Meet Marc Peralta Posted on 19 Jun 10:43
Some believe a hero is one with super human strength, one who shows unbelievable courage in the face of danger, one we admire for their achievements.
At MODERNBEAST our heroes possess one additional super power – they’ve devoted their lives to saving and protecting animals.
Really, we’re describing superheroes who walk among us courageously making a difference in the lives of animals and we can’t wait for you to meet them.
No one we know personifies the MODERNBEAST definition of hero more than Marc Peralta, Executive Director Best Friends Animal Society – Los Angeles. We chose Marc not just because he’s the father of one of our favorite pitties on the planet, but because he’s one of the bravest, most creative and effective animal advocates we know. He took on what many called “an insane mission” - to lead a coalition of grass roots rescue and spay/neuter groups (starting with 7 groups, now over 100) in Los Angeles to turn the city into NKLA (No Kill Los Angeles). To check out more of the incredible work being done at NKLA, please visit nkla.org.
Marc, you’re one of the coolest people we know – and as music is a huge part of your life, we thought we’d ease you into this interview with an easy one. Who’s your favorite band and why? Because you’re a hero and you always give more than what’s asked, we’ll let you name two bands.
What an awesome question! My favorite band is a band that originated from the East Bay area called Samiam. If I had to choose another as to who I go to when I want a release or fulfillment, that would be either a band called Knapsack or Jimmy Eat World.
I grew up an army child with divorced parents, so I was back and forth between my folks multiple times a year growing up. On top of that and from 4th grade on, I spent most of my childhood with my father and step-mother during the school year who moved frequently due to my father’s military service. I believe I went to 11 different schools between kindergarten and my senior year of high school.
I had very loving parents and family, but that type of inconsistency and those family dynamics made me a very lonely, angry and insecure kid and young adult. I never felt good enough to be around most of my peers or as good as them.
My older sister turned me on to MTV and music when I was very young (she is 6 years older), and I became a music fan at a very early age. In my teenage years, a friend turned me on to punk rock and college radio music of the late 80’s, and I discovered Samaim at that time. They are a rather straight forward, rocking band with very emotional and dynamic songs, amazing vocals and terrific lyrics. As a lost kid, I became obsessed with them and bands like Jimmy Eat World and Knapsack. They wrote about things I could relate to, I felt cool listening to them and because they were not huge bands like Green Day or Weezer, not everyone knew about them. I would use them to turn on other music fans to them, and I then became cool to many as I was the one in the know. Samiam were a friend that I got to keep for longer than a year, who I turned to when I felt alone, lost, happy, sad; whatever. It became more than music and that is the first time I understood the power of art.
The things that helped shape me and that were there for me when I needed them most are what I hold dear. Those bands and music are that, and why I am still very heavily involved in music as a fan still today.
Why animals -- Why use your gifts, passion and creativity to save animals? Were you an animal nut from birth – and I say that with personal knowledge and great affection – or was there a turning point in your life that brought you to animals.
Animals made me a better person and continue to make me a better person as do the people involved with helping animals like my collegues at Best Friends Animal Society. Along with music, my dog and cats were my constant growing up when I would go visit my mother during the summer and winter every year. They, like music, were my friends. They never judged me, they danced around and licked and headbutted me in affection when I would return home, lay next to me for comfort at night and provided everything I hoped for in a friendship.
While I had a lot of fun and met a great group of friends while working in the music business. Into my adult life and due to some of the issues I had as a teenager and young adult, working in the music business brought out a lot of unresolved issues for me. Long nights of shows and being in bars all of the time mixed with not having the maturity to deal with many of my unresolved issues, I ultimately became a drug addict and was at an all time low in my personal and professional life by 2005.
With no other choice but to clean up and turn my life around, I chose animals as my career because they were the other beings in my world that gave back to me and with whom I had turned to in the past.
