Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
Raised in a small suburb of Wilkes-Barre, PA, Jonathan Slavin was a very shy child who was into books and reading. And animals. “We always had pets,” says Jonathan. “Dogs… never cats, because my dad is violently allergic to cats. As a very little kid I was always finding hurt baby birds and rabbits. There was always some sick animal that I was nursing back to health. I was off by myself a lot and animals were just what I was drawn to.”
“I used to ride my bike around the neighborhood in this really small town with not a lot of traffic,” Jonathan continues. “Our dog, who was like my best friend in the entire world, would follow me on my bike. Fluff was a miniature poodle I got when I was four and had until I was twenty. She was my girl. Half the time I’d turn around and she’d be freaking out because she’d found something that was hurt and needed help. She was very gentle and motherly, so whenever anything was lost or hurt, she would find it. And I would end up with it. I was always coming home with an armload of something, and there was always some sick animal that I was nursing back to health. It was hard. So frequently there was an inconsolable little boy crying because one of the birds didn’t make it. The losses were devastating. And nothing has changed. You can’t always save them.”
At one point Jonathan wanted to be a veterinarian and have a farm. Instead, he caught the acting bug which prompted him, after high school, to follow his dream to New York City and the lights of Broadway. It didn’t matter where Jonathan lived, however, because animals in need always found their way to him.
“I have friends who tell me they never see animals lying on the side of the road,” explains Jonathan. “Maybe I just notice them, or maybe they’re just put in my path. I guess that’s possible. You just look with different eyes when you’re a rescuer.”
“Basically I just don’t trust that anybody else is ever going to do it,” he says about his rescue philosophy. “A few years ago I was going to a pet store to pick up some dog food. I thought they were closed because it was a Sunday. As it turned out they were, but tied to a pole in front were these two puppies. They clearly had mange, ticks on ticks, and they were tied there with a blanket and a bag of dog food. There was a crowd of people gathered around them. I got out and said, ‘these dogs need medical attention, and they can’t stay out here in the sun. Someone has to take them.’ I watched people flee the scene. No one would step forward to take them, and I thought, I just can’t operate that way thinking that someone else will show up and do this. If an animal is in my path, I can’t NOT help. And so I ended up with the puppies. It’s definitely… if not me, who?”
Every Rescue Has A StoryWhile most of us have great stories to share about each of our animals, few have as eclectic a menagerie as Jonathan. There’s a Monkey, a Squirrel, a Moose, a Bat, a Lemur, a Fox, and a Holstein… and those are just his cats. He also has four dogs, a Cockatoo, a few ducks, baby chicks, and, last but not least, a potbellied pig named Ouisa. Each one’s story is unique and heartwarming. Here are some of the highlights:
“Three days before I moved to New York to my first apartment by myself,” recalls Jonathan, “I was out walking with some friends and their dogs when the dogs went after something under a car. They had found a skinny, filthy, shredded-pawed cat who popped out and followed us five blocks to our house and slept on the porch. The next morning the dogs chased her away but when I went out, she was back on the porch. She just moved in. When she got a clean bill of health from the vet, I took out an ad to see if anyone had lost her. No one had so she moved to New York with me three days later. That’s Monkey, who’s 14 and sickly with horrible asthma and really bad allergies.”
“Next I adopted Ella, a Border Collie/ Chow Mix. I was spending a lot of time at my vet’s office because Monkey was having this terrible allergy problem. They knew me really well so they called me and said, ‘somebody just brought this dog in. He took it away from his roommate who had thrown boiling water at her for having diarrhea in the house and had been very abusive to her. We can’t get this dog to come out from under the table. Would you consider taking her?’ And I did. Ella was a little under a year old, so she’s now around 12. From the moment I adopted her she just attached herself to me. She has a little arthritis in her hips, but she’s old. We’ve been through a lot of training. Once she found a home, she became extremely protective of it. It was hard because a lot of people would say, ‘aggressive dog – put her down.’ I just kept working with her. She will always be a higher maintenance dog, but she’s a good girl.”
“After Ella, I was offered a job in Dallas for the play Six Degrees of Separation. I told them I would only go if they flew my dog and cat there with me. And they did. When Ella ended up with a raging ear infection I told the vet that whatever he does, he should include me in the process to make things go smoothly. After much screaming and scratches on the doctor’s arms, he invited me back to help with her. When I explained Ella’s whole story he told me about a litter of pigs he had, but that the smallest one was being starved out, wasn’t at all tame and needed to be bottle-fed. When he asked if I would bottle raise her and bring her up I explained that I couldn’t go back to New York with a pig. But then he brought her out and handed me this 3-week old tiny piglet I just couldn’t resist. And that’s Ouisa, (Louisa without the “L”) who’ll be 11 on October 4th.”
