5-Star Pet Hotel Rehomes Homeless Pets | Wagmor Pets

Animal Innovations Show - Episode 46 - Wagmor Pets

5-Star Pet Hotel Rehomes Homeless Pets | Wagmor Pets

Who knew that you could actually reinvent a five-star dog hotel and spa into a nonprofit organization that’s also focused on animal rescue?

That’s exactly what Melissa Bacelar, founder of The Wagmor Luxury Pet Hotel & Spa, did when she started Wagmor Pets Dog Rescue.

According to Melissa,

“I, for the last seven years, have run Wagmor Pet Hotel & Spa. And I did it sort of on a whim because I always loved dogs, and I’ve rescued dogs, like, very small-scale for the last 16, 17 years since I moved to Los Angeles…”

A 501(c)(3) organization based in California, Wagmor Pets Dog Rescue aims to reduce animal suffering and increase animal well-being. Its ultimate goal is to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome dogs in need to responsible and loving homes, where dogs can live happy, fulfilling lives.

 

A Five-Star Hotel Turned Into Nonprofit International Dog Rescue

Melissa started running the business as a five-star luxury pet hotel and spa that provides pet dogs with all the luxury, comfort, and safety that they need.
From the quietest possible dryers in the hotel’s spa to the couches and pools found in its daycare, Melissa and her staff customized their services to help make pet parents and their four-legged babies feel at ease.

“One day, I just saw this dog facility that I knew was a dog hotel and spa, and it was leased. And I thought, ‘You know what, I think I would like to do that.’… So, that was seven years ago, and I signed the lease, and we opened it. And I decided that since I had a background in dog rescue, and I loved dogs, I was like, ‘I’m going to give the front window of this building to a few dogs. I’m going to rescue, like, four or five dogs at a time, and it’ll be easy. The people will come in. They’ll be using us for daycare and boarding and grooming. And they’ll want to adopt dogs because they love dogs.’ So, we did that.”

With the dog hotel’s amazing location being at the heart of Studio City, however, Melissa hadn’t thought about the influx of celebrities, executives, and other big-shot clients who would be passing by the hotel’s window and looking at the displayed dogs.

She continued,

“Because this window, this adoption window, became such a hot place for people to look on their lunch break and see these cute dogs for adoption, other rescuers, other 501(c)(3)s would come to me and say, ‘Listen, we’re having a really hard time adopting this dog. Do you mind taking the dog, letting the dog stay with you ’til the dog gets adopted?’ And I was like, ‘No problem.’ So, we just started doing that.”

They were still operating solely as a dog hotel at the time and didn’t yet have a 501(c)(3) organization. However, it was this activity of bringing in dogs from other nonprofit animal welfare groups that led to Melissa starting Wagmor Pets Dog Rescue.

 

Wagmor Pets Dog Rescue on the Move

5-Star Hotel & Spa Rehomes Homeless Pets Wagmor Pets Dog Rescue

As someone who has always been volunteering, rescuing animals, and finding ways to help any animal in need, Melissa believed it was only natural for her to take the business to a new (read: animal rescue) direction.

According to Melissa,

“If we got five or six dogs adopted one week, it was great. If we got one dog adopted, it was great. There was no pressure. It was just something we like to do. We had a 24-hour staff, so the staff would watch the rescue dogs, too… So, that went on for quite a few years.”

However, the turning point was when some of Hollywood’s elite, like Sandra Bullock, Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Aniston, Miley Cyrus, and Lucy Hale, asked Melissa to help them find a dog rescue they could adopt.

“Once I found a dog for Ellen, she was like, ‘You need to rescue more dogs. I’m going to help you.’ And she started talking about us on her show,”

Melissa smilingly said, remembering.

Because of this, Wagmor Pets’ dog rescue efforts started receiving more support from a lot of people. It came to a point that even though it was still a dog hotel at the time, people started approaching the staff for help looking for adoptable dogs.

“It was like, we were adopting five or six dogs a week. And then all of a sudden it was like, ‘Oh, all our dogs are gone. We need more dogs.’ And I’m calling rescue groups… Like, people are calling me out of the woodwork, and we don’t have any dogs. So, then I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to start my own 501(c)(3). I want to start to pull my own dogs out of the shelters and all that.’ So, we started to do that.”

Although Wagmor Pets Dog Rescue officially opened only in February of 2020, the nonprofit international dog rescue organization has been rescuing since way back. In fact, they have already rescued over 3,000 dogs (and counting!) through the pandemic.

Melissa shared,

“We just kept growing and growing and growing… We grew, and we grew fast. And we made mistakes, and we learned. And we changed the way we do things…”

Today, Wagmor Pets Dog Rescue has many services to offer, including volunteer opportunities, adoptions, fostering, transportation, and fundraising.

5-Star Hotel & Spa Rehomes Homeless Pets Wagmor Pets Dog Rescue

Melissa and her staff are also currently working on expanding their services to include a spay and neuter program. Aside from that, they also plan to find clinics for stray dogs and low-income families.

