Pets surviving COVID-19 pandemic? Local animal rescuer has that covered

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Courtesy photo – Kandace Kuwahara makes a sizable donation of pet food and treats to the city of Gardena Human Services Department. Kuwahara operates the non-profit group, Infinite Love Animal Rescue.

By Gary Kohatsu

During the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a generous outpouring of people helping people get through the disruption of normal life. Pets on the other hand, have not received nearly the same attention.

Kandace Kuwahara saw the disparity of neglect for pets and sought to make a difference. Kuwahara, who runs a non-profit organization called Infinite Love Animal Rescue, made a sizable donation of pet food to the city of Gardena in early May.

An unofficial count of her contribution is impressive: more than 1,705 packets of Wellness Core “Mini Meals” dog food (143 boxes); 540 Inaba Foods Chura cat treats; 450 Inaba Foods Chura dog treats; and 4 bags of pet food.

Kuwahara, a Gardena native, started collecting items to be donated on April 11. She “meditated” on how she could be of service to the Gardena community

“I was inspired when I read an article on people shopping for groceries for senior citizens who are on ‘shelter in place’ order,” Kuwahara told the GVN. “And so the idea came to me that they would probably need pet food as well. I had a friend who had a difficult time finding pet food in the beginning of the ‘safer at home’ order and that’s how I came up with the idea.”

She credits Wellness Pet Food, Best Friends/NKLA, Inaba Foods (USA) Inc. and Beatriz Martinez for their pet food donations, which were specifically intended for Infinite Love’s Pet Food pantry. No monetary contributions to Infinite Love by supporters was used for the recent Gardena donation, Kuwahara emphasizes.

With businesses shutting down and workers finding themselves with an uncertain future due to COVID-19, Kuwahara is aware that some families face the unthinkable decision of giving away their pets.

She also acknowledged that the cost of pet food has put a strain on the family food budget. Preventing the problem before it begins, she says, is a key to keeping the family intact.

“It is heartbreaking to think that some people cannot afford to feed their furbaby, which is a reality people have to face, especially now,” Kuwahara says. “For the past month, I have been calling pet food manufactures asking for donations specifically for seniors with pets. I contacted Thomas Kang, retired Gardena police chief, asking if he can recommend anyone to help me distribute the food or any pet pantries that I can contribute too. He referred me to Jackie Arcos with Human Services at the City of Gardena. She said that they are in need of pet food for the senior meals program and emergency services program that supports people who (have pets and) are financially struggling.”

While some people have had to give up their pets, others have used the ‘stay at home’ order to bring homeless animals into the household, she says.

“The heartening news is that there has been a great spike in adoptions and fosters since the beginning of the quarantine,” Kuwahara says. ”It is the perfect time to introduce a new dog/cat into the family.”

In 2017, she founded her nonprofit rescue organization, Infinite Love. The name was inspired by her late pup “Boo,” who she says taught her that love is infinite and eternal. Boo was a Jack Russell-chihuahua mix that Kuwahara rescued from the spcaLA in Hawthorne.

Boo also serves as her group’s logo model, which was designed by Kuwahara. ILAR is dedicated to finding homes for abandoned and displaced dogs, while educating the public to be more responsible pet owners, she says.

“Our goal is to help (rescued dogs) in every way we can… emotionally, socially, and physically so that the transition into their forever homes will be as smooth as possible,” Kuwahara says. “We specialize in small family dogs that are scared and shut down, provide them with the medical attention and the unconditional love that they need to blossom.”

Infinite Love identifies the needs of each furbaby for its uniqueness. The group’s foster program determines the “idea lifestyle” for each dog, she says. Does the dog enjoy a lot of activity, like to cuddle, love children?

An example would be a chi-weenie named Strudel, now available for adoption.

“She has a little separation anxiety and we think it’s because she came from a hoarding situation,” Kuwahara says. “So we are searching for a home with someone who is retired or who works from home, and isn’t away from the home too long.”

ILAR incorporates a thorough adoption process, which includes an application, phone interview, meet and greet, and home check, she says.

As a small organization, Infinite Love operates with a volunteer staff and a small budget. Kuwahara, who has spent more than 20 years volunteering with various rescue groups in the South Bay and Los Angeles, confides that it’s a challenge caring for animals in need of forever homes while simultaneously handling the administrative duties.

“Currently, we are 100% volunteer-run,” Kuwahara says. “I rescue full time, every day, all day. I do not get paid. I am currently living on my savings account. I used to work full time as a graphic designer, plus rescue full time, but that became overwhelming for me, so now I am fully committed to rescuing animals.”

Love success stories include Lotus (now Lollypop). The 10-year-old Yorkie mix had infections, mange, and stage 2 breast cancer. Kuwahara’s group provided the dog with the medical attention needed before finding Lotus with her forever home.

Another dog, Trinity, was a tri-pawd, that was limping on a leg that was fractured and never healed. “Two vets said that her leg needed to be amputated,” Kuwahara says. “So we paid for her procedure and cared for her and now she is running and thriving in her forever home.

“This is the importance of receiving financial donations,” she says.

In 2019, Kuwahara had a chance reunion with Daryle Nagano-Krier, a former Gardena High School classmate. Nagano-Krier, a fellow animal lover and rescuer, joined Infinite Love Animal Rescue as a volunteer.

“She is positive, self-motivated, a great communicator, and organized,” Kuwahara told the Rafu Shimpo in a 2019 interview. “I am grateful to be able to lean into her for support and know that she will get it done.”

Nagano-Krier, a Communication Studies educator at El Camino College and Los Angeles Harbor College, has since been named Infinite Love’s program manager.

In the past year, the organization has grown exponentially, Kuwahara says. Infinite Love has participated in many community events by having adoption and outreach booths.

“This year, we were planning to expand our Humane Education programs and bring emotional support dogs to nursing homes, but that will most likely take place in 2021,” Kuwahara says. “We have also doubled the amount of dogs that we rescued from the previous years thankfully to my wonderful team of volunteers.”

Her book, “Be Your Own Sunshine,” was to be published this year.

Some of Kuwahara’s 2020 plans have been altered due to COVID-19.

“The pandemic has really slowed down my rescue and it’s been challenging,” she admits. “But it gave me the opportunity to work on the ‘behind the scenes’ tasks like partnering with more shelters (Riverside County Department of Animal Services), pet food manufacturers, and administrative duties.

Kuwahara uses various social media platforms to bring attention to her group: Instagram account @InfiniteLoveRescue and also on Petfinder.com, which is linked to her website www.InfiniteLoveRescue.org.

Those wanting to support Infinite Love Animal Rescue, can do so through Paypal: Kandace@InfiniteLoveRescue.org, Venmo: @InfiniteLoveRescue, Zelle: 310-991-5263, and we both checks and cash are accepted.