“Monkey thought Ouisa was hilarious and would just run and jump over her. Ella really felt like she had a puppy when she got the piglet. She’d knock her over and then bathe her, licking her from head to toe. Even now, if I’m taking care of Ouisa, Ella will still come over and start bathing her, even though Ouisa is now 150 pounds more than Ella.
“Eventually I went back to Manhattan… with a dog, a cat, and a little pig. I figured I’d deal with my landlord when I saw him, which was, of course, upon entering my building. My landlord was a great guy who had two enormous Great Danes. He fell in love with Ouisa and even asked if his daughter could come play with her. Ouisa would run around my floor and visit people. She had quite a rep on the third floor of my building on 71st and Columbus.”
“In December of that year, while taking Ella on our daily run through Central Park, we’d see a skinny, filthy dog who seemed to be interested in Ella… but every time I reached for her she would run away. Ella, who didn’t do well with other dogs at that time, just fell in love with this dog, so much so that she herded her up a flight of stairs into someone’s foyer. I just pounced. I figured I could live better with a bite than I could with leaving this dog out in the cold. She was too weak to even bite, was pretty aloof, and really did not want to be around people. She didn’t seem to want anything to do with me, so I gave her lots of time. When I found her I figured I’d deal with my landlord when I saw him… which happened when I returned from the vet. When I explained that I found her in Central Park he replied, ‘well, you have to keep her. She needs you.’ He was the best guy ever. So that’s the story of Gypsy, who is around 11. She’s a Shepherd, Dobie mix that’s turned into the most loving dog.”
Eventually Jonathan moved out to LA, which, in itself, was no easy task. “I flew everybody out here which I’ll never do again, because I was panicking the entire day. I had two dogs, a cat and a 35-pound pig flying with me. I was in the cabin hyperventilating the entire time.”
“Agnes, my Cockatoo, was a birthday present and the first pet I got when I moved out here. This was really before I knew how much care the big birds require. They are really needy creatures. She’s not incredibly friendly with anyone but me. But knock wood, she’s healthy.”
“One of our cats is a kitten I never should have found. I was running an errand that I would never have run, on a day when… it was just this weird combination of events, and I looked over and there was a 3 ½ week old kitten with two broken legs on the side of the road. He had been thrown over the retaining wall from the freeway. I notice those things, I guess. It’s just something I’ve been doing all my life.”
That little kitten is a perfect example of the kind of rescuer Jonathan is. “The kitten was totally feral, hissing, and pushing himself with his back legs to get away from me,” he continues. “The vet splinted his one leg but he was going to have to be in a cage for six weeks. I had some concerns about him being socialized because he was so feral, so I decided to foster him at my home while he healed. He lived in a little kennel and was doing really well. I would take him out of the kennel and he’d put his huge splinted leg out and drape his other broken leg over it. Then he’d run around the house like he had a rudder. Bat, my big cat, thought he was the coolest thing ever. So did Monkey, who had been so heartbroken when we found a home for the one cat who was his buddy, he had not liked any other cat since then. When the splint came off the kitten’s leg it was dead… there was too much nerve damage, so it had to be amputated. But he’s fine. He can jump from a table. His leg is so much less in his way then it was when it was just dragging. And that’s how Scooter got his name and came to live with me.”
Bat was a 12-week old kitten Jonathan found at the beach, covered in bubble gum and car oil. “Bat was supposed to be a foster, but he became such good friends with Squirrel, another cat who took him under her wing, he never left.”
“Smudge is my furry, hyper terrier mix rescued from a guy in West Hollywood. A tiny puppy at the time, I placed her in a home, but she came back because she would scream at being left alone. She’s very hyper and began having seizures. Finally there was enough wrong with her that I could justify her staying… and she doesn’t have separation anxiety here because she’s never alone. But Smudge is really a handful. I tell everybody she’s a very bad dog but I love her so much. She’s my little angel… with a lot of problems.”
“Lemur is like my miracle girl. She’s a cat that walks and behaves strangely, but she’s not in any pain. She’s very comfortable… she’s just ‘off.’ She’s damaged. People either say she’s a miracle, or they wonder why she’s even alive. I’m careful about her going up and down the stairs because she has a bad back, but she IS a miracle. If ever someone was really having a bad time with their spirit… someone plagued with health issues… I would want them to meet Lemur to see how truly indomitable the spirit can be if you just keep going.”