It took about 9 months, but I finally got my first job in animal welfare in 2006. I had returned to college to finish my undergraduate degree (left to become a rich music mogul but that didn’t happen, see paragraph 2 above), and accepted a job at $8/hr as a kennel worker at my local shelter.
My first day of work in animal welfare cleaning kennels, feeding animals was fantastic. I remember feeling so satisfied after my first official day of work. I actually had a job that for the first time, I was able to complete start to finish in a number of years. I felt like I worked hard, every kennel was cleaned, all the dogs in my section were fed and cared for and I remember thinking - I love this! I had even met and made a connection with a dog in section who was a cocker, like my childhood dog, and his name was Charlie. He was so sweet and was so happy that he was in my section that day for me to care for him.
My second day of work is what changed everything for me. Instead of waiting for my trainer like I had the day before in our section, I was brought into the kennel manager’s office with my trainer, Brain and we were all given a sheet of paper. There were almost a dozen dogs on the list. Brian told me that before we fed each dog, they had to go to the “E room.”
Not wanting to look naive, I didn't ask questions but thought to myself - this must be where we take the dogs to get “e”valuated for adopters so they find the right homes.
So we moved the dogs into a very quiet, sterile room and put them in individual areas that were separated by fencing. I was excited as the first dog on the list was Charlie! He was so happy to see me, wagging his tail, he jumped on me as I leashed him and walked him out. We went back to our sections, fed the dogs in the section and proceeded to clean. With the removal of dogs that day and the already empty kennels, we had over 20 empty kennels in our section alone so we finished about an hour and a half earlier than we had the day before.
After we finished the day before, we took our break and went to lunch. On this day, Brian told me that I was going to train in the “E-room” after we finished cleaning.
I entered the room with Charlie and many other dogs and in an adjoining room, about 3 times as many cats and kittens. The kennel manager had a bunch of needles lying outside each dog’s kennel door in the sterile room with a blue liquid into it. I asked Brian what we were doing, and he then informed me that we were euthanizing. That day, I found out what happened to about 35% of all the dogs that came into our facility at the time and about 80-90% of the cats, we killed them. My whole world was upside down, and I didn’t know what to do so I just followed suit and did what I was told. We killed a bunch of dogs and over 30 cats and kittens that day. That was the day that I killed Charlie, and I have never been the same since.
I was so angry and confused. That was my reality almost every day for 18 months after but that is ultimately what brought me to the No Kill movement and ultimately to Best Friends. I knew what my life’s work would be: make sure no other person as naive as me would take a job to help animals just to be given the duty to kill healthy animals, and I would work my entire life to stop the use of killing dogs and cats for population control in shelters.
Charlie was my turning point and that experience, which still is with me, push me forward every day.
Since that time, I have worked for two amazing No Kill groups since that time that help teach me that this doesn’t need to happen. I was lucky enough to be a part of a No Kill organization who turned Reno, NV and the county of Washoe No Kill whoch stands until today. I was also lucky enough to be offered a job to take my previous experience and knowledge, along with an organization and team at Best Friends Animal Society that have been working with organizations for nearly 30 years to help communities turn No Kill, to use all of these resources to save cats and dogs lives.
With the NKLA(No Kill) coalition led by Best Friends Animal Society, I have been able to play a part in reducing the amount of cats and dogs killed by thousands. As a community, NKLA has led the way in seeing LA come from a 57% save rate for cats and dogs in 2011 to being on track to hit our No Kill benchmark of 90% cats and dogs saved, meaning that only true euthanasia is happening in our city shelters (animals that are suffering with no prognosis for recovering or too dangerous to be released into the community) and killing animals for population control has ended.
This is why I work in animal welfare, I work and believe we are rapidly coming to a day where our nation is No Kill and we Save Them All.
What do you think turns a mission into a movement?
To me a mission and a movement start like a relationship between a goal and a dream. A goal has plans, timeframes, tactics: things that give us a direct call to action to get involved. A dream is much more of a wish, something we dream about but is unreachable and intangible.
