Dog Ma 

One woman's Doberman mission

Wednesday, Sep 1 1999

AT 5 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, a Ford Ranger outfitted with a camper shell pulls into the parking lot at the Baldwin Park Animal Shelter. Ardis Munck, a fit, energetic, 40-ish woman with a crown of gray-flecked dark curly hair, emerges from the truck talking on a cell phone. The truck’s personalized license plate reads, “DOBE RSQ.”

Ardis passes the front counter in the shelter, where she is greeted by three uniformed, female animal-control officers. She pauses to chat before continuing on to the kennels. Once in the minimaze of runs, she carefully checks the cages, talking to the dogs as she goes. “Are you friendly?” “You‘re cute.” “Oh, you’re sick, aren‘t you?” Despite her interaction with the dogs, she doesn’t touch them for fear of infecting one dog with another‘s ailment.

Slowly making her way down a row of cages, she pulls a small spiral notebook out of her purse and checks notes she made during her visit the previous Wednesday. She methodically compares her notes with the white, typed kennel cards (in effect, booking slips) that sit in plastic slipcovers on each cage. If the animal is fortunate enough to be licensed, or wearing an ID, or is simply “desirable,” there may be a “hold” notice on the slip.

The cages this evening are crowded. Some contain five dogs. Shelters run by both city and county agencies are currently operating at 150 percent of capacity, and Baldwin Park, largest of the six county-operated shelters, has 192 animal runs, which translates to 300-plus animals on any given day. Ardis sorts through the kennel cards, trying to figure out which dogs are running out of time.

The shelter this evening seems overrun with “guard dogs” -- chows, shepherd mixes, Akitas, rottweilers, pit bulls, Doberman pinschers. And as the kennel cards attest, not all are strays. Many have been turned in by their owners. In the weeks following the mauling death in South Los Angeles of 14-month-old Fily Araujo by the family pit bull, city shelters averaged an intake of 40 pit bulls per day. Most owner-surrendered animals, however, are handed over for less dramatic reasons: A dog bites or someone moves, gets a divorce, retires, is arrested, dies or simply tires of the animal.

Another revelation this evening is the surprising number of pedigreed animals in the shelter. Oftentimes a high presence of forsaken purebreds follows by some months the appearance of a particular breed in a movie or commercial. Tonight, Ardis records the impound numbers and availability dates of six Dalmatians. This Dalmatian population is probably attributable to the live-action 101 Dalmatians movie. Today’s Taco Bell commercials may fill the shelters with Chihuahuas at some future point. Frasier may prompt a flood of Jack Russell terriers. Unfortunately, screen images often don‘t reflect a breed’s true personality. Thus the Dalmatians -- a breed that is cute, but notoriously prickly, and not necessarily good with children.

Ardis‘ primary goal in visiting between one and six different shelters every Wednesday is to rescue Doberman pinschers. Tonight she will recover just two, one of whom is visibly sick, possibly with distemper. In addition to these Dobermans, Ardis sees that there are five smaller, mixed-breed dogs about to be euthanized. Because these dogs are all cute and friendly, she feels confident that she can place them. So they are going home with her as well. As she double-checks the impound numbers, her cell phone rings. She confirms that later that evening she will pick up two more Dobermans from a foster home in Highland Park.

As she walks back out to the front desk, an animal service officer carrying a Pomeranian asks Ardis if she can estimate the dog’s age. Using the tip of her pen, Ardis exposes the dog‘s toothline and says, “Five years.” She is then intercepted by Maggie Cecil, a volunteer who has driven in from Riverside. When Ardis is ready, Maggie has two more Dobermans for her in the parking lot. At the front counter, Ardis does the paperwork on her seven adoptions, writing the shelter a $250 check. Sometimes the check is $500.

With a Metrolink train running in the twilight behind the shelter, Maggie unloads two beautiful and surprisingly docile Dobermans from crates in the back of her own minipickup. With the expertise of a professional packer, Ardis arranges and fits pet carriers into the back of her camper shell. She quickly stows Maggie’s charges, then addresses the first two dogs the animal-control officer has walked out to her. Because she still has the two Highland Park Dobermans to pick up, Ardis doubles up a pair of smaller dogs in one carrier, then when the match doesn‘t seem to be working, shifts one of the mixed breeds in with a Doberman. Serendipity.

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