal to save as many seniors as possible, such as Fred and Ethel.
This bonded pair came to them from San Diego Animal Services. They had been brought to the county shelter after being abandoned in a box on someone’s front porch.
A volunteer at the shelter contacted Lionel’s Legacy on the day Fred and Ethel were to be euthanized. Unfortunately, euthanasia in shelters is a fact of life due to pet overpopulation. For senior dogs, lack of medical resources makes it a double whammy.
Ethel had a persistent cough, and both doggies needed dental work, but thanks to the generosity of the donors at Lionel’s Legacy, the nonprofit was able to commit to taking the pair and providing the necessary care they needed.
Today, Fred and Ethel are happily living in their foster home, but are still on the lookout for someone to fall in love with them, and adopt them both, so they can grow old together.
Lionel’s Legacy not only wants to rescue as many senior dogs as possible, it also wants to educate future dog owners. It’s a mission that builds upon her work as a fourth-grade teacher at Central Elementary in City Heights, where she started the Animal C.A.R.E. Club. The name stands for compassion, advocacy, respect, responsibility and education, and has an impact far beyond pets.
“I’m known as the ‘animal guru’ at Central for students and staff and I recognized how many individuals were coming to me for help regarding pet care, training, accidental and purposeful breeding, medical questions, what to do when animals go missing, and families having to move,” she said. “I decided to start the Animal C.A.R.E. Club out of a need to help my students with their pets, but quickly learned it was about growing a total mindset for how we treat all animals, our planet, and one another.”
“City Heights is a melting pot of people and cultures. We get a lot of refugees, families are on extremely low incomes, parents work multiple jobs all hours of the day and night, many are struggling to learn English, and some have to move frequently due to a lack of income.”
She said the Animal C.A.R.E. Club is an outlet to students who have a passion for animals and the environment. The students get to meet professionals in various animal and environmental fields and learn of possibilities for future careers.
The Animal C.A.R.E. Club is an eight-week, after-school program that works with 35 fourth and fifth graders. There is currently a waiting list to join the club, and Oliver hopes to expand it to other schools, so that more children are reached.
Kudos to Laura Oliver and let’s hope that teachers all over San Diego County will contact her to start Animal C.A.R.E. Clubs of their own.
Mimi Pollack is an English as a Second Language teacher at Grossmont College and a freelance writer.
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