Once upon a time, Leo Grillo believed he could stop people abandoning their pets near the deserts of southern California. When he realized this would never happen, he created an animal sanctuary that has to date saved the lives of more that 1,500 creatures.
It all started with the actor saving, Delta, a Doberman-Labrador mix, in the Angeles National Forest almost 35 years ago. One year later he and Delta came across a group of abandoned dogs. There were about 3 dozen of them. After this, Grillo started cruising the stretch of highway, looking for more dumped animals.
“It sucks the life out of me,” he said. “It’s very, very painful.”
Grillo vowed to do what he could to bring these creatures back to health and dignity. DELTA Rescue – Dedication & Everlasting Love to Animals – was born in 1979. Today it houses 1,500 cats, dogs and horses. It is the largest no-kill sanctuary in the U.S.
“Our goal is to prolong life in a meaningful way. We keep our animals comfortable at all times. Medical conditions such as heart disease, cancer, kidney disease and other chronic illness are treated here without a ceiling on costs. Whatever our animals need, they get.” – DELTA Rescue
The 115-acre sanctuary has a yearly budget of $8 million and employs 50 people. A hospital, full-time vet and private fire department with three fire trucks are on the property to make sure that any animal’s needs are met immediately. He even has a tanker with fire retardant.
“With one fill, one piece of equipment can spray the entire property down, including 50 pine trees, and nothing will burn,” he said.
Dr. Gaylord Brown met Grillo in 1985 when he brought in a dog that had been struck by a car. On learning the cost of treatment, he thought:
“I was shocked by his readiness to say `Go ahead, go ahead.’ I remember telling my staff at the time, `I don’t know how much longer this guy will be around because he is spending all his rescue money on one animal.’”
Grillo told Brown that he would worry about the money and Brown should only concern himself with the condition of the dog.
Grillo had become really good at getting direct mail donations. Who knew how obsolete mail would soon become.
“Look at the hole I’ve dug. We are in the last generation of direct mail respondents,” he said.
He is now moving with the times and embracing the age of technology. Electronic fund-raising have been incorporated and sustain life on the ranch.
Housing is provided for everyone, using simple materials. Bales of rice straw, plywood and stucco, are used to create dog houses that last a long time. The dogs are also given pools for respite from the heat. The cats have indoor/outdoor condos.
A full-time vet helps the sanctuary’s ageing population. Brown was persuaded to leave private practice and helped to build the hospital. Twenty-five years on and the hospital is state-of-the-art. It has a surgical ward and in-house lab. Also included is a zoomable/panable camera that allows specialists from around the country to consult. The majority of the hospital patients are seniors, and arthritis, heart conditions, kidney and liver problems, and cancer are common. Animals are only put to sleep to end their suffering, never for any other reason.
“If they have intractable pain, don’t interact with their caregivers or stop eating, we will help them to the other side in a gentle manner. But we don’t put animals to sleep just because they are diagnosed with cancer or have difficulty rising,” Brown said.
The sanctuary is not a rescue facility. It does not adopt out animals and does not take them in from people or other groups. It only houses abandoned pets and those found by Grillo himself. Still today, he scours the area for animals in need of a home.
“I’d rather not be a hero, adopting out our animals and STEALING homes away from animals in the pound – wonderful animals who will be killed only because they can’t find new homes,” Grillo explained.
Grillo’s dedication almost borders on obsession and he titled his his documentary, “The Rescuer, A Story of Obsession.”
His passion has even earned him a nod from the American Institute of Philanthropy CharityWatch, that considers the sanctuary one of the very best in the country.
“Animals are people to me,” Grillo said. “And as such, we will not condone the disposing of pets any more than the disposing of children.”
Please consider a donation to DELTA.