Eldad Hagar has the ability — and the patience — to coax even the most frightened dogs into his care. Hagar thus plays an important role in the Los Angeles rescue community. He travels the area almost daily, following up on leads from rescue groups, shelter employees and concerned citizens, the latter having learned of his stray-whisperer ways through the videos he shoots while working and later posts online.
Along with a video camera, Hagar keeps in his car many feet of fencing for protection against and temporary confinement of the dogs he finds on the streets, as well as plenty of leashes. He also stocks up on cheeseburgers before heading out.
“I always have a cheeseburger in my pocket. It helps convince the dog to come with me,” Hagar says on a recent Wednesday that saw him rescuing 15 adult dogs and puppies from shelters and neighborhoods, all before 9 a.m., making a total of 30 already that week.
The dogs he saves go into foster homes, with stops at the vet and groomer — and often his home. Hope for Paws, the nonprofit group he runs with his wife, Audrey, exists on donations and the kindness of fellow animal lovers. Hagar wishes he had time to apply for grants like other animal-welfare groups do.
“I wake up super early in the morning, and I’m not done until late at night, usually after I’ve taken a dog to her new home,” he says.
A recent rescue who kept Hagar out and about until late also serves as the subject of his latest video. Sonya, aka the Google Street View Dog because of her backstory, appears to be a small Chow–Golden Retriever mix.
She had been living on the streets of an industrial area in Long Beach for many years before a business associate told animal lovers Patrick and Jennifer about the dog’s situation. Patrick stopped by one day, bringing food and water, but saw that she already had bowls and a little plastic igloo for shelter on the sidewalk. Turns out, people in the area were feeding Sonya, though no one he talked to said she had an owner. And Sonya — whom they named after the powerful warrior in the ’80s movie Red Sonja — wore no collar or tags. Her hair was severely matted and infested with fleas and ticks.
Jennifer recalls, “One of the business owners told Patrick, ‘She likes living out there.’” On a later visit, Patrick saw that the bowls and igloo were gone, leaving her with no access to fresh water or shade. The couple decided to secure a better life for Sonya, but they weren’t sure how. They didn’t want to call animal control or do anything else that might put her at risk for being euthanized. The rescue groups they contacted offered to help if they could capture the dog, but neither had experience and didn’t feel comfortable with the task.
“We’re not used to grabbing stray dogs,” Jennifer says, but it wasn’t long before she found someone who had a talent for doing exactly that.
Jennifer learned of Hagar through a video of him and Audrey rescuing a little blind dog named Fiona from a trash pile where she lived. The video went viral, with more than 1.2 million YouTube views to date, and the dog’s story touched many. Soon, Hope for Paws had raised enough money for a surgery to partially restore her sight. Fiona now has a happy, healthy life in a forever home.
The couple wanted the same for Sonya. Jennifer contacted Hagar and told him about the dog, directing him to Google to see her situation for himself. Karma Rescue, another Los Angeles-area group, got involved to provide a foster home, which proved unnecessary as Patrick’s mother, Joan, stepped up; Patrick and Jennifer couldn’t themselves because their own dog has an autoimmune disease, preventing them from having another pet.
With a foster home ready and waiting, Hagar headed to Long Beach, where he found Sonya trying to stay cool under an RV parked on the street. He started slow, tossing her bits of cheeseburger as he inched closer.
“She didn’t care,” Hagar says about much of the food tossed her way. “She growled at me, let me know to stay away.” Eventually, Sonya crawled out but walked away and into a partially enclosed business area.
Hagar quickly grabbed the fencing from his car and used it to block the opening. He then found the dog underneath a truck on the property, but when he approached, she bolted for the exit. Seeing she was trapped, Sonya headed back to the truck, where Hagar sat with her for more than an hour, petting her at first with the leash, then with his hands.
He eventually slipped the leash around her neck. Sonya followed Hagar to his car, resigned to whatever fate this kind stranger had in mind.
“It’s really a beautiful thing to see when they give up and allow me to help them,” he says. “You can always see that moment.”
It was already late when Hagar met up with friend Judy Ray, owner of Dirty Hairy Mobile Dog Grooming. She spent three hours shaving and bathing Sonya, including giving her a blueberry facial, to uncover the sweet-looking dog underneath the matted fur and ingrown nails.
Hagar then took her home, where tired Sonya settled in for a long sleep.
“It is so stressful to live on the street,” he explains. “These dogs don’t know who will surprise them, whether coyotes, raccoons, or humans. Being on alert all the time just exhausts them.”
After that, Sonya spent about a week with the vet, who had to surgically remove ingrown dewclaws, as well as a growth from her left elbow, the result of her almost-constant contact with concrete. She also had dental work done and ear infections treated. She got vaccinated and microchipped, too, but was already spayed. The vet estimates Sonya’s age at around 7. Aside from arthritic hips that make her move a little slowly, she’s now in good health despite her many years on the street. Watch the video of Sonya’s rescue to see her full day.
The dog once captured by a Google Street View camera has happily settled into Joan’s home, greeting visitors at the door, leaning in for scratches and giving kisses in return. She has even begun to learn, with a little help from Jack, the other rescue dog in the house, how to play with toys.
“We’re all making bets,” Jennifer says of whether Sonya’s foster home will become permanent. “Patrick’s mom will probably keep her. Everyone’s already completely attached.”
Hagar hopes the dog will stay with Joan, too. After he rescued Sonya, he briefly shared her story and posted the Google Street View image to his Facebook page, which was eventually found by members of the Long Beach community claiming ownership of Sonya. After a heated back-and-forth argument on the post, during which Hagar invited the commenters to claim the dog and discuss her neglect with animal control, the situation quieted down. He says the “owners” got word to him that they just wanted Sonya to be happy and healthy.
The stories of Fiona and Sonya strengthen Hagar’s belief in not only the future of his organization, but also the outlook for homeless animals everywhere. Just as Fiona’s amazing tale led to Patrick and Jennifer helping another dog in need, he expects Sonya’s story to inspire others.
To learn more about Hope for Paws, visit the organization’s website and Facebook page. You can watch the organization’s many videos on the website and YouTube. Be warned, though: It’s impossible to keep a dry eye when watching one of Hagar’s rescue videos.
Do you know of a shelter hero — dog or human — we should profile on Dogster? Drop us an e-mail at email@example.com.