Saving Homeless Animals in Southern California Through Transports and Spay/Neuter | START Rescue

START Rescue Saves Homeless Animals in Southern California Through Transports and Spay-Neuters

Animal Innovations Show - Episode 45 - START Rescue

Saving Homeless Animals in Southern California Through Transports and Spay/Neuter | START Rescue

The sad news is, despite how much we love animals, pet homelessness remains a huge problem in the U.S.

The silver lining? Organizations like Shelter Transport Animal Rescue Team—also known as START Rescue—are ready to lend a hand in solving this problem.

According to Steve Spiro, one of the co-founders of START Rescue,

We do what we can, and that’s the thing, it’s another thing. We try and focus on what we can do and what we can’t do, but it’s been pretty successful.”


Saving Animals’ Lives With START Rescue

Saving Homeless Animals in Southern California Through Transports and Spay/Neuter | START Rescue

Formed in 2011, the California-based animal rescue organization was established by a group of compassionate people who set out to make a difference in the lives of animals in need.

START Rescue aims to break the chain of euthanasia occurring in California’s overflowing animal shelters through 1) community spays and neuters, and 2) compassionate, long-distance transports to no-kill rescue groups.

Steve shared,

“Basically, we have two components of the rescue. We do transports from high-kill shelters in California up to the Pacific Northwest. And we also fund spay/neuter surgeries for low-income residents in certain areas of California.”


START Rescue Gives Homeless Animals a Safe Home

For its transport program, START Rescue transports animal passengers every second Wednesday of the month to contracted and vetted shelters and rescuers in the Pacific Northwest.

To ensure the four-legged passengers’ safety, the process starts with START Rescue providing its Rescue Partners with links to the shelters’ list of at-risk animals. The latter will then choose which passenger they want to help.

Once the Rescue Partners communicate their choices, START Rescue will then create a manifest detailing each passenger’s important information. The animals will be going out of state, so START Rescue sees to it that the pets meet agricultural requirements, have received all the vaccinations they needed, and have been certified to be healthy.

Afterward, the organization’s 38-foot, outfitted bus (known as “The Beast”) picks up the shelter animal passengers and drops them off to START Rescue’s START-SAFE Rescue Partners. After the fur babies have settled in, the Rescue Partners then begin the work of getting them ready for adoption.

As per Steve,

“We send them an application form, which, we’ve been told, is easier to adopt a child than to take one of our dogs. And one of the rules is they have to send us updates of each animal that goes up. We get updates. So, then, we send that out—that update outon a newsletter every other week so our donor base and people can see where these dogs come from and where they end up. So, it’s been very successful.”

Most of the animals START Rescue works with come from Delano, Kern County, Bakersfield, Los Angeles County, Modesto, Porterville, Riverside, San Bernardino City, San Bernardino County, Tulare County, and Visalia City.

As stated on its website, the reason why START Rescue transports homeless dogs for adoption to Rescue Partners in the Pacific Northwest is that Oregon and Washington States aren’t oversaturated with unwanted, abandoned pets, unlike in California.


START Rescue Funds Low-Cost Community Spay/Neuters for Low-Income California Residents

Saving Homeless Animals in Southern California Through Transports and Spay Neuter | START Rescue

As for START Rescue’s spay/neuter efforts, the organization wants to reduce the number of innocent dogs and cats euthanized in shelters every year and help end their suffering.

To this end, Steve and his colleagues have funded—and continue to fundmore than 9,000 spay/neuter surgeries aimed at reducing the number of unwanted births.

“So, what it is, is we actually have a plan… We try and focus on certain areas… So, we work with three shelters close to Porterville, Visalia, and Tulare. And they’ve got wonderful, wonderful people out there. It’s a low-income residence there. So, what we do is we transport their dogs from the shelters. And we also help any residents that need spay/neuter out there… And there’s a clinic. There’s a wonderful lady called Diana Bentz. She has the Simi Valley Non-Profit Clinic in Simi Valley. And then she has the Porterville Non-Profit Clinic in Porterville, which are three hours apart. And she does a lot ofshe does thousands and thousands of spay/neuters a year. So, we work with her,”

Steve stated.


START Rescue’s H.O.P.E. Program Gives Hope

But their efforts don’t only stop at animal rescue transport, though. Showing everybody that nothing can hinder them from going all-out on achieving their goals, START Rescue also operates START Rescue Resale Store and created the Homeless Owners and Pets Efforts (HOPE) Program.

“Again, we’re not going to save what we can’t. I wish we could, but we can’t. So, instead, we do what we can, and that’s the thing… We try and focus on what we can do and what we can’t do…”

The START Rescue Resale Store is a nonprofit thrift store that has also become a resource for homeless humans and their pets.

Saving Homeless Animals in Southern California Through Transports and Spay Neuter START Rescue

On the other hand, the HOPE Program aims to provide social services not only to anyone who is homeless but also to their four-legged babies. It gets its funding solely through donations made by donors with generous hearts.