“Klunk, 9, is my blind Llasa Apso I got when he was 5-weeks old. Because I raised him as though there was nothing wrong with him, that’s how he behaves. He’s been a little ambassador for the cause of disabled pets: he’s done a couple of talk shows with me and a show on Animal Planet, and he’s visited schools to show kids how well he doesbecause he doesn’t realize there’s anything wrong with him.”
“A lot of people will put down a blind or deaf puppy… especially breeders… and it’s not necessary. Certainly there needs to be certain accommodations made for these dogs, such as securely fencing pools or ponds. Also securing gates and fences so there is no way the dog could slip under it accidentally. Klunk is a very scrappy boy. He’s very self-sufficient and confident. He hears fine and loves mud and water… the way it feels. He just goes crazy. It’s as if his missing sight causes him to inundate himself with some other sense. To him the world is made up of smells and sounds and tastes and textures.”
“After Klunk I found a cat I had for about a month who was returned to his rightful owner. But Monkey, my other cat, was devastated by this. So when I met a little blood donor cat at my vet’s office whose owner had died, I adopted her. She’s my calendar kitty named Squirrel who, thankfully, has had very few problems, just one tooth abscess.”
“Moose, an 11-year old cat who had been dumped at the vet’s with no claws came next. But this was very sad. Because of a tumor on his heart, he only lived another two years.”
Jonathan doesn’t just have cats and dogs. And those written about here are not his full menagerie. For instance, there’s Delores the duck. “I was training for the AIDS ride when I found her. She had been attacked by something and was missing about 50% of her feathers. She also had two infected eyes, was bleeding from the wings and had a broken leg. I was on my bike around 15 miles from my house, so I shoved her under my jersey and rode home with this giant duck, her little web feet resting on my thighs, quacking away. This duck was a mess and it was obvious she could never be re-released. She lived in my bathroom for four months and had to be tube-fed three times a day. Because of the severity of her injuries, Delores has been called ‘the true lame duck.’ She has to be moved around a couple of times a day, and she has to be placed in front of her food. But because she swims so beautifully, I put in a little pond just for her.”
Jonathan also has chickens and more ducks, because you can’t keep ducks alone. “I adopted two ducks from the shelter that were about 5 months old to keep Delores company. Their names are Anna and Linda, but Anna has since grown up to be a big boy. And then recently a friend gave me a duck that had been hatched as a science experiment … so I adopted her and named her Fred, to tip the scales the other way (since we had a boy named Anna.) She’s a little brown duck while the others are big white farm ducks.”
“Linda can’t walk either, which is interesting to me,” Jonathan continues. “Linda and Anna are the kind of ducks that were meant to be slaughtered at about six weeks old, because they’re designed to gain a tremendous amount of weight very quickly. My ducks are older, but their legs can’t support their body weight for a sustained period of time, because these animals have been genetically modified to be meat birds… to have lots of weight. If you look at Fred, a little brown duck, you can see her legs will support her for the rest of her life. She’s small, she’s compact and her legs are long. It’s amazing to me about these meat ducks. We’ve literally bred these ducks and chickens to gain so much weight so quickly that they can’t support their body weight. So it’s a problem when you keep them longer than they were meant to be kept alive.”
“I’ve been a vegan for about ten years, but this was an aspect that I hadn’t thought about until I lived with it, and watched Linda grow up. Anna’s legs are holding somewhat sturdy, but I don’t think his legs will support him too much longer. But watching Linda grow and not be able to move around very well, and watch her legs become less and less able to support her own body weight is amazing. The genetics that we’ve sort of tampered with is creating animals that can’t move. It’s not cruel for me to have her as a pet because she can swim, she’s completely enclosed and not in any danger from predators, and she doesn’t know any different. And she’s not in pain. This is just what happens to this breed of ducks… Peking ducks… meat ducks that end up as very expensive dinners. Delores is more a cross between a Peking and a wild duck, so she can stand on one leg. Linda, if she flops very hard, can run for brief spells and then goes down. But they all love swimming and do it beautifully.”
Hard to believe, but Jonathan rents his house, and once again lucked out with his landlord. “When she met me she wasn’t sure about renting to me, but once she found out I had a pig she wanted me to move in right away. Apparently I was just the kind of person she wanted in the house. She’s great and the coolest lady. I’ve been very fortunate.”
