BY CANDY PARKER
Natalie Garcia really loves animals. Sure, you say, don’t we all? But I mean Garcia really loves our four-legged, furry friends – so much so that she recently announced the launch of MaeDay, a labor of love in the form of a non-profit organization committed to helping the homeless animal population, generating awareness of the plight of stray animals and providing education regarding the importance of spaying/neutering animals. The organization focuses its efforts in La Ventana, Baja, Mexico, and Los Angeles, California.
While Garcia’s dream of creating MaeDay was just recently realized, she’s been actively involved in independent rescue efforts since 2010, re-homing, rescuing and networking hundreds of animals, a passion borne from the tragic loss of her beloved Maggie Mae.
Maggie Mae was lost after Garcia, who at the time was building her career as a TV and red carpet host, was involved in a rollover car accident. Both Maggie Mae, her companion of five years, and Pistache, a Mexican street dog she had been fostering, escaped before Garcia could pull herself from the wreckage. After a trip to the hospital, Garcia’s full focus turned to searching for the two lost pups.
With the aide of volunteers across Los Angeles and Orange County Pistache was found after five days, smelly and scared, but alive. Sadly, two days later Garcia’s beloved Maggie Mae was found, killed by a train. Garcia took the pain of losing her cherished Maggie Mae, the lessons learned from the week-long search and the insights gained from the healing process and decided to dedicate her life to animal rescue.
From 2010 to 2014, Garcia served as the Chief Animal Officer for Sweet travel, organizing volunteer opportunities, adoption events and spay/neuter clinics in Mexico for the eco-friendly travel company’s guests. Through these efforts, Garcia gained experience working alongside Mexican rescue organizations, finding homes for dozens of Mexican animals.
Garcia’s vision for MaeDay includes sponsoring animal education/awareness programs for children in Mexico, purchasing a large property for housing homeless dogs and cats and establishing biannual spay and neuter clinics in rural parts of Mexico.
Right now, Garcia is busy preparing for a MaeDay’s upcoming benefit photo shoot on June 28. For the event, MaeDay Rescue will pull 20 dogs from high-kill shelters in Los Angeles and photograph them with models and celebrities who have volunteered their support. Currently, Garcia is seeking support for the event in the form of donations, volunteers to assist with the logistics on June 28, a plane ticket to fly a model from New York City to Los Angeles, professional hair and make-up artists and fosters for the 20 dogs who’ll be featured in the photo shoot. For information on how to get involved, visit www.maedayrescue.com.
I was able to talk with Garcia shortly after MaeDay’s launch and learn more about her passion project, how people can get involved in their own communities and why it’s important to adopt rather than buy an animal.
MaeDay is focusing on rescue efforts in the Los Angeles, California, and La Ventana, Baja, Mexico, areas. Given that you’re based in Los Angeles, the connection there makes sense, but why did you choose to focus on the La Ventana area?
I have always had a soft spot for Mexican dogs, since Pistache was my first foster and she and I went through so much due to the accident. Her survival and strength has always inspired me to help her fellow “primos” or cousins in Mexico.
I met many animal rescue connections in the Cancun area through Sweet, but wanted to find somewhere in Mexico that was closer to Los Angeles and made more geographical sense. I met Olivia Withington at the Cozumel shelter a few years back, while volunteering with Sweet. She has since moved to La Ventana, Baja Sur, California to work for her family’s company. She and I have always hit it off and we have the same animal rescue ideas and goals.
Since La Ventana is only about a three hour commute, it made sense. It’s a very small fishing community, with a lot of poverty, which means a lot of animals that are in need. In the last few months Olivia has already done a lot to better the La Ventana community, but was in need of financial, networking and spay/neutering assistance. So we teamed up and MaeDay is raising money and putting together what I hope will be a mini Sweet-like trip where we will take over a small hotel, volunteer at the clinic, have entertainment, give back to a community and, of course, have fun!
We know you’ve been involved in rescue efforts for some time. Do you have a rescue story (or two) that really stand out to you, “favorites,” if you will?
That’s so hard to pick! Seeing sad animals turn into happy souls with healing and love is always a great story to me. But, when I was volunteering at a clinic in Cancun about year ago, there was a very skinny dog outside the clinic who was being scared away by a local with a stick. He could hardly stand, because he was so thin and weak. I had honestly never seen anything so emaciated.
We brought him in and were deciding if we should put him down, because it seemed too late for him. But, I saw a little gleam in his eye and we decided to try and save him. He was too weak to fly to Los Angeles with me, so he stayed at a Cancun rescue and was rehabilitated. MaeDay paid for his care until he was strong enough to fly to Los Angeles.
It took him about a month and he gained weight, became happy and was healthy! We got a donation for his flight and he was on his way. Once he was here, he was like a new dog! He got adopted on my block by a neighbor, so I get to see him every day! Seeing him go from almost dead on the streets of Mexico to living a healthy and happy life in Hollywood is so rewarding.
One of my personal foster dogs, I pulled from an adoption event I was volunteering for in Los Angeles. I networked the dog all afternoon at the adoption event and had someone who wanted her in Pennsylvania. So I took the dog home and was going to keep her a few days, while I organized her flight, etc. I didn’t feel a real connection with this dog, nor was she my “type.” Plus, she was mean – biting pant legs, tearing things up in my house and so on, but I was sending her to Pennsylvania in a few days, so I dealt with it.
