Woofs, whines and whimpers can be heard in the distance.
A tall, white picket fence blocks the scurrying legs, wagging tails, slobbering mouths and dirty paws that welcome anyone who crosses the gate.
A calm, sturdy young man looks over the yard and suddenly shouts, “Shepard, stop that.”
Standing up, he separates a German Shepherd puppy from a brief, rough and tumble puppy brawl.
A smaller dog springs to the man’s lap as he sits down and begins petting it. A broad smile crosses his face at the sight of the white, curly haired creature.
This is a typical Sunday afternoon for Jose Barrera.
The 27-year-old has been a full-time automotive student at Pierce College for the past two years. Growing up in North Carolina, Barrera owned many dogs of all breeds and sizes, Pit Bulls being his favorite. His current Pit Bull Terrier and “little body builder,” Oreo, was one of his first dogs that he rescued from a shelter in 2006.
“He loves them and he loves proving people wrong when it comes to the stereotype people have of them,” Barrera’s wife Silvia Gutierrez said.
Barrera moved to California in 2005 after meeting Gutierrez through a mutual friend. They both share a love and passion for dogs. The two canine lovers married in July of 2007 and are expecting their first son this July. Their passion for caring for animals has turned into a lifestyle.
Together they own a house in Van Nuys, California. Besides attending Pierce College, Barrera works as a full-time mechanic at Tri Star Auto Center around the corner from his house, making it easy for him to check in on the many attention-loving puppies that he fosters. Gutierrez, 24, former veterinarian major at Pierce, works at a plasma center to help support Barrera in finishing his education. Once finished, he hopes to eventually support her to do the same.
At a glance, it might seem like a simple young couple’s life but these two generously dedicate their free time to 10 furry and rambunctious creatures that have taken over their front yard.
“I guess you could say that she’s the one to blame,” Barrera said
It all began when Gutierrez’s beloved German Shepherd puppy ran away in 2006.
“In the process of looking for him, going to shelters here and there looking for him, that’s when I came across Oreo,” Barrera said.
The small Pit Bull was a “bait dog,” thrown into a group of larger dogs to fight for its survival.
Barrera described Oreo as a mean looking dog with scars and scrapes tattooing his bulky black and white body.
In order for Barrera to adopt this gentle giant, he had to prove that he could handle him. Day after day, Barrera volunteered walking, feeding, playing and doing anything he could to win him.
After one month of volunteering, Barrera one day saw that Oreo was no longer in his cage. He was about to be put down. Barrera immediately asked if he could adopt the dog. The shelter said yes.
Volunteering at the shelter became a routine for Barrera. Being around the helpless little lives gave Barrera a sense of purpose knowing that his action may be small but it was worth it. He began adopting a few more dogs during his months at the shelter.
Recognizing the passion and dedication of Barrera, the shelter began to call him asking if he would want to take any dogs that were about to be put down. Barrera would refuse at first but after seeing the puppies, he caved in and would take them home.
The couple naturally decided to let what was once a hobby become a home to numerous street dogs of all sizes. They work in and out of their schedule to care for these dogs as if they were their own, knowing that the puppies will eventually leave to their “forever home.”
Gutierrez and Barrera understand that just because they are troubled dogs does not mean they have be euthanized. “Kinder for Rescue,” founded by Laurel Kinder, a well known dog rescuer, is the organization that the couples work with to give their dogs the best process in finding a home.
“We try to make them easier to adopt. We don’t want to them to be returned for something so small as to they don’t know how to walk on a leash,” said Gutierrez. “So we’ll get them trained. We’ll take them for walks and get them used to a normal dogs life.”
Gutierrez explains they are not like other fosters.
“It’s not just about keeping them and giving them food every morning and night. We end up keeping them until they go to their future home. We will stay there the whole day [at the shelter] until they got adopted,” said Gutierrez. “And if they didn’t get adopted we would take them back home, which not a lot of fosters do.”