Expressing his hopes for the future, Steve remarked,

“I’m hoping at some point, it shifts in the way of the animals’ favor. I’m hoping that we go out of business. We don’t need to do this anymore… And, you know, a long-term goal is getting their own place, their own sanctuary, rescue sanctuary eventually.  That’d be nice, but that’s a lot of work and that’s down the road. But I think it’s just for one step at a time and just keep doing what we’re doing. Keep what we’re doing, keeping it successful, and keep helping as many animals as we can each month.”


Learn more about START Rescue!

Check out their website at

Have suggestions for who we should interview next?

Send us a message at [email protected]!


Hello, I’m Steve Spiro, and welcome to The Animal Innovations Show.


Awesome introduction, Steve.

So, tell us who you are and how you’re innovating and helping animals.


Hi, so I’m Steve Spiro, and I am one of the co-founders of an organization based in California called Shelter Transport Animal Rescue Team (or S.T.A.R.T.) for short.

And basically, we have two components of the rescue: 1) we do transports from high-kill shelters in California up to the Pacific Northwest, and 2) we also fund spay-neuter surgeries for low-income residents in certain areas of California.

We just celebrated our 10th anniversary. We formed in May 2011.

So, 10 years, and we actually just celebrated our 14,000th animal rescue this week. So, it’s been—yeah, it’s been pretty successful.


Now, you said—so, obviously, you’ve got the two components. Tell us a little bit more about it.

I mean, certainly the transport side is where you started.


Back in 2011, we were a new group that got together, and we’re all doing individual rescue.

And it was very stressful, very expensive—you know, our credit cards were all maxed. And we decided to form a transport group.

This girl we knew had some relationships in Oregon, and they needed animals. And we’re like, “How do we get them there?”

So, a good friend of ours—Adam Tarshis—he ordered this little truck, and we retrofitted it, put crates in there.

And we started transporting 10, 20, 30 animals up to the Pacific Northwest. And we hired drivers to do it.

And then the van kept breaking down. And then, you know, AAA was called 20 times a month.

So, we had a really kind donor that board us our big van that’s now affectionately called “The Beast”.

And it can hold up to about 120 dogs on board.


120? That’s huge!


Yeah, it’s great. It’s an amazing vehicle. It’s done really well.


Put it in perspective. I mean, so from LA to where you’re going in the Northwest, like, how far is that?


So, going back a little bit.

So, it’s not just “throw a dog on board, take it up, drop it off”. It’s very complicated, which is why I stepped back because I suck at arranging transports.

A girl, Candace, who’s been with us for about 9 years, she’s a genius. And she basically has built up relationships in the Pacific Northwest, along with some other people we know, people over in Oregon and Washington state.

And we vet them out. We send them an application form, which we’ve been told, it’s easier to adopt a child than take one of our dogs.

And one of the rules is they have to send us updates of each animal that goes up. We get updates.

So, then we send that out, that update out, on a newsletter every other week so our donor base and people can see where these dogs have come from and where they end up.

But Candace then has a spreadsheet, and we work with certain shelters. So, we’ll work with, say, Riverside Shelter, Portugal Shelter in California, the Tulare Shelter, Visalia Shelter, Stockton Shelter.

And then we’ve had relationships with the people there, and they send a link each month to our groups in the Pacific Northwest of the dogs available, and the groups have picked those dogs with a shelter number.

Then Candace will put it all on a spreadsheet. And basically, every second Wednesday of every month,  that’s when our transport leaves.

So, it’s a set day every month, and usually set—and they have set stops along the way where the transport goes.

So, it usually goes into Porterville because that’s where the majority of the dogs come from. We have those set bases.

So, dogs are loaded up there, and off they go up to the Pacific Northwest. And it’s the same groups month after month.

We can’t just drop a dog off to someone who says, “Oh, my friend wants a dog.”

It doesn’t work like that. They’ve got to be vetted. There’s got to be a contract.

If the dog doesn’t work out, it has to come back to us, or we have to figure out an alternative if there’s an issue with the dog.

If the dog arrives, and there’s a health issue, then we usually try and help with some donations to help fund the dog.

We don’t want to stick the group with a sick dog or something like that. You know, dogs require health certificates and being fully vaccinated as well.


Hey, you also said you guys are doing low-cost—you’re funding low-cost spay-neuter as well.


We don’t just transport a little bit here and there. We try and focus on certain areas.

Like a few years ago, we were working mainly with Riverside Shelter. They had a wonderful director there, and it was just—it was—we were funding spay neuters there and transport, and you know, they study S.T.A.R.T. to see a difference.

Plus, the director at the time was very progressive. He was really working to get their numbers—the intake down and their adoptions up.

And he did a really wonderful job, and we jumped on board with that. He was so easy to work with. And that was a pleasure.

Now, what we’ve done is, we’re now out in Porterville. So, we work with the 3 shelters close in Porterville, Visalia, and Tulare.

And they’ve got wonderful, wonderful people out there. It’s a low-income residency there.

So, what we do is we transport their dogs from the shelters, and we also help any residents that need spay-neuter out there.

