Meet The Charles Angels…
Have you ever thought that the “tag”, “share” or “like” that you imposed on an animal’s picture didn’t make a difference? Well these ladies would beg to differ! Meet Celeste Charles and her granddaughter Alexis, the dynamic duo from Downey California that works to rescue numerous pups from their local shelter every single day. Her weapons of choice? A digital camera and a personal Facebook account. I had the privledge of speaking with Celeste and interviewing her in preparation to write this article. I must say that although her reputation for being an animal lover, rescuer and true champion of animal rights did proceed her, it did NOT prepare me for the conversation that we were about to have. The depths of this conversation reached far below the surface of human interactions and delved into the depths of what it means to be not only an animal rights activist, but a compassionate, empathic individual whom believes that animals have feelings just the same as you and I do. It was truly an honor to be touched by this woman’s life, and a generous gift of her to let me into her world by sharing her story. Celeste began by speaking about the remarkable network that she was introduced to through Facebook, recalling how as recently as a year ago she was under the impression that shelters were a “safe place for animals to go, I had no idea that they killed them there. Some people might think that’s naive but that’s really what I thought. I learned how to work Facebook for the dogs as I started to put pictures up there to network them. I remember seeing these people that were called “crossposters” on Facebook posting pictures of these shelter animals and I just thought, what do they mean they are going to be killed!? I would cry like a baby at my computer as I learned of all of these horrible things that humans do to animals, how they are killed how people treat them, I mean I would be sitting at my computer sobbing but I had to watch these horrific videos because that was how I learned the truth of what is really happening out there.” Celeste’s primary involvement has been at the Downey shelter in Downey, California. She and her 9 year old granddaughter, Alexis, volunteer their time there and devote their energies to networking, rescuing and advocating for the animals trapped in this high-kill shelter. As she began to recount her first experience at the shelter I could feel her anxiety, despair and passionate determination through the phone. “I will never forget the first time that I was at the shelter, it was October 2010 and I was there for a pit-bull rescue with a friend and it just so happened that I got to the shelter before she did. I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot and I was literally shaking out of fear of what I might see in there because I could hear all of the dogs barking and howling from outside in the parking lot inside my car.” As luck would have it, Celeste’s friend was networking with a rescuer that just happened to be out of the state at this time and although she had been to the shelter 3 times in attempt to pull this dog, she had yet to have any success in getting her out. Serendipitously, Celeste had just happened to befriended a puller from the shelter and the two were able to get the dog out successfully that very day. When Celeste got home, her ears were “still ringing” from all of the barking and howling of the anxious pups and she was so distraught by everything that she had seen and experienced that day. “I realized that I couldn’t just bring them all home and I just kept thinking, how else can I help them?” Celeste came up with a great idea right then and there, she would use Facebook’s ever growing popularity and worldwide reach to gain massive amounts of exposure for these trapped dogs on death row.
“I found the power within my camera to give them more exposure, get those pictures out there and give them a chance. I started taking pictures of all of the dogs at the shelter, creating an album for each one. Within one week 10 dogs got out of the shelter just because of Facebook. I started uploading about 25-28 dogs’ pictures once a month and it would take me two days to get them uploaded! Once the albums were loaded onto Facebook I wasn’t like, okay that’s it I’m done, no, I managed the conversation threads, answered all of the questions about the dogs and really tried to market them out there to rescuers.” Throughout this conversation I was simply amazed at Celeste’s dedication to these dogs and perseverance, she told me about the stress of it all and the toll that the cause has taken on her personal life, “My home routine is very disoriented because I really have to be ready for anything. If I get a call from someone who wants to adopt or needs me to pull a dog for them I have to drop everything and go, sometimes I get tired and I want to give up but I really feel like if I only get one dog out it makes a difference.” Celeste was added to the 501-3c pull card through Diamond in the Ruff Rescue at the end of February 2011, allowing her the right and ability to get dogs out of the shelter on her own,through her involvement with Diamond in the Ruff rescue group. “I like to have a plan in place for the dog before I just go and pull it from the shelter, said Celeste, there has to be a plan in place for them to get a home.” One of the ways that Celeste has been able to ensure that this takes place is by reaching out to other areas, even going out of state to find these dogs a good home. “Some people frown upon placing the dog out of state but I believe that the dog shouldn’t die if they have a good loving home waiting for them, even if it’s out of state. There are so many success stories that I’ve experienced and wonderful people out there who are willing to open their hearts and homes to these babies. As long as a home visit is done and the people are checked out, forms and agreements are signed, why not adopt out of state?”
This is a picture of Faith, a very lucky and beautiful white Boxer girl that was rescued by Celeste from the Downey shelter and flown by Pet Airways to her adoptive family.
Celeste emphatically recalled another story with great attention to detail, relaying with such gratitude her experience with another Boxer girl adopted out of state named Lily. “Her new family gives me updates all the time! They send pictures and let me know how she’s doing, they are really so wonderful.” She went on to tell me about her mission to get Lily adopted, noting that “an adopter in Ohio named Tina stepped up to take Lily into her family, but she needed someone to transport her from Downey California to Ohio. With the network of friends that I now have I got an offer from a couple of truck drivers that came this way every week to take Lily to Tina out in Ohio. They had poodles that traveled with them and I felt uncomfortable because Lily was so much bigger and Boxers pounce so I got a crate for them to use for Lily’s journey out to Ohio, that way all the doggies were safe and sound during the trip. They in return a few weeks later came this way again and brought it back to me so that I could return it.” This is just one of the many stories of rescue and adoption that Celeste shared with me. To date she has rescued and successfully facilitated adoptions for countless dogs that would have otherwise been needlessly and thoughtlessly killed. Celeste went on to say, “I hope that what Alexis and I do will inspire others to do the same thing-even if it saves one or two animals, that’s one or two that don’t have to be euthanized.”
Celeste’s devotion to this cause flows freely through not only through rhetoric but also her energy, for her it is not a hobby, not even solely a mission or aspiration but truly a way of life. Tragically, Celeste lost her 19 year old son Kenneth when his daughter, Alexis, was still merely an infant. Instead of becoming bitter, angry and closed off to the world, Celeste has decided to pour her energies and her heart into making the world a better place. The fortitude that she exemplifies is extraordinarily admirable as she speaks so passionately about teaching her granddaughter, Alexis about animal rescue and animal cruelty and abandonment. “I started using Facebook and taught Alexis about the rescue effort, she is always right along side me with doggie treats in hand as we walk into the shelter to visit the dogs. She loves to give them hugs and kisses and feed them treats, they just take to her naturally even if they’re abused and frightened of others, it’s like they can feel her kindness and sense that she’s not afraid of them, she just wants to show them love.” What better gift than that of love, compassion and a legacy of saving lives to pass on through this bittersweet and beautiful learning experience? Even as I commended Celeste for her strength, bravery and dedication, she remained remarkably humble. “God just put some really good people in my path and he also put this task in my path and I’m just going to keep going with it. This is all about helping the animals, it’s not about me, I’m all about saving the dog.”
*For more information or to help with Celeste’s rescue efforts please see this link: