“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” — Mahatma Gandhi

When disaster strikes, be it fire, pandemic or economic crisis—it’s not only people who are displaced, injured, and stressed out, but also animals. For the past 27 years, Topanga Animal Rescue (TAR), spearheaded by Susan Clark, has operated as a loose coalition of veterinary professionals and concerned citizens. They are first responders, delivering immediate medical triage, treatment and transportation to emergency animal hospitals for wounded and abandoned, wild and domestic animals in the Santa Monica Mountains and the San Fernando Valley. 

Covid Rescue! Susan Clark of Topanga Animal Rescue administers fluids to a fawn.

The need for animal rescue is evident in Topanga Canyon, where about 12,000 people and their pets share over 11,000 acres of undeveloped state and federal park land with cougars, deer, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, hawks, owls, snakes, bees, and all manner of God’s creatures. The clash of people, animals and 20,000 cars racing daily along Topanga Canyon Boulevard doesn’t bode well for animal safety. 

Over 200 domestic cats and dogs per year are hit by cars, attacked by wild animals or abandoned in Topanga. Wildlife is also injured and killed by vehicle strikes. This interview was interrupted when Susan Clark responded via hotline and rushed to the aid of a deer struck down on the boulevard.

Born in Scotland, Susan Clark is a critical care veterinary nurse, and Topanga Animal Rescue’s founder, CEO, and director of medical and emergency rescue operations and outreach.  She has served on the board of the Topanga Town Council, and T-CEP; and Topanga Animal Rescue has been named Topanga Chamber of Commerce’s Service Organization of the Year. Susan’s husband and TAR co-founder, Ken Mazur, acts as the charity’s CFO, administrator, webmaster, photographer and fellow rescuer. 

Together, Clark and Mazur coordinate a great number of individuals who donate time and experience to, for example, relocating a hive of bees, resettling a displaced swan, reviving a dehydrated parrot, nursing a juvenile Great Horned Owl blown from its nest by high winds, and otherwise saving our pets and wildlife. No salaries are paid to rescuers or to members of the TAR Board.

Susan is on call at all times of the day and night. 20,000 cars traverse the canyon via Topanga Canyon Boulevard clashing inevitably with pets and wildlife as they speed by.
In Calabasas a swarm of honeybees was spotted landing in a hedge across the street from the district office in Calabasas. Susan Clark was called to clip the hedges and box the bees, including the queen, so that the swarm could be located to a safer home. Bees are in decline worldwide, so every single one is precious. Photo by Fiona Nagle

Topanga Animal Rescue has received formal commendations from the National Park Service for 25 years of rescue work and longstanding commitment to the preservation of the Santa Monica Mountains natural environment and to the health of and respect for its animals. They have received community service awards from the LA County Board of Supervisors, the LA County Sheriff’s Office, the LA County Fire Department, and from the office of California State Assemblyman Richard Bloom.

Over the decades, Topanga Animal Rescue has moved beyond just treating injured animals to attempting to prevent accidents through proactive education and community outreach. At the top of the list of ways to prevent animal suffering and death is, of course, an effective spay and neuter program for domestic animals.. 

“There are too many animals, and not enough homes that can adopt them,” Clark explained. “A dog or cat’s life is terminated in a U.S. shelter every 8 seconds! 7,500 shelter dogs and cats die EVERY single day.”

A constant volunteer at LAUSD public schools, Clark promotes domestic animal care and responsibility, finds homes for animals in vetted school programs, and supports bereaved pet owners with grief counseling. TAR also works with “senior and pet” programs, and provides free medical care for the pets of the homeless. TAR trains volunteers and veterinary professionals in emergency animal handling and restraint, and in disaster preparedness protocols throughout the county.

Susan Clark at Homeless Connect Malibu, November 29, 2017. Topanga Animal Rescue has teamed up with LA County to help the homeless with their animals. It’s a wonderful ‘win/win’ for the animals, their owners and the entire community.
Susan Clark poses with neighborhood children after rescuing a swan tangled in fishing wire.

A recent deluge of animals in crisis is impacting Topanga Animal Rescue, straining the resources of this wholly volunteer, non-profit organization. Here’s how the community can give back, replenish one of its most essential and hallmark charities, and manifest Topanga Animal Rescue’s holiday wish for a fully-equipped mobile veterinary unit.

Topanga Animal Rescue is a 501c3 non-profit organization, which depends on grants and donations. Volunteers are welcomed; as are donations and in-kind contributions of an item from the TAR wishlist, such as: pre-fab dog runs, medical supplies, pet food, a pickup truck, sheds big enough for animal cages, or a mobile home for an office. Funding to cover medicines, food, medical care and transportation is the priority.

Contribute to the Topanga Animal Rescue mission of bringing dignity and respect to all actions involving animals and the people who interact with them by sending tax-deductible donations to:

Topanga Animal Rescue

 P. O. Box 1012, 

Topanga, CA 90290

Or call 310-455-7268; or visit TopangaAnimalRescue.org

When not on a case, Susan is a writer and has published her work locally under “Tails of Topanga.” For the holidays, she offers an ode to pet safety in Jingle Bellies.

JINGLE BELLY

(Sing to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’)

Chorus

Jingle belly, jingle belly, jingle all the way,

Oh what fun it is to ride, to the vet on Xmas day! (NOT!) Jingle belly, jingle belly jingle all the way.

We’ll help you to avoid the trip, and this is what we say:

Verse

Dogs and cats are quick, so keep the decor high. Tinsel will they eat it? Well, they’ll give it a try, If they eat the stuff, and can’t go to the loo!

That’s a lot of money, to the vet with love from you! Oh—jingle belly jingle belly jingle all the way…

Toxic plants are bad, and here are just a few … Deadly mistletoe, poinsettia, balsam too.

Juniper and fir, holly and your pine,

None of these will leave your little fluffy feeling fine, Oh jingle belly jingle belly jingle all the way….

Don’t give chicken bones, to them on any day. Watch your candles too, they often love the taste. Keep the chocolates high, high upon the shelf,

But better yet just hide them all and eat them all yourself!

Oh jingle belly jingle belly jingle all the way…

Tell all your lovely guests, there’s something you request. Don’t give them table scraps, ’cause you know Fido best.

Take care of power cords, tuck rubber bands away. Our animals are thinking this, if only they could say!

Oh jingle belly jingle belly jingle all the way…