The Peter Zippi Memorial Fund Inc. was founded in 1977 by Dr. Alice Villalobos, who has rescued dogs and cats since she was a child. As a veterinarian, Dr. Alice did rescues through her clinic. But when a young vet tech employee died in a small plane crash, his parents said to do something good with his last paycheck – so, Dr. Alice took that last check of his to the bank and started an account in his name – Peter Zippi. Soon after, The Peter Zippi Fund for Animals (PZF) became a 501(c)3 – and they are now known as The Peter Zippi Memorial Fund Inc.
The rescue is based in Hermosa Beach, California. They are located in the VCA Coast Animal Hospital, and they have a large “dorm” off the lobby with a window for people to see the cats playing. They also have two rooms upstairs to house and conduct their business, as well as a small isolation room for sick kitties.
For eight years, PZF has been making spay/neuter financial assistance a big part of their mission. They have provided around 10,000 vouchers in that time. Some of the money has come from grants, but much of it has been raised through their general fundraising program.
PZF has partnered with the Spay Neuter Project of Los Angeles (SNPLA) this year to provide free spay/neuter services in Wilmington. Last year they used Lucy Pet Foundation with the grant they received from NKLA. PZF provided 400 spay and neuters in the Wilmington and San Pedro areas. The group has found that it is much easier for the people in low-income areas to have a mobile truck come to their zip code rather than to have them try to make their way to a brick and mortar hospital.
Leslie Neff, the current President of The Peter Zippi Memorial Fund Inc., began as a volunteer with the group in 1988. About 18 years ago, she became the de facto leader, and then 14 years ago became the Executive Director. In addition to being the current President, Leslie is also the Volunteer Coordinator and trains all new volunteers.
A conversation with Leslie
Why did you join PZF?
I love animals and wanted to give back. Dr. Alice put an ad in the local beach paper. She felt an animal hospital should be like a human hospital and have lots of volunteers to care for the animals.
What region do you cover in California?
We serve the South Bay but also provide vouchers for all three SNP-LA low-cost clinics, so we help the Pico Rivera and Van Nuys areas also. But the South Bay is our predominant catchment.
Can you tell us what PZF is all about?
Most of our felines are kept at the VCA Coast Animal Hospital in our PZF rooms. We have volunteers come in every day, most all of the day, to clean and play/socialize. Bottle babies are usually in foster homes due to the number of times they must be fed and expressed and because a home is usually more germ free and their immune systems are not strong when they are that little.
What types of animals does your rescue work with?
Cats and kittens. When PZF started we worked with dogs as well, but it is hard to do both.
About how many cats do you adopt out each year?
Between 100-200 each year. In the 90’s we adopted out as many as 500, but there are more rescue groups now. Since 1977, The Peter Zippi Memorial Fund has adopted out about 14,000 animals.
What is the hardest part about running an animal rescue?
We provide phone support for all adoptees and for the general community, and I think the hardest thing is when people can no longer keep their family pets and are trying to find a new home. Years ago we could help most of them and find homes. Now there are not as many new homes, so we can only find homes for those we have taken from the shelters. We do give them advice on how to find new homes or a list of sanctuaries that do take them in for a fee.
What is the best part about running an animal rescue?
Helping our cats find a forever home. It is pretty easy with kittens, many people don’t realize that in six months they will be cats. But when we find a good home for an adult, we are just thrilled. We recently got a cat back that was 12 years old and I think we all were so happy when she was adopted by a family that fosters kittens for us. They love the kittens, but in choosing their own forever pet, they wanted an older cat.
What would you say is the most common misconception about running a rescue?
That we are all crazy cat ladies. Our group and many of the other rescues are run by retired, professional women. Many were executives in the past but find it hard to suddenly have nothing to do. This is something you can do for three hours a week or 20, depending on how much time you have that week. And you get to work with other smart, kind, and socially aware women – and men as well.
In your experience, what has been the best way to collect donations for your rescue?
