Laura Dash is a former stunt double on movies including Jurassic Park, Interview with a Vampire, The Goonies, Hook, and many more.
After 9/11, Hollywood slowed down and Dash found herself with a lot of downtime. A lifelong dog lover who had rescued several dogs personally, she decided to use her new free time to help dogs in need. She began to volunteer at local dog rescues and spent time at the LA shelters. She decided to become a professional dog trainer and to devote her time to help save the Chihuahuas who overran the shelters there.
Now she’s got a new TV show called Second Chance Chihuahuas on Nat Geo WILD. Cameras follow her and her husband Jim Peterson as they run Dolittle’s Ranch in Studio City, California, where they have rescued more than 2,000 Chihuahuas over the past 10 years. She uses what she calls “The Four R’s” – Rescue, Remedy, Rest, Rehome – to help these dogs find their happy endings in new forever homes.
Her ranch also does board and training, using 100 percent positive methods. iHeartDogs was able to interview Dash about the amazing work she does at Dolittle’s Ranch.
How did you get involved rescuing Chihuahuas, in particular?
Dash: When I was a kid I always loved Chihuahuas. I had a great aunt whose Chihuahua had a huge litter of puppies and she ended up giving them out to the family–my first Chihuahua. Since then, I was hooked. Now, with mass media and people wanting to be like celebrities or movies, etc., the dogs I love have become one of the most euthanized. The shelters are full of these little dogs. So, while we rescue mostly small dogs, we definitely lean towards Chihuahuas.
How does Hollywood (movies, celebs, etc.) affect dog owner “fads”?
Dash: People feel linked or in touch with things, I guess by being like them or copying them. So they see a celebrity or movie with a kind of animal and that emotional need pops up and says, “I want to be like that movie or celebrity.” If an animal is involved, that animal may become a highly desired “accessory.”
But then the reality of owning this animal and being responsible for this little life comes with it – the barking, the damage, the poop, the training needs, the health bills, etc. – all this hits home and so for some, the answer is to dump them off in our city shelters.
Do you think there is any way to prevent this?
Dash: Since this is a human nature issue, in my opinion, education and constant information are pretty much the only way to help manage or alleviate this problem. Keeping up and upgrading spay and neuter laws/programs to include more low/no cost spay and neuter solutions, and having public service announcements reminding people that an animal is a life, not an accoutrement, will help.
People love meters that count down to a goal…the city should keep a statistical meter of how many Chihuahuas, as well as Pit Bulls, are in city shelters, and how many are euthanized. As we do better, the meter on rescued will grow and the meter on euthanized dogs will lower, hopefully to zero.
What would you rather see from Hollywood (both in movies and by the stars themselves) in terms of promoting dog ownership?
Dash: I think it’s first important we don’t “blame” celebrities, or advertisements, or whatever, for “causing” animal overpopulation. We, the people, are the ones getting and then giving up these little lives.
In my opinion, Paris Hilton or Taco Bell is not making anyone “get a dog”. But this said, conscientious celebrities and companies that consider the peoples’ human nature and back education are truly helping prevent animal overpopulation.
PSA’s with celebrities are always an effective way to get info out there, talking about dogs being a lifetime commitment, not a fad or accessory, things like that. Celebrity or company endorsed information and spay and neuter programs would do well (as we saw with Bob Barker).
Also, there is a huge arena for therapy/service dogs that can help thousands of people (and get thousands of dogs out of shelters), from the handicapped, to emotionally distressed, to disabled veterans, and so on. This need could use some celebrity or company attention. Whatever is promoted, “enjoyable responsibility,” like that of having a child, should be the core message.
What needs to happen to curb the Chihuahua overpopulation problem and how can people help?
Dash: Education, information, and training. While getting dogs in homes is important, keeping them in these homes is needed almost as much. Most of all, spay and neuter your Chihuahua. Please don’t buy from “backyard breeders” or pet store. Rescue a Chihuahua from your local shelter or rescue group and truly save a life in need while supporting a system that is working. Make a lifetime commitment to your dog–try not to get a dog on impulse.
It is not my place to tell someone how to run their life, but with a little thought and planning before you commit, and a slight investment in training, you won’t have to dump that little life you’ve made a commitment to off at a shelter, or worse. As said: education. I keep going back to it.
Regarding whether to adopt myself, I guess I felt it was important to “know thyself” ; was my life ready for a dog and all that comes with it? Do I have the resources? Time? If you answer yes to these things, like I did, then you’re ready to adopt.
What’s the goal of your new show on National Geographic?
Dash: We have a kind of “Law and Order” format to the show, so to speak. We take you through the “Four R’s.” You will see the entire rescue process – from the shelters or back yards to the vets and surgeries, the struggle of recuperation, and finally, the rehoming, their forever home…the fun part!
It’s all about education and positive solution. Our focus on Chihuahuas came early when both myself and the producers wanted to do something about the Chihuahua epidemic we have in our shelters nationwide, about how many thousands of unwanted Chihuahuas are out there still, dying, every day.
On a personal note, pursuing ‘No-Kill’ Shelter legislation on a city, state and maybe someday, on a National level, is a very passionate pursuit of mine.
You can see Laura in Second Chance Chihuahuas premiering Saturday, April 16, at 9/8c on Nat Geo WILD.
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