2012-12-21 / Neighbors

A lost friend’s best friends

Simi women lead nonprofit devoted to rescue of missing pets
By Carissa Marsh

PET ADVOCATES—Simi Valley residents Jenn Diello, left, and Kelly Fenton operate Simi Valley Missing Pets, a nonprofit devoted to reuniting lost pets with their owners. PET ADVOCATES—Simi Valley residents Jenn Diello, left, and Kelly Fenton operate Simi Valley Missing Pets, a nonprofit devoted to reuniting lost pets with their owners. When Scott Kurachi’s dog, a 2-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback mix named Cinnamon, went missing in August, the Simi Valley man was devastated.

The manager of C-Me Self Service Car Wash, Kurachi had taken Cinnamon to work with him, just as usual. But that day, spooked by a customer hitting the vending machine, the pup ran off, hightailing it down Los Angeles Avenue.

“I was driving all around Simi Valley (looking for her),” said Kurachi, 27. “I felt horrible. I thought, ‘She’s probably starving, she’s scared, she could get hit by a car, she could get eaten by a coyote.’”

After having searched for hours with no luck, Kurachi heard about Simi Valley Missing Pets, an online community dedicated to helping reunite lost pets with their owners. He posted on the group’s Facebook page about Cinnamon. Not long after, people responded with Cinnamon sightings and SVMP volunteers organized search parties.

Cinnamon had been gone five days when Kurachi got the call— SVMP had found her.

Despite sustaining a couple of cuts on her leg and losing a bit of weight, Cinnamon was “loveydovey” once reunited with her owner.

“She lit up and jumped on me,” he said.

Kurachi was so grateful for Simi Valley Missing Pets that he hosted a fundraiser at the car wash for the all-volunteer group.

“They take time out of their lives and their own schedule to drive around town. . . . They help out a lot to reunite families,” he said. “They get everyone in the community together to help out.”

Cinnamon is just one of the many happy endings Simi Valley Missing Pets has written since forming a year ago.

Launched by 37-year-old Simi native Jenn Diello, the group had humble beginnings as a small effort to save one dog.

The idea was sparked after Diello heard that a friend of hers had found a lost Chihuahua and had taken it to the local shelter.

“I was bummed out because if I had known I would have taken the dog and at least tried to find the owners,” Diello said. “I ended up creating a Facebook page . . . and just started telling people if you’ve lost a pet or found a pet, please post pictures. And it just kind of grew from there.”

Diello was successful in getting Simi-based rescue Tiny Loving Canines to pull the Chihuahua, named Rosarito, from the shelter and put her up for adoption. Diello believed that if people could share photos of missing pets, those animals would get home without going to the pound first.

But she never imagined her page would develop into what it has become.

“I never thought the community would get so involved,” said Diello, who quit her full-time job to focus all her energy on SVMP. “I thought that people would share the pictures, I thought the social media was a great way to get that out, but the community is actually physically getting involved.”

SVMP’s search and rescue team has personally caught seven dogs that were missing for several days or more—including a tenacious 11-year-old boxer named Lizzie that was missing in Simi’s northern hills for three weeks— and nearly 200 have been reunited with their owners due to networking on the Facebook page, which had 3,590 likes as of Thursday.

“You can be involved as little or as much as you want,” Diello said. “You can go on the computer and you can hit the share button . . . or you can throw on hiking boots and you can come to our meetings.”

Fueled by a passion for animals, SVMP’s core group of volunteers won’t hesitate to chase after a canine on the loose—in town and beyond city limits.

“I think all animal lovers feel . . . like it’s your own dog,” SVMP co-leader Kelly Fenton said. “You feel like if this was my dog, you’d want people to help.”

Fenton, 28, joined forces with Diello in April after connecting through Facebook. Fenton caught a puppy that had been posted as missing; since then, she and Diello have been inseparable, working toward their shared vision.

Though a relative newcomer to Simi Valley, Fenton had been doing rescue on her own for 10 years and even runs her own petsitting/ walking and dog training business, bringing experience that Diello didn’t have.

Since it can take time for team members to reunite a pet with its owners, SVMP works with Fenton’s nonprofit Dog Days Rescue to foster found dogs.

If after 30 days the dog hasn’t been claimed, the rescue puts the pooch up for adoption.

“It was important to make sure that we had somewhere for them to go and that we could get them adopted out afterward, because it wasn’t just ending with finding them,” Fenton said.

The pair works with two local veterinarians to make sure the medical needs of the dogs are met, including getting them spayed/neutered, vaccinated and microchipped prior to adoption.

While the women have poured their hearts, lives and personal money into the cause, they say none of it would be possible without the support of others.

“None of this works—the page, the search and rescue— without all of the community,” Diello said. “If the community was to turn their backs, this would all fall apart.”

SVMP is looking for additional foster parents and gladly accepts donations. Diello and Fenton hope to open a storefront where they can hold daily adoptions and that the mission to reunite pets will spread to other cities.

“I think people are looking for something to get involved in and be proud of,” Diello said.

To learn more, and to view adoptable dogs, visit www.facebook.com/SimiMissingPets.

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