If you are thinking of tangible things like food and beds, the community knows about us and we get towels and bedding donated often. We are active on Facebook also. At least a couple of times a year we have children who ask for food and toy donations in lieu of presents for their birthdays. We love when this happens as it shows that the kids of today are pretty cool.
Do you have any sponsors?
Science Diet helps us with our cat food, VCA is a big supporter also. We have also gotten grants from Best Friends, NKLA and Boeing.
Do you hold fundraising events?
We have one annual fundraiser in October or November, where we raise a high percentage of our budget. We also have acquired some angels over the years who feel – since we are ALL volunteers, and all caring cat people – that they want to help support us. Dr. Christina Hutson sponsored a dance night, raising money for the local animal rescues. Jon Coleman, a local realtor and animal lover, sponsors a yearly event of music that is a successful fundraiser and FUN as well. The Surf City Theatre Group that performs at the Hermosa Beach Community Civic Center held a play that raised money for us. We try to be very involved in the community.
Do you hold adoption events?
We hold adoptions every Thursday from 5 to 6:30 pm and Sunday from 1 to 3 pm at the VCA Coast Animal Hospital. We also have a booth at the Hermosa Beach Fiesta both Memorial Day and Labor Day and are successful at finding good homes for our felines. We participate in both NKLA (No Kill Los Angeles – a part of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary) in June and November at the Los Angeles locations. We also participated in the Hermosa Parks Pet Day earlier this month. We take advantage of others when they come up.
Is your rescue currently looking for volunteers or foster parents?
We are always looking for good adult volunteers. We also work with about 10 high schools who provide volunteers who might work while they are in high school, although some continue for many hours – as many as 600 if they are planning on being a veterinarian.
Do you find that it’s hard to come by volunteers or fosters?
Lately we have acquired a GREAT group of adult volunteers who are the core of all we do at the hospital and off site adoptions. For some years, there were two main adults and now we have over 20, which makes the work much easier.
Is there a rescued cat whose story you’d like to share?
Yes, Patrick’s story. Here it is in his own words.
“I am incredibly loving, and that is what got me through a big set-back in my short Irish life. I came out on the losing end of a brush with a car. My pelvis was fractured in several places, and my tail so badly broken at the base that it hung limp and senseless. Animal Control was called. They took me first to a hospital, but from there I went right into the city shelter. Seems I had an owner, but not one that could take care of me in that shape. The shelter system couldn’t afford all the fancy surgery I needed either. I was in big trouble!
Because of my personality, even during times of horrible pain, they tried really hard to find help for me. That’s when the “Luck O’ the Irish” kicked in! PZF took me as soon as they could, working into the night to plan my transport and the care I needed. They sent me to a really good orthopedic surgeon immediately… pretty sure he stole my tail. When I arrived at the surgeon’s office it was “love at first sight” for me and Jenna.
I spent some time recuperating at PZF, all the volunteers cuddled me a lot, and I think that helped me to heal faster so I could be with my new family sooner. Jenna is a Vet Tech so she can take great care of me always and I’ll be close to the guy who took my tail… maybe he’ll give it back. The folks at PZF say it’s the perfect home for me even if they had all the homes in the world to choose from. I couldn’t agree more, although I will miss all of them.
So raise a glass to me on St. Patrick’s Day! Cheers to the Irish cat with a heart of gold and a lot of Irish luck and a perfect new beginning! While you’re at it, perhaps you could visit some of the cat friends I left behind at PZF. They are hoping for a little Irish luck of their own.”
Anything else we should know about the rescue?
I think we have more male volunteers than most cat rescues, mostly husbands that are so important to what we do and they care about cats like we do. We also have male high school volunteers.
What’s a fun fact about yourself?
While cats are my main passion, my husband and I go to Australia every few years and mine opal. We do a couple of Rock Shows a year and are active in a Lapidary Club. He is also very active in PZF, we couldn’t do the big adoption events without him.