As per Melissa,

This is what wakes me up in the morning. This is what puts a smile on my face. It’s what I love to do. This is what drives me, and I’m absolutely going to keep doing rescue.”

Wagmor Pets Dog Rescue has several partnerships to save homeless dogs in Thailand and China.

 

Learn more about Wagmor Pets Dog Rescue!

Check out their website at www.thewagmor.com.

Visit the Wagmor Luxury Pet Hotel & Spa’s website at https://www.thewagmor.com.

Have suggestions for who we should interview next?

Send us a message at [email protected]!

Melissa: Hi, I’m Melissa Bacelar, and you are tuned in to The Animal Innovations Show.

Chris: Awesome introduction, Melissa. So, welcome. Thanks for coming. Tell us who you are and how you’re innovating and helping animals.

Melissa: I run Wagmor Pets, which is a dog rescue in Studio City. And through the pandemic, we have rescued over 3000 dogs.

Chris: Wait… 3000 dogs in the last year?

Melissa: Yes. We rescued 3000 dogs. We’ve housed 3000 dogs. We’ve probably rescued more because we still have many, many, many in our shelters and foster system. And we opened our 501(c)(3) in February of 2020.

Chris: Not really good timing, huh.

Melissa: It was interesting. I, for the last 7 years, have run Wagmor Pet Hotel and Spa. And I did it sort of on a whim because I always loved dogs. And I’ve rescued dogs for the last 16,17 years since I moved to Los Angeles. And, you know, one day, I just saw this dog facility that I knew was a dog hotel and spa and it was for lease. And I thought, “You know, I think I would like to do that.”

I never groomed a dog, never—you know, I was just like, “I’m going to call.” The lease was a huge number, and it was really scary. And I was like, “I don’t think I could do this.” And everybody told me it probably wasn’t a good idea, which I think is what really motivated me to be like, “Well, I could do it, if I want to.”

Chris: Exactly, go ahead and tell me.

Melissa: So, that was 7 years ago. And I signed the lease, and we opened it. And I decided that since they had a background in dog rescue, and I loved dogs, I was like, “I’m gonna give the front window of this building to a few dogs. I’m gonna rescue, like, four or five dogs at a time.” And it’ll be easy. The people will come in, they’ll be using us for daycare, and boarding, and grooming. And they’ll wanna adopt dogs because they love dogs.” Our space, our original dog hotel, is in the heart of Studio City It’s blocks away from CBS Rad. Heard the talkest films, like earshot away, all these big shows. So, we had celebrities, we had executives. We had all these people passing by our window, looking at these dogs every day.

So, that became our clientele. It wasn’t anything that I thought about. It wasn’t on purpose. It just literally was where we were, you know, and it was—

Chris: This isn’t like almost like a strip mold type of a thing.

Melissa: Yes.

Our store is—we have 2 spaces next to 2 of the hottest restaurants in the valley: One being Asanebo, which is like a Michelin star-rated sushi restaurant. Everybody goes to it. People travel from all over the world. They fly in to go to this restaurant.

Chris: Wow.

Melissa: It’s a pretty good location.

Chris: And you’re right next door.

Melissa: We’re right—our window is next door to these people eating a $1,000 sushi.

Chris: Yeah, I love it.

Melissa: I mean, we’re a dog hotel. And that was what my focus was on. I had just had my first son. And in my head, it was this thing. This was going to be my kid’s future. This is going to be my future.

I was going to have this dog hotel, and this was my livelihood. So, we opened it. And because this window, this “adoption window”, was such a hot place for people to, like, look on their lunch break and see these cute dogs for adoption, other rescues, other 501(c)(3)s, would come to me and say, “Listen, having a really hard time adopting this dog. Do you mind taking the dog, letting the dog stay with you, till all the dog gets adopted?” And I was like, “No problem.”

So, we just started doing that. We didn’t even have a 501. We just sort of started bringing in dogs from other 501s, getting them adopted. And there was no pressure. Like, if we got 5 or 6 dogs adopted one week, it was great. If we got one dog adopted, it was great. There was no pressure. It was just something we like to do. We had a 24-hour staff, so the staff would watch the rescue dogs, too. Like, no big deal. Then when my son went to pre-school, he went to preschool where Sandra Bullock stops. Sandra Bullock comes to me and says, “I really want a dog, but I need this very specific dog. I need a poodle. I need a poodle that’s not white. I need—” She just had all these specifications.

And I was like, “All right, you know what? I work with all these rescue groups. Let me see if I could find one.” So, I would constantly be sending her pictures like this. “Like, this one. Look how cute this one is.” And she loves them all. She’s like a huge animal lover. And one day, I sent her a picture of this dog. Gigi—her name was. And she was like, “Oh, my God, I love the dog.”

I could tell the dog’s not gonna work because the dog was, like, a poodle mix. And she’s like, “We really are— My kids are allergic. Like, I really need a poodle.” But little did I know, while she’s looking at this dog, she was sitting next to Ellen DeGeneres. Ellen is like, “Who is that dog? What is this rescue Where is the dog? Like, I need some help.”

So, that happened in 2018— like late, like, right around the holidays. Ellen called me, I find Sandy a dog, like not that dog. But I find Sandy a dog. And Ellen calls me, and she said, “Portia and I need a dog.” And it was kind of the same thing. She’s like, “I need this. And we want a poodle and has to get along with my dogs, and whatever.”

So, once I found a dog for Ellen, she was like: “You need to rescue more dogs. I’m gonna help you.” And she started talking about us on her show. So, then, even though we were a dog hotel, people really started coming to us looking to adopt dogs.

So, it was like we were adopting 5 or 6 dogs a week. And then, all of a sudden, it was like, “Oh, all our dogs are gone. We need more dogs.” And I’m calling rescue groups. I was like, “You know what? I’m gonna start my own 501(c)(3). I want to start to pull my own dogs out of the shelters and all that.

2020 comes along, and in February, we finally are 501(c)(3), gets approved. We’re, like, official. And we’re like, okay. But still, I was only gonna have this little front window at my dog hotel. And we probably—it was like, the maximum we could put in there is 10 dogs. That’s it.

Then March came, and all of a sudden, every client that we had sort of disappeared because everybody was staying home. No one was traveling. You couldn’t get your dogs groomed.

So, luckily, our business is considered essential because we had living things there. So, even though everything shut down, we were allowed to be open. I thought, “Well, how long can this last? It will last a week or two. It’s not going to be much longer than that like we all thought.”

And I said, “Let’s just bring in some more dogs. Let’s see what’s going on. Let’s reach out to some of the shelters, and we’ll just fill the place with dogs up for adoption until we’re back to normal.” And it’s like, okay I didn’t have a website yet. Just use their Instagram page. We went to the shelter, and we pulled, like, 6 or 7 dogs. Posted them on Instagram, the next morning, line outside the door for our dogs. It just went from 5 or 6 dogs. Then, oh, there’s a little litter of ten. Oh, there’s 20. And we just kept growing and growing and growing. And I started to realize that we can really pull 80 dogs.

We grew, and we grew fast, and we made mistakes, and we learned. And we changed the way we do things. And we hired rescue managers instead of daycare managers. And we hired vet techs instead of college kids. And we grew quickly, and we learned.

And we got the website together, and people started donating. I mean, everything just fell into line and evolved. And we just sat down and did our numbers.

We adopted over 3,000 dogs in the last year.

Chris: So, what’s your plan then? I mean, now… theoretically, right, things are going to get back to normal at some point. Are you going to keep it a rescue? Are you going to pivot it back to a spa combination?

Melissa: I’m absolutely going to keep doing rescue. So, luckily, we have two dog hotels. We have our Studio City location, which is our original. And then we have our Valley Village location, which was our second, That we opened up right before the pandemic. And we just split it.

Like, now, Studio City is just a rescue center. So, we have all of our rescue dogs there. People can come and meet them. People can volunteer with them, people can cuddle with them. All of the adults, healthy dogs live there with 24-hour staff. And our Valley Village location is a dog hotel and is a spa, and is a daycare, and they’re completely kept separately now.

And that’s just what we’re gonna do.

Chris: Nice. So, where do you see this going? What’s your vision for this? Melissa: You know, I didn’t even see it going here. So, what’s my next decision? I don’t know. Honestly, I see a need for more space, and I realize no person with a small rescue—or with any rescues— is going to get a retail space on Ventura Boulevard. That’s pretty silly.

My goal would be—because I’m not going to buy or lease more space in the middle of LA. It’s crazy. So, I would like to find land, where I could rehabilitate the dogs, like, get the dog straight out of these situations or out of the shelter, let them live there because my thought is dogs’ lives are too short, right? So, if at least in the time that they’re with us, especially the big dogs, if they could have land to run on and rehabilitate in a place, where they’re, like, happy and free and outside, and in the sun and just having a good time. Once they’re ready to be adopted, I could bring them to Studio City. Because now we’re doing a lot of our rehabilitation, like in-house, which is fine. But we’ll have a dog that’s kind of feral that’ll be there for a year. And I don’t love that situation for them. I would much rather be where they can be, like, in an outdoor facility, in and out.

I would never leave a dog outside all the time, but an inside-outside facility, which we can’t do right now because we’re in the middle of the city.

Chris:

Tell people how they can find you guys, where are your locations? Melissa: So, our website is WAGMORPETS.ORG. And the biggest mistake everybody makes is they add an E to WAGMOR.

So, it’s Wagmor: W-A-G-M-O-R-P-E-T-S.org or follow us on Instagram @WAGMORPETS.

Chris: Well, before I wrap things up, I’ll just remind people, if you’ve got an amazing vision like Melissa does, or know somebody that’s got a crazy idea that helps people helps animals, let us know about it.

Just go to INNOVATIONS.SHOW, and we’ll get them on the show and learn more about it.

So, thanks again, Melissa, for coming on, and it was great to talk to you.

Melissa: I appreciate it.

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