Strangest Angels is the Saving Grace For Animals Without a Prayer
Back when Elle Wittelsbach was doing undercover work, she set out to investigate a shelter and came home with seventeen animals.
That’s right. I said seventeen.
Even when she was a kid, her compassion was so great that she would bring injured animals, including mice and rats, into her home so that she could try to help them. Watching his daughter dirty her dresses so she could nurture these critters — the ones most people thought were “gross” or “scary” — led Elle’s dad to christen her a “strange angel”.
Today, Elle runs Strangest Angels Animal Rescue in the Los Angeles area of California. She says she named the shelter after her old nickname because she sees these animals as angels and gaurdians for people. They are “good for the soul” and give unconditional love.
When Elle first started getting into animal rescue, she admits that she had no idea what she was doing. She was hard-pressed to find guidance from other rescuers. But after learning the shockingly high rates of euthanasia in shelters when she adopted her first dog, Elle knew she had to do something.
Since there was no Petfinder or Adopt a Pet websites to search for animals that needed homes, and the shelters wouldn’t let anyone take pictures of the animals themselves, Elle began her own renegade version of rescue. She befriended shelter workers so they would let her see the euthanasia list and she assembled a network of benevolent fosters. Eventually, she began learning the ropes of rescue, but not before spending 10,000 dollars of her own savings to pull animals–mostly dogs–from the shelters, and give them another chance at life.
On the Strangest Angels website, Elle says she’ll “rescue anything with a pulse and [she'll] do it in her favorite dress.” Just like when she would bring home dying rats and mice, (the lower, “reject” members of the animal kingdom) today, Elle rescues the dogs, cats and other animal angels who are most in need. She helps those who are sick, or the breeds who often get returned, or for one reason or another, those animals that the shelter deems un-adoptable. Without Elle, many of these animals would never have a prayer.
She relies on her team of fosters, volunteers and supporters to help her take these animals from death row to loving homes — some even find themselves sitting in the lap of luxury! Rebecca Romijn and Kathy Griffin both adopted from Strangest Angels, and their dogs are now seen in photo shoots and on TV — a far cry from their former lives. Romijn’s dog is named Taco because he was found chained to a taco truck, with his fur matted with garbage. Elle says this celebrity support, along with ads like PETA’s “Adopt, Don’t Buy”, make a big difference. It’s amazing that sometimes it takes the word of a glamorous celebrity to open people’s eyes to the idea of adoption when so many good dogs and other animals are available, and just as “worthy” as those from breeders and pet stores.
You can hear Taco’s story, and other Strangest Angel rescue stories, in this video. (Warning: you may want to grab the tissues):
Elle stresses the importance of adopting dogs from rescues and shelters — and not falling victim to the cute doggy-in-the-window trap. Even if you feel you are “rescuing” that dog from life in a puppy mill, or that it’s already born, so someone has to buy it, the money you contribute to puppy mills and breeders only perpetuates their practices and adds to the list of animals being euthanized in overcrowded shelters. Personally, I sometimes find it difficult to keep my composure when I hear that someone is planning on buying a dog from a breeder or pet store, where the dogs often come from cruel puppy mills. So I asked Elle what she does when she meets someone in this situation.
What I tell people [is], ‘what you hear is that shelter animals, there’s something wrong with them, but there’s not. It’s a disposable society. People are moving, or they’ve been foreclosed on, or the boyfriend doesn’t like the new dog, or they’re allergic. They dump the animals. So, you can find ANY kind of animal at ANY one of our shelters. You can go to Petfinder.com or LA Animal Services…I’m really straightforward about everything. And once people hear about the euthanasia, that usually stops them in their tracks. Let people know, too, there’s rescues for every breed. If you want a purebred…you just google it in your area and it’ll come up, a bunch, a ton. There’s no reason to be buying from a breeder when so many animals are dying every day.
It’s supply and demand. If you stop buying, they’re not going to order more animals from the puppy mill. But if you’re going to keep with the excuses, ‘well, the animal was born,’ and you keep paying for the breeder, well then he’s going to keep having the animals bred. So it’s just an ongoing, vicious cycle. But these people are contributing to it, and they’re coming with an excuse — and I’m there to debate it every time. Online is great because you can send them a video and they learn. Some people need that shocking video to really go ‘Wow, that does happen. I had to see it with my own eyes to really believe it.’
Educating others is important. Though it can be stressful, Elle uses meditation and tries to channel “a kind of Ghandi manner” when talking to people and when personal hardships make her job all the more difficult. She’s been through a lot — from struggling to find her footing without a mentor in the rescue world and draining her savings, to coming home from undercover missions and crying in the shower, to enduring the early death of her brother, Ray. After he died, Elle says everything felt like abandonment, and it was even hard to adopt out the Strangest Angels animals because is felt like they were leaving her. But through it all, Elle’s spirit and sense of humor (and, I’m sure, many kisses from thankful dogs) help her get through it and stay positive.
Don’t lose hope, maintain balance, and try to learn as much as you can and be able to educate the public as much as you can in awareness. And don’t try to save them all because you can’t; it’s the bigger picture. The laws especially — we all need to work with the laws. We change the laws a little here and a littler there. That’s what’s going to help in the bigger picture…You’ve just got to keep a good balance and know that everything you do [matters]. You helped one and you’re going to help more. And you can educate hundreds of people not to give up. If you overwhelm yourself, you’re not going to want to do it, or you’re going to give up, or you’ll have a bad attitude about people. It’s easy to think there’s so many [bad people], but there are some kind people. And even the most ridiculous people…you can help educate and see them do a 180. It’s amazing.
Through it all, Elle keeps smiling and stays focused on her goal: helping animals. Strangest Angels is constantly taking in new animals and can always use fosters, or help with medical bills, boarding bills, and other expenses to help give these suffering creatures a better life. They are also trying to raise enough money to get their own facility, which would allow them to expand their organization and rescue even more animals in need. With the help of fosters, veterinarians, boarders, and fellow rescuers, Elle has managed to save countless animals from death. She looks at these animals rejected by the world and sees something worth saving, truly making her….that’s right, an angel.
If you’re interested in adopting a homeless animal, you can go to:
More helpful resources:
Project Hope allows people see which dogs are on the euthanasia list at some shelters.
Photo of Elle (the blonde) and a friend with Strangest Angels dogs courtesy of Elle Wittelsbach