Saving homeless pets and finding them loving homes is this SingularCity member’s passion with Forte Animal Rescue, the animal rescue she founded in 2003.
Rescuing animals from certain death and placing them in loving homes is SingularCity member Marie Atake’s forte with Forte Animal Rescue, a non-profit volunteer-based organization she created to find homes for dogs that otherwise wouldn’t be given a chance at life.
“I’ve always been an animal lover since I was a kid,” Atake said emphatically.
Though her appreciation for animals began at a young age, her desire to save animals blossomed in the mid ‘90s when she volunteered for the no-kill Best Friends Animal Society. She’d been disturbed for a long time by the number of animals put to death by pounds and so-called animal shelters. Although she was reluctant to take on the responsibility — knowing how exhausting and seemingly endless the problem of unwanted pets was — she launched the Forte Animal Rescue. Since then, Forte has placed more than 1,100 dogs into loving homes.
Her accomplishments did not come without its share of complications. In 2005, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed Atake as a commissioner on the board of the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services (LAAS). She held the volunteer position until 2007, when her better judgment compelled her to resign due to what she says was the administration’s corruption and unwillingness to correct wrongs in the department.
In an open letter to Villaraigosa and in an article published in the Daily News, Atake detailed her grievances with the LAAS and with Ed Boks, who was then its general manager, concluding her statement with, “I am resigning my position as a commissioner because I can no longer, in good conscience, be a part of such demoralization.”
“Resignation was the only way to point out their wrong doings,” Atake said, referring to LAAS declaring March a “no-kill month” and still killing more than 600 animals – not to mention her concern with the misuse of the city’s website to promote a bikini contest. That prompted media attention, including a special report from ABC 7 News.
The LAAS is now determined to become a no-kill, or at minimum a low-kill organization, and with the help of people like Atake, the city just might succeed where other cities have not. Since then, Atake and Forte Animal Rescue have received multiple awards and commendations from the Los Angeles City Council, recognizing her selfless pursuit of humane treatment for homeless pets in the county. The Los Angeles City Council also appointed her to the city’s Spay/Neuter Advisory Committee, which oversaw the mandatory spay/neuter ordinance and while serving on this committee, Atake received her 4th Certificate of Recognition from the City Council.
Every Saturday afternoon, Forte holds its weekly adoptions at the Centinela Feed and Pet Supplies store in Los Angeles. You’ll see Atake and her group of volunteers clad in their burgundy shirts donning authentic smiles from the fulfilling service they offer the community.
Over the years, Atake and her dedicated volunteers have dealt with their share of heartbreak, as well as joy. Many neglected and abused dogs have come through Forte and eventually made their way into the lives of people willing to go the extra mile to provide a safe and loving environment where these animals can thrive.
Many of their dogs come from pounds and the street, a distinction that Atake likes to clarify. Although it’s more politically correct to refer to them as shelters, Atake asserted, “Until they stop killing, I won’t call them a shelter.
“I cannot imagine volunteering at a pound myself. It’s really an emotionally draining type of volunteering,” she added. “You go to the pound and you get attached to some animals and the next day you go and many have already been put to death. Those volunteers are going through that a lot,” Atake said. “However, when they see the animals they care about get out alive — that’s very encouraging.”
Atake said one of the most difficult parts of her work is choosing which dogs to save from the pound. “I can’t play God, so I often accept the dogs these shelter volunteers plead with us to save. Yes, we are there to save the dogs, but I also want to give moral support to those volunteers.”
Atake explains that some animals are more easily adopted than others. Golden Retrievers and Poodles fare much better than Chihuahuas and Pit Bulls, as do lighter colored dogs. Bigger and older dogs have a much harder time finding homes, as people generally are more inclined to want a puppy.
But puppies require much more attention initially, Atake said. Mature dogs are more likely to be house-broken and are just as capable of providing their owners with love and adoration for the rest of their days.
Despite all the volunteers, Forte still incurs hefty charges when seeking homes for these animals. Besides requiring liability insurance, each dog costs $15 a day for room and board in a local kennel and many need veterinary care. With so many displaced animals in Los Angeles, the work never ends.
“You place one dog and two more come in,” she said. “Volunteers at the pound call Forte and say, ‘This is a really good dog, please help. Or this is an old dog, he shouldn’t have this kind of fate at the end of his life.’”
Forte is always seeking more volunteers or people willing to donate to their cause, but lately with the recession, donations are down. “We really are having a hard time, especially with this economy,” she said.
With some dogs taking much longer than others to get adopted, the costs of placing one dog can easily become so monumental that the $300 adoption fee doesn’t even make a dent to what it takes to provide care for the dog — not to mention the medical costs in addition to spaying or neutering the dog, thus leaving Forte reliant on donations from the public and foster home volunteers.
One such dog, Minnie, a Shepherd mix, has been with Forte for two and a half years. Between grooming, medical, training and kennel fees, Minnie has cost nearly $17,000.
“It makes us laugh when people accuse us of making money with the adoption fees,” Atake said.
Though Minnie has been one of the biggest placement challenges, Forte still boasts many success stories with one standing out in Atake’s mind as particularly heartwarming.
Forte rescued a Rottweiler named Mirabelle from the pound and placed an adoption ad in The Argonaut in Marina del Rey. Mirabelle was old and as a large breed, Atake thought it would be another hard case to place. Mirabelle’s adopter saw the newspaper ad where it had been used as packing material in a box containing something he’d purchased on EBay. It was right after their family dog, a Rottweiler passed away. He promptly contacted Forte and the rest was history.
Atake’s determination to provide these animals with the dignity and the respect they deserve makes her a true singular standout. Forte houses anywhere between 40 to 50 dogs at any given time and needs contributions to ensure that it can carry on with its desired goal of uniting healthy and loving pets with adopters willing to provide a loving environment.
“I’m not sure if I can say it’s fulfilling,” she said. “But it’s strengthening me spiritually and teaches me what life is all about.”
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