Once a leader suggests a goal, a movement can begin when said leader casts a net with a real goal for change that inspires many. The first few followers join that leader to push forward that initial goal/vision of one to a goal of a few. Then those few to many more and a movement is born.
Best Friends started a movement in the 1980’s of telling anyone who would come across our path about the fact that animals shouldn’t be killed in our shelters for space. In San Francisco, Rich Avenzino was saying and doing the same thing in the 90’s. These first leaders inspired others to take action and spread these vison and put it in action. Then came the Nathan Wiongrad, Bonney Brown, Suzanne Kogut, Dr. Ellen Jefferson, Sue Cosby, Rick Duchrarm, Rebecca Guinn, Brent Tollener, Michelle Davis and many others to expanded this vison all over the country. Now, we have well over 200 No Kill communities in the country and these folks started a movement that continues to grow.
Who or what inspires you?
My wife is the best person I know and she married me. That is the highest level of confidence anyone has ever been able to provide me. Additionally, The people I work with inspire me first at Best Friends Animal Society, and our CEO - Gregory Castle. Along with Gregory and my colleagues, my past co-workers and No-Kill mentors like Bonney Brown, Sue Cosby, and a man super instrumental early in my animal welfare career was animal activist and former shelter Executive Director, Nathan Winograd .
As a man who is a “work in progress” as a person, once I joined this movement (No Kill), I met the most inspiring people. People who gave up six figure jobs to help animals, people who start organizations that save lives, people who will stand with me and my organization for real change with the welfare of animals and people as the priority. I am surrounded by heroes, and by effect, it has helped me become the person I am today. My friends, family, colleagues all keep me honest and continuing to push forward to continue to be the best man I can and never stop growing.
What’s something that you think everyone can do to improve the lives of animals?
Adopt you next pet from a shelter or rescue group. We have over 330 or so million people in the U.S. We have under 100 million pet owners with an estimated 2-4 million pets being killed in shelters. Everyone can choose to either recommend or actually choose adoption of a shelter pet. That happens, this issue of pets being killed in shelters is over.
Tell us something about the two totally awesome members of your pack that did the photo shoot with you – Shorty and Asher. Please be sure to mention Asher’s independent film work.
I call Shorty my angel dog. He has been with me through this enormous transition from an ex-drug addict kennel worker to an Executive Director for a national animal welfare organization, Best Friends Animal Society. I adopted him from my shelter, Nevada Humane Society. Nevada Humane Society was a leader in Washoe county with which I was a part as a dog care manager as we turned that county into a No Kill community which remains today, a very proud period of my animal welfare career. He was with me when I moved to Philly and worked there for three year and then when I came to LA. He’s my best friend, my constant travelling buddy and he makes me a better person. He was maybe the first being that I truly thought of as far as needs before myself. If not for Shorty, I would not be close to the person I am today - he taught me a lot about love.
Asher is a truly special gift of a dog. My girlfriend at the time (now wife) and I adopted him from one of the centers which I oversee in LA called the NKLA (No Kill Los Angeles) center in West LA.
Asher came from the local city shelter and was taken by a rescue called Karma Rescue and placed for adoption at our NKLA center. We fell in love and adopted him in April of 2014. We loved him but we had no idea how special he is. He is a gentle giant and the core piece to our pack at home. He lives with an ever changing array of small senior dogs and cats who all fall in love with him. He is gentle and makes us all feel safe and very loved.
He is a bit of an attention whore which has led him to some serious work in Tinsletown. He is now a model for MODERNBEAST and his first theatrical premier, “Fallen Stars,” will be having a screening in LA in March and in selected cities in 2017. I am now known in many pockets of LA as “Asher’s dad.”
Thank you for doing this, Marc. Please rub all the bellies in your house from us!
You can follow Marc and his pack on Instagram at @marcandrewperalta, on twitter at @NK_MarcP or on facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.peralta