In the meantime, I took her to the vet to get a check-up and a flying certificate and the vet found a grade 4 heart murmur. You could visibly see her chest moving with her over-working heart. That was when we realized she was so mean because she was in pain.
Since we couldn’t fly her to Pennsylvania with the heart murmur, we didn’t have many options. We obviously couldn’t take her back to the shelter (her condition is what we think got her in the shelter originally) so now we were stuck with a mean, biting, tearing up, money-draining dog that was going to cost us $3,000 to fix! So we did the right thing and raised some money, then paid the rest for the surgery.
Meanwhile we were still networking her to help her find a home. After she had a routine, the surgery and love, her whole personality changed. She became nice, loving and very grateful. After eight months of surgery after-care and unsuccessful home checks for potential adopters, we kept her. Ironically, she is now our smartest dog. (Don’t tell my others!) It was all meant to be and I believe she found us! It was really neat to see a dog change so much just with love and a stable environment.
We know people can help out by making donations at the MaeDay website – how else can they get involved?
They can get involved by fostering in the Los Angeles area or volunteering for one of our spay/neuter clinics in La Ventana, Mexico. Our next clinic is in mid-October, where people can volunteer at the clinic during the day, doing things like supporting animals as they wake up in recovery, brushing them, clipping nails, de-ticking and de-fleaing them. They’d also be weighing animals to help determine the proper dosing for anesthesia and medication.
When the clinic isn’t going on, we’ll be right on the ocean, which offers opportunities for stand up paddle boarding, kite boarding, canoeing, boating, kayaking, etc. All the food in the town is local. The fish is caught fresh daily and feeds the whole town, from locals to the restaurants. Not only does volunteering help with the La Ventana animal population, but it helps this impoverished community of 1,500 people, who otherwise can’t afford animal care. Check for clinic details on maedayrescue.com starting in June to get details on where to stay, house packages and the clinic schedule.
You can also get involved by escorting a pet or helping us find an escort. For example, if a pet has a home in Oklahoma, but it’s in Los Angeles and you know someone who is traveling from Los Angeles to Oklahoma, you could let us know. it’s all about the escorting animals and networking them. Sharing animal posts online is also a good way to help. Every share, gets that homeless animal seen! If you follow us on Facebook, you can see when we have escort opportunities.
For people who want to help with animal rescue efforts closer to home, what are the best ways for them to get involved?
They can help MaeDay as I mentioned above, but they can also look up a local rescue group and volunteer at an adoption event. Go to your local shelter (ideally high kill), take pictures of animals in need and share their picture. It’s hard for many people to go into the shelter environment, so if you can go in and get some pictures, it helps those people see the animals that are available and learn about their stories.
We all know that many people still prefer to get their pets from breeders or (yikes!!) pet stores. Can you tell our audience why they shouldn’t do that?
First, there’s a saying: “When you buy, a shelter animal will die.” It’s sad, but true. There are so many shelter animals that need homes, so buying an animal that isn’t even born yet and waiting for that specific puppy to be born from a breeder is taking a home away from a dog who is already here and hoping to be saved.
I get that people like a certain “look,” and think some dogs are cuter than others. But, there are always rescues that save those breeds. Plus, for me, I think it’s about the animal connection. I definitely think certain breeds are beautiful, but none of my dogs are those breeds. My dogs found me and it’s like a relationship, you better get along and like each other if you are going to spend the next 10-15+ years together! If we picked our girlfriends like some people picked dogs, it wouldn’t last. I think that one is cute, but I don’t know her personality or likes or if we even get along.
(Sorry, I ranted a bit.) But, if you really need to go to a breeder, make sure you are knowledgeable about the breed and that your lifestyle fits that dog. In my experience, all the rescue dogs I have saved or placed are extremely grateful and know they got a second chance. Since most are mutts, they are very smart and with the great mixes, you get to see their unique qualities.
As far as pet stores or puppy mills, most people don’t know that pet stores are puppy mills. They have a few female dogs that they over-breed to produce cute, cuddly puppies. The females are usually birthing so many puppies that they die, get really bad health problems, etc. The conditions of these facilities are usually not clean and there are many dogs in one small cage. Then the dogs are placed in a fancy window to seem adorable. Unfortunately, the misconception is that people think they are saving the puppies from this place, which, of course, they are, but they’re also supporting an industry that doesn’t really tend to the pets very well at all. If we don’t buy from them, eventually they will go out of business and all the remaining dogs will go to a rescue or shelter. Then the dogs will be saved. So please rescue, rescue, rescue!
Finally, if someone sees a pet on your site up for adoption, but isn’t close to Los Angeles or La Ventana, is there a process by which you can get that pet to them in, say, Boise, Idaho?
Yes, we can always transport animals. Ideally, the adopter would fly to Los Angeles and transport the animal home, but if that isn’t an option we can arrange a pet escort. It’s takes a village to find the perfect home.
Is there anything else we didn’t ask that you’d like to share with our audience?
Just check out Maedayrescue.com. All the views are a plus and you can donate, spread the word or network animals via social media. Follow us on Instagram @maedayrescue, which is where I post animal-related pictures daily. Follow our MaeDay Rescue Facebook page and come to the October clinic. I will have more details to come!
You can see some of the fabulous work being done by MaeDay Rescue and their supporters in these videos.
Bark for Baja and MaeDay Clinic — Part 1
Bark for Baja and MaeDay Clinic — Part 2