When Eldad Hagar, co-founder of the dog rescue Hope for Paws, arrived at the trash heap in Wilmington last November, a defeated-looking white husky huddled miserably amid the garbage, her red and raw body racked with mange, bacterial infections and parasites. The dog was too listless to run away or even to move as Hagar approached. But Hagar patiently sat with and fed the dog he would name Miley, until he was able to coax her into his Honda SUV more than an hour later. His heartrending YouTube video depicts the rescue, as well as Miley’s remarkable recovery and her friendship with another stray, Frankie, a black Chihuahua that Hagar saved by crawling deep inside a tunnel running under the I-5 freeway in Sylmar.
Miley and Frankie are just two of thousands of dogs that Hagar, along with his wife, Audrey, have rescued and found homes for since 2001: “I always save the most miserable, saddest, sickest dogs,” said Hagar, who prefers to handle the rescue missions solo. “They’re matted, starving, filthy, shot with BB guns. One pit bull mix had been shot, hit by a car and he was so hungry that he had eaten rocks to fill his stomach.”
Hagar has been rescuing animals since he was 5 in the northern Israeli town of Zichron Ya’akov, where neighbors knew to bring him stay dogs, kittens, birds and even hedgehogs that he would nurse back to health.
After marrying Audrey in 1999, the couple began volunteering with local animal groups and then fostered hundreds of dogs before Hagar began rescuing strays and capturing his missions on videotape for YouTube. The couple founded Hope for Paws in 2008, which survives on funds donated mostly from followers of their two Facebook pages.
One of Hagar’s some 200 YouTube videos shows him tying two ladders together with a leash to save a German shepherd trapped 20 feet below him in the Los Angeles River in Compton; another depicts him saving Frankie from the tunnel where she had almost drowned. But it was the video of Fiona, a terrified, blind poodle mix who underwent surgery to repair one of her eyes, that went viral last year and put Hope for Paws on the global map.
The organization now has 500,000 followers on Facebook, and Hagar has begun a new mission to spay and neuter strays with a mobile unit that treated 1,000 dogs last month. He now works 15 hours a day rescuing up to 20 dogs per week, driving to veterinary appointments and working to find the animals new homes, among other endeavors. “In my car I carry traps, ropes, fencing, flashlights — I’m ready for everything,” he said.
Hagar has rescued other animals as well: Last year, he chanced upon a donkey on the side of the road in the Negev Desert, its front legs tied together with rope that had cut to the bone; he waited for two hours in the searing heat until his friend from Israel’s Pegasus sanctuary arrived to pick up the animal.
“There are 30,000 dogs on the streets of Los Angeles each night,” he said of his work here. “There are so many living in horrible conditions, and they can’t help themselves. Miley, for example, would not have gotten better over time; she would have deteriorated and died a painful, miserable death.”
For information about Hagar’s work, visit hopeforpaws.org.