And I was very fortunate to be able to spend a few hours meeting Jonathan and all of his ‘kids.’ Aware of all his animals, I was amazed at how clean and spotless the house truly was. And quiet, too! Except for the snorts coming from a hungry Ouisa who was hanging out in the bedroom, and whom I was anxious to meet in person.
“Ouisa will be eleven on October 4th,” says Jonathan. “She was supposed to be a potbelly pig that would grow to about 80 pounds, but I’d say she’s about 190 pounds. A healthy weight for a potbelly is anywhere from 150 to 300 pounds, depending on size. That was why they were so hip for a while, but they got too big for people. They grow their entire lives, and they don’t stop growing. I never thought I would have a pig.”
“Ouisa is middle aged. Overweight pigs live 9-13 years. Pigs at a good weight like Ouisa, (about 180 pounds) can live 18-21 years. You want to see a waist and a little ribs. They’ll eat and eat and eat, so I’m very controlling about what Ouisa eats. Her exercise is spending all day looking for food in the yard that I might hide for her, because I underfeed her a little.”
“A few years ago Ouisa slipped a disc and was paralyzed for about 3 weeks. It was horrible. She was inconsolable. She would wake up at 2:00 in the morning and cry. When pigs cry it’s so sad. They heave and they cry. And I would have to go and lie down with her to get her to go back to sleep. She was in so much pain. I would lie down with her and sing to her, and I’d talk to her and kiss her, and I’d just get her back down when she’d try to move again and she’d start crying all over. Pigs are so sensitive that if you yell at them their feelings get really hurt. Their egos are very fragile. But if you don’t mind their space requirements, because they’re big, pigs are fairly easy to care for and they’re very, very clean. There are a lot of pigs in need of homes because people weren’t prepared for how big they got. If you’re interested in adopting a pig, there’s a great pig rescue called Little Orphan Hammies. (www.lilorphanhammies.com/hammies.) But you should always do your research first, because this is going to be a BIG animal.”
While Jonathan has managed to keep busy at the acting profession he loves, he always faces a degree of uncertainty about where his next job is coming from. “I know my primary responsibility is that I have all these creatures who depend on me for everything. I don’t take this responsibility lightly. Nor do I recommend it for everybody. I have a hard time convincing people I’m not like the crazy little old lady with cats. My goal right now is that nobody else stays. I can take responsibility immediately for an animal’s needs in that I can get it to my vet, but then I ask for assistance from every organization and person I know to please, help me place these animals. The goal is to foster only.”
Jonathan makes it very clear that his animals get the very best care. “All my animals have to spend at least 24 hours with my vet and get tested for everything before they can come into my house. And everyone, including the pig, is absolutely spayed and neutered. I’m not interested in breeding any more animals.”
“I think you can judge people by how they treat each other and their animals. I try to remember, always, that these creatures depend on me for everything. They don’t understand I’ve had a hard day… or that I just worked 14 hours and I’m tired. They need what they need and this is what I signed on for. That’s my commitment. I have to do it. They have to eat when they’re hungry. They have to get love and affection every single day, no matter what is going on with me. They deserve that. They deserve to be treasured because they are such amazing creatures. People always think that this must be so hard. Certainly my time is not always my own, but the rewards are enormous. These animals are such a huge part of my life, and they give me so much, it’s amazing. Just the love and affection that flows around this house all the time. It’s something to behold and it’s something to be a part of. So I just have to pick up my link in that chain… if that’s the chain of love and affection and companionship that’s happening… I’ve got my links that I’m responsible for.”
As one who only visited for a short time, I was deeply moved by the commitment Jonathan Slavin has for his animals. He’s absolutely correct. The love and affection that flowed throughout his house was, indeed, something to behold!
Jonathan Slavin describes himself as a compassionate, caregiving, “actionist.” “I don’t necessarily take a stand on an issue. I just show up where I can and I do press where I can. I’m in the trenches, living life, trying to put my money where my mouth is. I’ll never turn away from an animal in need. If not me, who?
(Look for Jonathan Slavin in the feature film Grand Theft Parsons starring Johnny Knoxville, based on the true story of the theft of rock musician Gram Parsons body from the LA County morgue.)
May and June, 2004
First published in August of 1999, The Pet Press has become THE only local resource for
pet lovers in the Los Angeles area. The mission of The Pet Press is three-fold:
Each issue of The Pet Press contains the following sections: