By Janet McAfee

During the February “month of love”, this column features loving Coachella Valley couples who work together to rescue and adopt homeless animals.  Bonded by a mutual deep love for dogs, Curtis Sweesy and Vanessa Ruggles happily celebrated Valentine’s Day with a new adopted rescue puppy named Ziya.  The couple are usually “big dog” folks.  They have helped rescue and foster 44 dogs for Loving All Animals and GreySave, a greyhound Rescue.  Their dining room is covered with their Wall of Love, beautifully framed portraits of the many once homeless animals that they socialized, loved, and prepared for their forever homes.

Vanessa explains how they fostered, fell in love, and adopted this pint size Miniature Pinscher mix pup.  “We’ve only ever had big dogs.  But the logistics for traveling comfortably in our vehicle with our 3 large dogs made taking in a small dog a desirable option.  We helped select Ziya from the county shelter as a Loving All Animals’ foster.  I’d never had a small dog, but this one stole my heart when she cuddled on my lap and under the bed covers at night.  At first, I was concerned she might get hurt accidentally while playing with one of our big ones.  But Ziya doesn’t know she’s little, she’s tough, and she’s full of adoration for the other dogs.  The older big dogs, Keya and Kota, are nice and calm.  Our active 20-mo-old 100-pound German Shepherd, Kizo, instinctively knew to be gentle with little Ziya.  Kizo immediately became the guiding big brother – he lets Ziya snuggle and gently wrestles and plays tug-of-war with her.”

Vanessa concludes, “Fostering is one of the most important things Curtis and I do.”  Join Curtis and Vanessa and become part of a life-saving foster team at   This couple experience the joy of seeing sometimes frightened animals transform after being in a loving and stable home.  Curtis has an innate ability to transform the most frightened dogs, able to handle these dogs at local shelters even when the shelter staff has given up on them.  The couple have done some heroic 11th hour rescues of shelter dogs out of time.  New dogs are then welcomed by their gentle pack. The calm, loving energy in their home resonated with their first dog, Pisko, and continues to transfer to those who came after him.


Curtis explains, “There were always dogs of our sizes and breeds in my life growing up.  My friends and relatives had mostly German Shepherds, the breed I came to love the most.  When I turned 15, I got my first Shepherd.  These days, Vanessa and I take in foster dogs that were unclaimed shelter strays.  Working together as a team, we build up the dogs’ trust in people when they didn’t ever get that before.  We couldn’t do this work unless each of us is involved, supportive, and loves dogs with all our hearts!  It’s about being patient, taking our time, and providing the dogs with much love.”  Vanessa and Curtis were 3 times “foster failures”, adopting 3 of their fostered pups.

The Lakota Sioux names for their dogs reflect Curtis’ 50% Native American ancestry.  Each name has a symbolic meaning reflecting something special about each dog.  Surrounded by this loving couple and their well-adjusted dogs, even those beaten and without hope find a way to heal and get a second chance.  They rescued a “rescue only” white Shepherd from the San Bernardino City Shelter after the staff there advised them the dog had too many problems.  They named her Skyela which in in Lakota Sioux means “beautiful form of white”.  The dog curiously explored their spacious yard upon arrival home, becoming part of the pack and never exhibiting any fear or aggression with her foster family.

If you are still single, don’t be alone during Valentine season.  Go out and adopt an amazing rescue animal from one of the shelters on the attached list.  Their grateful heart will fill the hole in your own heart.  You never know who you might meet walking your new dog in the neighborhood and hanging out at the dog park.  You get extra points if your dog is a rescue.   If you can’t adopt, foster.  If you can’t foster, many of the shelters listed welcome volunteers to walk dogs and socialize cats.

The grateful hearts of rescue dogs and cats bring us love all year around.  Couples like Vanessa and Curtis report their love for each other is enhanced by their loving mission to save more animals.  May each of you enjoy the love of a precious animal during this Valentine season of love.  Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you and your animals!