If you’re a firm believer in the adage “adopt, don’t shop,” then every day is probably National Rescue Dog Day to you. But technically, today, May 20 marks the annual holiday, which aims to raise awareness for all the adoptable dogs in shelters.
So in honor of National Rescue Dog Day, we interviewed Melissa Bacelar, aka the celebrity pet matchmaker, and the founder of Wagmor Pets. The Los Angeles-based dog rescue has helped find dream dogs for celebrities including Sandra Bullock (just wait till you hear that heartwarming story down below!), Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Aniston, and so many more.
Melissa Bacelar founded Wagmor Pets to save as many dogs as possible.
Melissa Bacelar has always been a dog lover. When she and her two dogs moved from her home state of New Jersey to California in 2003, she was shocked to see how common it was in California for people to give up their unwanted dogs.
“I went to my first shelter, and I was completely floored,” Bacelar tells Green Matters over the phone ahead of National Rescue Dog Day. “I couldn’t do a lot, but I did what I could. I would take one dog at a time into my apartment and I would do everything on my own and find them a home … It was very slow, but it was what I could do.”
She encourages any dog lover to think about how they can get involved with rescuing, even if adopting more dogs is not in the cards. “People need to look at themselves and [ask], ‘What can you do to help?’ And that's OK, [wherever] you are.”
But things changed once Bacelar had kids, and she realized she couldn’t bring tons of dogs into her house anymore. So, she opened a very small rescue shop where she would sell dog products and take in about five or six dogs at a time who needed to be adopted.
“Because I was in such a popular area, I started getting a lot of celebrities adopting dogs from us,” she recalls. “And they would tell their friends, and then I would find dogs for them, and I sort of became the celebrity pet matchmaker.”
As her small adopting business continued to flourish, many of her clients would ask Bacelar’s advice on boarding and grooming, which led her to open the Wagmor, a luxury pet hotel and spa with locations in Studio City and Valley Village, Calif. The Wagmor allowed Bacelar to rescue and rehome even more dogs, and Bacelar donates a portion of the hotel’s profits to pet rescue.
But, as they did for most people, things changed for Bacelar in March 2020. “All of a sudden the pandemic hit ... I suddenly found myself with two full-time staff, two dog hotels, and very few clients, because everyone was home,” she says. So, she started using the Wagmor’s space and staff to help rescue more dogs, and overnight, they went from hosting five or six adoptable dogs at a time to 100 adoptable dogs at a time, leading her to formally found Wagmor Pets Dog Rescue. Since its founding on March 15, 2020, Wagmor Pets has gotten about 2,800 dogs adopted.
She continues to grow the rescue, and recently started working internationally with groups in Thailand and China — though she has no plans to slow down her local rescue efforts. “California is one of the highest kill states in the U.S. … so we need a lot of help here,” she says.
Here’s how to make your pet adoption application stand out.
Bacelar shared her three best pieces of advice for preparing to adopt and making your application stand out:
Be really honest with yourself about exactly what you want. Ask yourself: “How much time do I have to spend with this dog every day? How active am I? What are my things that I absolutely can’t take, like shedding? Do I want a puppy or an adult dog?”
Make your application as detailed as possible. “We appreciate an application that is thorough,” Bacelar says, adding that including as much honest detail as possible really helps an application stand out. For example, if the application asks how many hours a day you expect to leave your dog home alone, don’t just put “five” — provide details about your work schedule, plans to hire a dog walker, etc.
Meet adoptable dogs in real life, not just on social media. “It’s just like with people — we have this list of what we want in our partner … and it’s usually physical,” she says. “And that’s what people do with dogs too.” But she’s noticed that someone could have a list of exactly what they want in a dog, stop by Wagmor’s facility, and fall in love at first sight with a dog who is the exact opposite of that, and wind up taking that dog home.
So even though adoption events may be a bit rare at the moment due to the ongoing pandemic, Bacelar maintains that safely visiting your local shelter or rescue group and spending time with the adoptable dogs will help make your adoption process so much better. It’s just like dating — FaceTime dates can only take you so far!
As the celebrity pet matchmaker, Bacelar placed Sandra Bullock’s rescue dog, Sweetie.
When asked for her favorite rescue story, Bacelar doesn’t hesitate to share the tale of Sandra Bullock rescuing her adorable poodle, Sweetie, last year.
“Anybody that knows anything about Sandy knows that she loves dogs, and she is the type of person that will always go and pick the funniest looking dog that no one else would want. She’s like, ‘I loved three-legged, one-eyed, that is my thing,’” Bacelar says with a laugh, adding that she knows the actress because their children went to school together.
However, Bullock’s son and daughter are extremely allergic to dogs — so when Bullock’s two rescue dogs (two-legged Ruby and three-legged Poppy) passed away in 2018, she reached out to Bacelar with a long list of what she needed in her next rescue dog. Most importantly, the pup would have to be a hypoallergenic purebred Poodle to accommodate her children’s allergies — but preferably, one who was a bit “funny looking,” since she and boyfriend Bryan Randall aren’t typically into the traditional poodle look.
“The kids loved every dog they met, and it was heartbreaking, because they kept having allergic reactions,” Bacelar recalls. “So I was like, gosh, this really, truly is going to have to be a purebred poodle, which, in rescue, even if the dog looks like a purebred poodle, you really don’t know.” So, Bacelar started putting the word out in Facebook groups (keeping Bullock’s identity private), and she eventually got a phone call from a woman who takes unwanted dogs from a breeder to a veterinary office to be put down.
“Once the breeder is done with the dogs and can’t breed them anymore for whatever reason, she brings these dogs to her vet to be put down. How disgusting is that? This is what happens with breeders,” Bacelar says, adding that this is apparently a high-end breeder located in Santa Barbara.
That aside, this woman had found a poodle that fit Bullock’s wishlist perfectly. Not only did the adorable pup have a “mangled” front leg, but the breeder had also cut the pup’s vocal cords, even though it’s illegal to do so in California. “The breeder stuck a spoon down its throat when it was a puppy,” Bacelar says. Obviously, Bacelar went and rescued the dog. “The dog had never even been touched by human beings before … she was so scared and tense being held,” she recalls.
Bacelar quickly got the dog over to Bullock’s house for a trial — and “by the end of the weekend, she was like, ‘You’d have to send the marshals to get this dog back.’” Bullock named the dog Sweetie — and they lived happily ever!