Celebs rally to save orphaned pets

Actor Minnie Driver, shown with her black lab, Bubba, helped promote the cause of animal rescue at the "Hang Paws" fundraiser for the nonprofit Pet Orphans of Southern California.

The “Hang Paws” festival at Bluffs Park raises money for the animal rescue and humane education programs of the non profit organization, Pet Orphans of Southern California.

By Susan Reines/Special to The Malibu Times

Sunday’s star-studded Pet Orphans of Southern California fundraiser, “Hang Paws,” featured agility and herding demonstrations, a question-and-answer session with trainers and veterinarians, and celebrity-judged pet contests. Money raised from the event will go toward the organization’s programs.

“I love animals,” said actor Minnie Driver, standing on the sun-soaked Malibu Bluffs with her black lab, Bubba. Driver has been known for her activism in women’s labor rights, but the self-proclaimed animal lover was wearing another hat Sunday, promoting the cause of Pet Orphans of Southern California. “If I’m here, I’ll always come out and support it,” she said.

For 31 years, Pet Orphans has been rescuing animals from euthanization at overcrowded shelters throughout Los Angeles County and has found new homes for them. One member of Pet Orphans’ Board of Directors, Leslie Campbell, is a Malibu resident. The organization brought 18 homeless dogs to Sunday’s festival and received four applications for adoptions.

A star panel that included George Stults and Maria Menounos judged the pet contest. A Pomeranian in a pink dress and a bulldog puppy that got a case of nerves and threw up on stage were named Mr. and Miss Canine Malibu. Seal Beach resident Lonnie Dean and his French bulldog, Pudge, came dressed as a pair of cowboys and captured the overall grand prize.

Money from the fundraiser will go not only to Pet Orphans’ rescue efforts, but also to the organization’s humane education programs, which aim to stem the tide of pets flowing into shelters by teaching people how to best train and care for animals. A recently developed school program has already educated more than 17,000 Los Angeles County students.

“The whole idea is that if we get to them young enough we can actually make a dent in the huge amount of animal over-population,” said Jan Brown, Pet Orphans public relations representative.

The programs teach children how to approach pets, how to be responsible pet owners, and why pets should be spayed and neutered. Darlene Schwartz, manager of Pet Orphans’ Human Education Programs, said one human is born for every 15 dogs and 45 cats that are born.

“They [the students] don’t understand,” Schwartz said. “They think it’s good for them to have babies. I tell them OK, then for the rest of your life you’re going to be taking care of 15 dogs and 45 cats.”

Schwartz stood behind an education booth Sunday, one hand gesturing with the golden retriever puppet she uses to teach students how to approach dogs. She stuck out the fingers of her other hand, palm up, and the dog nips them. Schwartz turned her hand over and the dog happily sniffed her wrist. She went to pet the top of the dog’s head and he scuttled away. She scratched his shoulder, where he can see her hand, and he was content.

Schwartz and Alison Crawford, the Humane Education Program coordinator who accompanies Schwartz to schools, say students respond enthusiastically to the program. “When they say, ‘Can we do it again?’ that is just the best complement,” Crawford said.

The third prong of Pet Orphans’ services is financial assistance for pet owners who face abandoning their pets if they cannot find money for medication or behavioral training.

Pet Orphans officials said they haven’t tallied the amount of money raised from the event. But judging from the large crowd that showed up, the fundraiser will likely save more than a few pet orphans.