Concerts, events, soccer, Big 10 beatdowns and UCLA losses are the major events held here throughout the year, but it is the off days, the quieter moments, that I like best. And no day was better than one perfect October morning when some deserving shelter dogs found new homes.
A parade without roses or television cameras is underway. Four-legged ghosts and ghouls congregate on the fields just south of the Rose Bowl. The air is crisp, daresay autumnal at 7:50 a.m., and the Rescue Train, along with six other nonprofit animal rescue groups and two city shelters, is sponsoring the Race for the Rescues, a 5k run/walk with a doggie costume show and celebrity art sale.
“The reality is, the city itself has to kill about 600 dogs and cats per week,” says Lisa Young, director of the Rescue Train. “We have one of the highest euthanasia rates in any metropolitan city in the United States. The sad and shocking statistic most animal lovers in Los Angeles do not realize is that each week hundreds of adoptable dogs and cats are euthanized.”
On this day, 17 lucky shelter dogs, costumed and prepped for adoption, mingle with the collared purebred dogs brought by their owners for the race. It’s very Lady and the Tramp.
A black lab wearing a witch’s hat sniffs a bulldog in a bumblebee suit. A small chihuahua-variant with only three legs wears a petite sweater saying, “Bitches ? Me.” A poodle sporting devil horns puts the moves on a pit bull mix with white wings and an angel halo.
Near a hundred competitors and companions take their places at the starting line as Best in Show and The 40-Year-Old Virgin actress Jane Lynch sounds the horn. Against tough competition, yellow lab Maggie and her owner Eric are the winning tandem. One small terrier can’t quite contain her excitement and leaves a surprise for her fellow competitors four feet from the finish line.
The racers then gather for refreshments in the makeshift village of sponsors’ tents and art displays. Courtney Cox is handing out samples of electrolyte-nourishing coconut water from Brazil under the watchful eyes of Victor and Rosie, two long-haired dachshunds dressed as pumpkins.
A small line forms to meet “Sinbad,” the part-Afghan, part-Doberman, part-Swiss Mountain Dog mascot for the California Firefighters’ Association. Several smaller children ask their parents if the massive Sinbad is a lion.
Artist Elisa Leonetti stands alongside the Walk of Paws gallery featuring celebrity hand and paw prints on colorful paintings for auction. There’s Drew Barrymore and her Flossie, Jessica Alba and her Bowie, Jason Biggs and his Edgar and Harry.
“I pre-paint the paintings, and then the celebrities and their dogs put on their prints,” Leonetti explains.
“I had a hard time painting for Paula Abdul. I had to channel her vibe. David Faustino was stoned when he did his,” she points to a vivid, chaotic canvas.
Having bid on the artwork and full of coconut water, the crowd spreads out on the grass as Lynch and her Lhasa Apso, Olivia, host the Halloween Rescue Revue, and the 17 shelter dogs up for adoption strut their stuff down a green turf runway.
“I hope they all find homes,” Lynch says before taking the stage. “There’s a special quality to a rescue dog, there’s a gratitude about them. It’s extremely satisfying when we can take care of our most vulnerable animals.”
The first model is a tiny rat terrier named Jade whose stuffed pumpkin head keeps falling off. Trooper, a completely deaf retriever mix, dresses as a purple-sequined pimp and dwarfs Chippy, a chihuahua “security guard.” The real champ is Laddie, an aged poodle with a deformed front paw.
Lynch points out the positive: “Look, she’s always in second position!”
And with true ballerina grace, Laddie pliés down the runway.
Many of these rescue dogs were once “red-listed” in city shelters, scheduled for euthanasia. Some are past their prime, looking for a home in their twilight years. Others have medical conditions and need immediate care.
To a soundtrack of Aretha Franklin’s “Rescue Me,” the 17 take one last parade in front of the audience. Some will find new parents, others will not.
In the shadow of the Rose Bowl, on a quiet Sunday that will go quite unnoticed beyond this hidden canyon, in this costumed parade of sailors with tri-corner hats, baggy-clothed clowns, devils with horns, lady bugs with antennae and caped vampires, there’s only one accessory missing – collars with a tag and address.