So, that’s where—and there’s a clinic, there’s a wonderful lady called Diana Benz. She has a Simi Valley Nonprofit Clinic in Simi Valley. And then she has the Porterville Nonprofit Clinic in Porterville.

She does thousands and thousands of spay neuters a year. So, we work with her.

That’s all they would do all day long, and they do an amazing job. So, we have a big billboard out in Porterville right now as well. She’s getting attention for spay-neuter.

So, people call up, they need an appointment, or just someone has an animal that needs to be fixed, and we fund them—and we do 50 dogs and cats a month.

Yeah, we’ve done it every month for the last, I think, 5, 6 years now, within, maybe, 5 years within.

So, we’re approaching about 11 or 12,000 spay-neuter surgeries as well.


Take us back to when you guys founded this, back 10, 11 years ago, I mean, what was going on?

What was going through your mindset that made you guys say, “Hey, this is what we really need to focus on to make a difference”?


It really was, like, the amount of emails, the amount—you know, I mean, it’s hundreds every day of emails.

And stupidly, I open the emails. I’m like, “Oh, my God, this dog looks so sad, oh, my God.”

And we had to talk with our friend one time, and she’s like, “You know, Oregon has a shortage of animals. They’re not a “shortage” shortage, but they could do—The shelters, they need animals. They could do—all the 20 little Chihuahuas here, there’s a place for them. There’s no place for them here because everyone has shown us. There’s a place for them. Can we send them? How do we get them up?”

And that’s how it just started. And we’re just all putting ideas. We’re like, “Let’s do this.”

And then our friend, Adam Tarshis, had founded his own foundation. He goes, “Look, let’s buy a huge van because I know someone who can retrofit it. And let’s give it a go.”

We’re  like, “Yeah, okay.”

And then, three people—this was the key factor—said, “I’ll give you $500 a month of our donate if you can pull this off.”

So, we had $1500 a month. And then I had, like, a hundred people on a donor list back then when we were doing individual rescue and saving one’s email.

So, I reached out to them when we had some animals going up, and I said, “Would you donate $5?”

And they did.

And that just grew and grew and grew. So, now, we have 4,000 people on this big list.

And people trust us because we do a newsletter every other week, and we keep people updated on what we’re doing.

We’re not perfect, but who is? We just do our best.


So, Steve, what’s your background?

I mean, you don’t have a background in logistics and animal transfer, obviously. So, what’s your background?


It’s funny because I never grew up with animals.

I came from England—from London—and never had a—I had a chi. She had bronchitis, and my sister had asthma. So, we never had animals growing up. My mom’s growing to be allergic.

So, when I met my wife, Suzanna, who runs our adoptions, she had two dogs, two rescue dogs: Audie and Ruby.

Audie had three legs. One leg was paralyzed; someone shot him. And he just used to howl when they come down in the morning. 

And he would howl even in his dog bed, and like, you know, look up and howl at me.

I’m like, “Oh, my God, the dog’s happy to see me.” I’m like, “I like dogs!”

She (Suzanna) went out of town to work several times, and she said, “Will you walk the dogs while I’m gone?”

And I started walking. I was just really bonding.

And then the biggest turning point was literally—I went to the South Central Shelter.

It was a high-kill shelter in LA. And I met the love-of-my-life dog there. He was called “Moy Moy”.

He was a Brindle Pitbull mix that was so depressed. And me and my wife, we rescued him.

And he became like—he became Moy Moy, you know the Moy Moy of our lives.

He was such an amazing spiritual dog. Any abused dog we brought home, they would go straight to Moy Moy; they would just gravitate to Moy Moy.

It was so special. And then he passed away on my birthday in 2013. And, yeah, I’m still—I still miss him up to this day.


Now, that’s awesome. I mean, you guys have transported over 14000 animals.

We’re just putting that into perspective. That’s a heck of a lot of animals every year.

This is really cool to see what you guys are doing.

Is there anything you want to mention before we wrap things up today?


Yeah, I want to give a mention, too.

I had a little part in a film called “Blood Pageant”. And the producer, Chris Gilmore—huge cat lover, he and his amazing son, Leo.

So, that’s coming out on Amazon on—I think it’s June 29th, coming out on Amazon. And we actually have a premiere tonight of the film.

And I also have a TV show called “Boned” that is in production right now. And it’s basically the—it’s “Hollywood meets the animal rescue world”.


Steve, where can people learn more about S.T.A.R.T. Rescue, maybe get a hold of you?


You can go to our website, which is STARTRESCUE.ORG.

And all the information about the organization is there. You can follow us on Instagram, on Twitter, on Facebook, etc.


Well, as we wrap things up, I’ll just remind our viewers and listeners.

If you guys have somebody I should talk to, somebody that’s amazing, like Steve, doing so much for animals, let us know about it.

Go to INNOVATIONS.SHOW, and let us know. We’ll feature them on the show.

So, thanks again, Steve, for coming on. It’s really good.


Thank you, Chris, this is wonderful. Thank you so much.

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