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A creature connection

Adoption: Saugus man makes quest to find homes for pets

Posted: March 26, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 26, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Rick Kerr, president and founder of Citizens for Sheltered Animals, looks through photos at his home in Saugus on Wednesday of some of the thousands of animals he has rescued over the years.

In 1987, devastated by the loss of his beloved golden retriever, Saugus’ Nick Kerr went to a Los Angeles County animal shelter to adopt another four-legged friend.

Until then, he had been unaware of the plight of shelter animals.

“Millions are killed every year,” he said sadly. “Spay and neuter is one part of the solution.”

Another part of the solution, Kerr realized, was to provide resources to community pet owners, rather than having pets surrendered to shelters.

To do so, Kerr, a former engineer who’s now retired, began Citizens for Sheltered Animals, which became a nonprofit in 1989.

Funded largely by Kerr since its inception, Citizens for Sheltered Animals has helped approximately 5,000 animals, whether it’s by providing rehoming advice, networking animals for adoption, or offering training referrals and low-to-no-cost spay and neuter resources.

Originally, Citizens for Sheltered Animals boarded dogs temporarily at a Santa Clarita Valley kennel.

“I started to realize that I was spending all my time and energy on 35 dogs, when dogs are killed by the thousands at local shelters,” he said. “Instead of building another shelter, I thought ‘I want to help people not take their pets there.’”

Acting as a 24/7 hotline to the community, Citizens for Sheltered Animals takes calls on a variety of animal-related issues. Often, Kerr acts as a counselor to owners who, for whatever reason, need to find a new home for their pets.

“First, we educate them on what happens if you surrender a pet to the shelter,” Kerr said. “The shelter is not the bad guy; they’re doing a job society created by being irresponsible.”

Next, he advises owners of free classified advertising opportunities to list their pets, both in print and online, as well as how to create eye-catching fliers and screen potential adopters.

“I’d say 70 to 80 percent of people take this advice and find homes for their pets this way,” Kerr said.

For people who have found animals, Citizens for Sheltered Animals has a microchip scanner to see if the owners can be located. For those that have lost pets, Kerr offers suggestions on how to find them, as well as what to do in the future.

“From the first day you have a pet, put a collar and ID tag on him or her,” he said.

Over the years, the Citizens for Sheltered Animals hotline has fielded all sorts of calls.

One day, it was a litter of kittens dumped into the back of a pickup truck at 1-day-old. Kerr and his network of volunteers bottle-fed the kittens until they became healthy enough for adoption. A kitten named Charlie remained with Kerr. “He turned out to have such a personality, he stayed,” Kerr said.

Then there was a 5-week-old kitten that was being used as a football by a group of teens, who kicked him into a flood control panel. 

“The lady who saw this brought the cat to me,” Kerr said. “He bonded with Charlie so well, I said, ‘I guess he’s staying, too.’ I named him Trooper.”

Of course, Kerr can’t keep all the animals, which has included ducks and wildlife that cross his path. Citizens for Sheltered Animals has a limited number of foster homes, which take in animals temporarily until a permanent family can be found, but can use more to accommodate demand.

The organization, which receives limited grants, is also looking for volunteers to help with fundraising and adoption events.

“People don’t realize it, but even by volunteering an hour or two a month, they can do a lot of good for the animals,” Kerr said.

Citizens for Sheltered Animals recently hired an assistant, Michelle Speer, to bring the organization up to speed with social media and online fundraising.

“Working on the computer, Michelle can generate income so we can help more animals,” Kerr said. “These are the times we’re in. We need to use all the resources we can.”

After more than two decades, Kerr shows no signs of slowing down.

“I just love the animals. If it has fur or feathers, I’ll help them,” he said.

For more information, visit or call (661) 513-9288.


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