Sheilah Aragon

Sheilah Aragon
Sheilah Aragon

I was born to be a rescuer! It took me many years to realize it, but rescue is my purpose.

Saving lives is what gives my life worth.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” — those are Gandhi’s words but, for me they resonate deeply.
I hate complacency, I refuse to do nothing when I can do something.  For me there is nothing more magical then being a part of a sick or injured animals healing.   It’s difficult to explain and until you experience what it feels like to hold life in your hands, it’s hard to describe.  The ability to give life, comfort and love to a sick, injured, abused or emotionally damaged animal is for me JOY.  And at the end of all the hard work and sacrifice are the adopter’s.   The ability to bring love and happiness to someone’s life is what VISA card commercials are made of – PRICELESS!  When I receive a letter, email or note from an adopter thanking me and sharing the love they feel for their new companion, it’s confirmation I made the right choice.

I grew up in a multiple pet household. We had dogs and cats and birds and fish, we even had a goat that lived in the back yard with our dog who thought he was a dog.  My dad & step-mom were animal lovers and would often bring home strays off the streets. Being surrounded by animals was  normal in my home.  My first solo rescue was at the age of approximately eight when I brought home a little Yorkie I found sitting in the middle of a mud puddle.  Like most rescuers, I love animals and as a child I fantasized about  being the next Jane Goodall….. living in some far away land studying and becoming one with exotic animals but life led me down a different road.   Every time I saw a wandering dog or a suffering animal I was haunted, couldn’t turn away and eventually got the courage & confidence to do something.

I started out as many rescuers do, volunteering for other groups. I started out at the Amanda Foundation walking dogs on my lunch break while working for a literary agency around the corner.  Not only did it help with a stressful job, but it gave me the opportunity to do what my heart secretly yearned to do.  All the while, living across the street from me was living one of the most amazing dogs, a perfect example of people who adopt dogs to live a lonely existence in a yard as a “security alarm”.  Diesel, a Boxer mix, was such a dog. She lived alone in a dirt yard, behind bars day and night, rain or shine. She didn’t receive the love and affection she deserved but desperately craved.  Her job was to make noise and scare strangers away. I’m certain this role was not one she would have chosen given a choice. The same passers by she barked at would instantly become her friends if they took the time to stop and say hello or extend a friendly hand.  I befriended Diesel and would often visit her through the bars while the humans were away. We were having a secret love affair. If she were in the front yard when I walked out my door, her eyes would light up as she wiggled and pranced from one side of the fence to the other begging me over for a scratch or a treat. She devoured the attention and through the years we developed a strong bond. It broke my heart to see this beautiful girl with so much love living a lonely isolated life.

As more of life moved on, I continued working with different rescues and the LAAS mobile adoptions. While volunteering at LAAS I continually witnessed people who (in my humble opinion) should not be allowed to adopt an animal. As a volunteer I had no authority, no voice for the animals and that frustrated me. I knew there had to be a better way…. a way to screen people to make sure the animals adopted were going into good homes and living as loving family members forever.

One day (let’s just say it was fate) Diesel came to live with me. Living in a one bedroom apartment and accustomed to one small dog, I didn’t see how she could be happy living with us. I found a rescue group who told me I could bring her to Petco where they held mobile adoptions in order to try to find her a home. It was at that adoption I met one of my dearest friends who has been instrumental in leading me down the road to rescue,  Andrea Lewis.  She took so much care and time explaining how adoptions worked. I had no idea there were organized events that people could take dogs they either found or rescued to find them homes. Before that day, I thought to be a rescuer you had to have a lot of money.  Ha, little did I know being a rescuer meant you would always be broke!  It was a life changing day for me, and Diesel. As I prepared to leave my heart broke and I burst into tears at the thought of giving her up, what if I never saw her again!  I knew in that moment no matter what it took, no matter what I had to sacrifice, no matter how I had to change my life, this dog and I were meant to be together forever.   My life was never to be the same and neither was Diesel’s who got a new leash on life as well as a new name – Daisy Doodlebug!  MY Daisy Doodlebug or officially Miss Daisy Sunshine.   Perfect in every way, she is the light of my life, the sunshine in my day and my inspiration!

After Daisy came Oliver but Oliver is a sad story. He was a tenacious pit bull mix and knowing nothing about pit bulls back then or training he was too much dog for me and he would often get into fights at the dog park. I hired a trainer to work with us and he offered to take Oliver into his pack to be his dog. I thought how lucky he would be to have such an active life with lots of friends. As much as I loved Oliver, I wanted unselfishly to do what was best for him and I agreed he could adopt Oliver. Three weeks later, I dropped him off, we said our good-byes and although I was sad, I knew he would be happy and I would be seeing him again soon.

Sheilah and Oliver

Very early the next morning I received a call that Oliver had jumped out  of the car just 45 minutes after I had dropped him off the day before and  was hit by a car. He struggled to survive for hours but died of his injuries in the early morning hours.   I WAS DEVASTATED!!!  Oliver’s death haunts me to this day. I should have been there with him, I should never have taken the easy way out, I was so overwhelmed with guilt.

Instead of stepping up and committing to training him and working through his issues, I gave him up. It was then that I vowed training, or lack of it, would NEVER be a reason to give a dog up. To this day I regret giving Oliver up but I’ve tried to turn that experience into something positive. Losing Oliver was a pivotal turning point in my life and thus began my life as a rescuer as well as a quest to understand dogs. I became obsessed and devoured information, worked with as many different trainers as I could and as I did I become aware of all the amazing dogs being dumped in shelters simply because of LACK of training. I am one of the few rescues who require training as a part of my adoption contract.  I realize a dog may be passed over by a potential adopter because of my training policy and that’s OK by me.  Most adopters understand the importance of training and thank me for the education we provide.

Days after losing Oliver, animals started crossing my path literally on a daily basis as if Oliver had made room for them showing them the way to my door. Dogs, cats and even a rabbit turned up on my doorstep. I took it as a sign and Mutt Match L.A. was born.

Sheilah and Sophia

I started out slow one dog at a time but soon there were three,  four …..

There have been trials, errors and sacrifice. I’ve lost friends & family and made friends & family.  I’ve lived through heart breaks, frustration, exhausting sleepless nights filled with worry, anxiety, stress and I wouldn’t be a rescuer without an empty bank account.  But, there is so much love and so much joy that far out weighs all the difficult days or material possessions. I love being a rescuer. It is my addiction of choice.

My older brother knew at the age of 8 he wanted to be a doctor and today he is. I am very proud of him but I always envied commitment and thought how lucky he was to have known so young what it was he was called in life to do. It is a huge relief to finally know who I am and what makes my life worthwhile. Rescue is the hardest thing I’ve ever done but also the most satisfying.   I have no regrets.  Well, just one.  I would do (just about) anything to have Oliver back but maybe I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for that painful loss.  I try to convince myself, if not for Oliver maybe all the dogs I’ve had a hand in saving wouldn’t have otherwise been saved.  Maybe his role in my life was to help me discover who I was meant to be.

I often get asked why I do it…..why do I sacrifice so much for a dog and my answers will always be the same – First and foremost because I believe all animals deserve to be loved!  They didn’t ask to be brought into this world, we owe it to them to keep them safe and loved.  Second, the God-given ability to do something that matters;  Third, the courage to grow up and become who I was meant to be;  Four, all the Oliver’s in the world sitting in a shelter who someone gave up on; Five, the amazing people I’ve met along my journey; my circle of friends who believe in me, what I do and keep me pushing forward; Six, the gift of seeing a sick or injured animal well again; Seven, people who make the choice to adopt  instead of buy from puppy mills; Eight, the gratitude I receive from families/individuals thanking me for bringing love and joy into their lives; Nine the satisfaction knowing I have lived my life  doing something that truly matters to me and Ten…

my Dad, my best friend and biggest supporter, the one who taught me the importance of dreams, tenacity and unconditional love.   He said to me once “this life is my gift to you, how you live it is your gift to me” and I’ve never forgotten those words.   I hope he’s proud of me.

What’s in it for me? JOY!

I may never receive a Nobel Peace prize or cure cancer, but today I saved a dog.