On 10-year anniversary of darkest tragedy, Scooter’s Pals is shining light on dog rescue in Nevada County
KNOW & Go
Who: “Dining for the Dogs”
What: Fundraiser for Scooter’s Pals
When: 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday
Where: Smiley Guys SmokeHouse, 131 Joerschke Drive, Grass Valley
More info: http://www.scooterspals.org or 530-350-2099.
One day in early May 2005, Susan Wallace ran into then-Nevada City Police Chief Lou Trovato at SPD Market.
“I was telling him how great it was to live in a town where you didn’t have to lock your doors,” recalled Wallace, then 60 and newly retired from a high-profile career in law enforcement in Sacramento County and legal counsel in the state Legislature. “He looked at me and said, ‘You’re crazy. You need to lock your doors.’”
Five days later, at about 2 a.m. on May 7 — in that year, it was Mother’s Day weekend — a 24-year-old meth addict named Fred Engel came to Wallace’s door, opened it and walked in. He had cleaned the carpets there a week earlier, so he knew the layout of the house.
And he knew Wallace, whom he proceeded to find in her room; he stabbed her two or three times in the torso and slit her throat ear-to-ear before setting the house on fire. Wallace’s precious shih tzu, Scooter, and another small dog — Molly, a Yorkie mix — died in the blaze. Two large dogs, Hercules, a chow, and Pops, a pit bull, escaped.
“If the door had been locked, he never could have gotten in — not with a pit bull in the house,” recalled Wallace. “I didn’t lock my doors then, but I do now.”
Ten years later, Wallace has not only turned her own life around, but, through the nonprofit Scooter’s Pals she created in the wake of that tragedy, has helped transform the landscape in Nevada County for dogs who would otherwise be euthanized if deemed “dangerous,” unmanageable or too sick to heal and be adopted. Scooter’s Pals takes in the dogs before they are put down, places them in foster care, and, in many cases, helps get them ready for adoption.
“We help about 500 dogs a year,” said Wallace, who credits the nonprofit Sammie’s Friends, operators of the Sammie’s Friends Animal Shelter in Nevada County, for its cooperation in the work of rescuing the dogs.
“Congratulations to Susan and her team for 10 years of hard work in saving the lives of a lot of dogs,” said Cheryl Wicks, co-founder of Sammie’s Friends. “We are all grateful to her for that.”
Scooter’s Pals picks up vet bills for dogs that need medical care, and provides skilled dog training at a donated facility for pets in foster care that may need to work through behavioral problems.
Even dogs that are too old or sick to be fostered or adopted have a place to go — the Sanctuary Program, set up by Scooter’s Pals.
“We have rescued over 2,200 since we started,” Wallace said. “Of that number, about 11 are usually in our Sanctuary Program — not rescue, so they are not in danger of dying (via euthanasia) and we often find them homes, but it takes time.”
Every penny raised by Scooter’s Pals goes to feed and care for the dogs — instead of toward salaries, since the organization is all-volunteer. Rent at Scooter’s Pals new 1,400-square-foot digs at 1781 East Main St., Grass Valley (open since Dec. 9), is paid through Penn Valley philanthropists Carol and Robert Hamilton; sales of new and used clothing and furniture at the thrift store at that location help pay for other overhead costs.
Frequent fundraisers also are crucial to the Scooter’s Pals budget. One such event will be from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Smiley Guys SmokeHouse, 131 Joerschke Drive, Grass Valley. Smiley Guys will donate a portion of each meal purchased to Scooter’s Pals.
“We started with Scooter’s death and built this into a sustainable organization with like-minded committed animal lovers,” says Wallace, who is divorced and who has a 45-year-old son, himself a foster dog parent. “I had a grant writer tell me she had written grants for a shelter that did not rescue more than we do — and their budget was over $1 million.
“Our yearly budget is under $150,000, and we rescue over 300 dogs from high-kill shelters yearly,” said Wallace, who has four dogs at home. “We rehome between 100 to 200 more dogs each year that don’t reach shelters to die because of our efforts.”
Prior to Scooter’s Pals, Wallace held staff positions in various posts in the state Capitol for decades, including as chief counsel to the state Senate’s joint committee on prison construction and operations and staff for a member of the Senate judiciary committee.
She was also administrative staff to the state Juvenile Parole Board under then-Gov. Gray Davis, in addition to a stint in the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office.
Through it all, she kept dogs around and volunteered at Sammie’s Friends and other groups.
She was following in the footsteps of her mother, Lollie Collier, a major dog-lover in their home state of Alabama.
“I could not imagine a time I was not doing this work, so clearly it is meant to be,” said Wallace, who moved to California in 1967 to begin her legal career. “Until my last breath, I’ll still be doing it — and loving every minute of it.”
Karen French of Sacramento, a friend of Wallace’s for more than 30 years from the time when they both worked at the state Capitol, said she was part of a team that stayed around the clock at Wallace’s bedside in intensive care after the attack 10 years ago.
“They had her in a medically induced coma initially,” French said. “But when they brought her out, we wanted to make sure she was never alone.”
French said she witnessed firsthand how Wallace took the intellect and passion that she had formerly put into politics and channeled it into animal rescue.
“Susan stands up and fights for the lives and well-being of those who cannot speak for themselves,” she said.
For French, it was “absolutely amazing that (Wallace) lived through it.”
“Living through devastating loss and experiencing grief that she could not have saved her beloved pets, Susan was healing physically but knew that she needed to transform her loss into something positive,” French said. “She chose to dedicate her life going forward to saving the lives of dogs who are on death row.”
Engel, the attacker, is now close to a decade into serving a term of 25 years to life in state prison.
He will be up for parole in eight or nine years.
“He studied how to kill someone,” Wallace said. “That all came out at trial.”
Wallace said it took months of hospitalization and rehabilitation to recover. The attack in her torso wounded four vital organs, while the slit throat drained large amounts of blood.
“I lost 80 percent of the blood in my body,” she said. “My doctor said if I had been a smoker or a diabetic, I never would have survived.”
Due to the attack, Wallace has lost the ability to sing or speak loudly.
She has gained something else, however — a feeling of being more in touch with intuitive energies that were overshadowed by her mental activities in the past.
“Something impacted me in that I am more aware of my own motives,” she said. “It enhanced my self-awareness, and it has enhanced my awareness of other behavior around me.”
Wallace said she doesn’t really understand exactly what happened in that regard.
But as to her heart and her dogs, she still understands that very well.
“Scooter was the love of my life,” Wallace said. “We were both very bonded to each other.
“One reason to pray for an afterlife is I could see her again,” she added. “It warms my heart to think so.”
Donations to Scooter’s Pals can be made online at http://www.scooterspals.org by clicking on the “donate” button or mailing a check to Scooter’s Pals, P.O. Box 1687, Cedar Ridge, CA 95924. All monies go toward vet bills to make an animal adoptable and are tax deductible.
NOTE: This story was updated on May 6, 2015 to clarify the address for Scooter’s Place Thrift and Gift Store at 1781 E. Main St., Grass Valley.
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.
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