Ace Von Johnson is a Los Angeles-based guitarist who can frequently be found touring the world with his trusty guitar. Lending his exceptional musicianship to a variety of well-known bands throughout the years, Ace’s rock and roll status is hard to ignore in the industry. However, what caught our eye is how much of a rock star he is in the world of dog rescue advocacy. With his trusty furry sidekick Maila at his side, Von Johnson has been spreading the word far and wide about pit bulls in need.
Pet Companion Magazine had the pleasure of picking Ace’s brain with regard to his passion for pups.
Your animal advocacy work is well known in the music world. What sparked your interest in wanting to help dogs in need? That makes me happy to hear! I think most people who follow me are aware of my advocacy, but I’m always trying to further my reach. My interest mostly began after I rescued Maila in 2013. I think I was just looking for an outlet where I could give back, through the little bit of a platform I was beginning to cultivate online from the fans of the bands I was playing in. Not to mention, there’s way more to life than just “sex, drugs & rock n’ roll!” I had always been aware of the abundance of dogs in shelters who needed forever homes, or even just to be pulled by a rescue to avoid being euthanized, but I wasn’t aware of the actual statistics. Saving my dog from a high-kill shelter in Los Angeles made me more aware of the staggering number of dogs that are euthanized weekly, simply because there aren’t enough resources or places for them to go. That totally breaks my heart. So I decided to not only advocate but also network and use my own resources to help as many dogs out there as I can.
What rescues are you currently involved with? How did this involvement come about? Beyond attending whatever events I’m able to make it to with my touring schedule, I consider myself an ambassador for pit bulls and rescue dogs in general here in Hollywood. I wish I had the time to fully dedicate to rescue work, but I mostly have to do my networking remotely. I was contacted by Best Friends Animal Society recently about being part of their celebrity outreach program, and I had the honor of going to one of their facilities to see everything up close. They’re doing a lot of wonderful work all over the country, as are a few other organizations I try to be involved with as much as I can. I’ve spoken at events and appeared alongside a few organizations at several conventions, but I don’t want there to be any misconception that I actually have my own rescue group. I do someday hope to have enough space to be able to foster multiple dogs at a time but for now that’s just an idea. Some of the groups I support are Pinups For Pits, Best Friends Animal Society, and Stand Up For Pits. I also have some merchandise, Maila’s Pit Pals items, available online from which all the proceeds go to Pit Bull Rescue Central.
Tell me about Maila, the furry love of your life. What’s her story? Maila is a 6-year-old American Staffordshire terrier mix, and I pulled her from the West Valley animal shelter here in Los Angeles in December 2013. She was only about 7 months old, and I’ve watched her grow in so many ways since then. Her background is unknown, as she came in a stray, but she’s been at my side ever since. She’s definitely had an interesting life so far, as she’s been the subject of several wonderful interviews such as this one, as well as influencing a whole bunch of people who otherwise may have had a different opinion of pit bull-type dogs. I feel it’s kind of our job to portray a positive image for these dogs that have been unfairly maligned over the last few decades. I’ve yet for her to meet someone she didn’t like, and vice versa. I think that alone is a step in the right direction, and I hope that her small contribution will be remembered long after we’re both gone.
What does a day in Maila’s life look like? An average day for Maila includes sleeping till noon after kicking me out of my own bed, and then after breakfast, I usually take her with me to run some errands or head straight to the park a few blocks away. I try to make sure she gets outside for at least an hour every day, not only for a walk but also for some social time with other dogs and their owners at the dog park. She enjoys sitting on the couch with me and watching a movie, or curling up at my side while I play guitar. She’s pretty much spoiled in every way you can imagine, aside from the fact that we don’t live somewhere where she has her own yard. When I travel for work, I have a live-in sitter who runs her around the neighborhood, literally, or she’ll stay with my sister and my niece, who usually play with her until she taps out. She’s been known to spend hours chewing on her toys in her full-size Tempur-pedic® dog bed or digging through her bucket of toys and spreading them all over the living room. When it’s warm, we also enjoy trips to the dog beach and going for ice cream.
How are you and Maila spreading the word about the pit bull breed? I do consider her an ambassador for the breed and happily take her everywhere I can. Beyond just enjoying her company, I like her to socialize and for people to meet her and learn to judge these types of dogs based their own character, rather than on some news article with a negative spin. Every dog is an individual, with a back story that can define who they are and their behavior. And with the proper training, education, and love, there’s no difference between these types of dogs versus any other breed. The merchandise with Maila’s likeness on it, which I mentioned benefits a rescue, helps further our cause whenever anyone wears the shirts, etc. These things, coupled with my outreach via social media—my own, Maila’s, and the Instagram account I set up to share dogs in need of homes—are all the ways we help spread the word.
What do you wish more people knew about rescuing a dog? I wish more people knew that potentially their best friend is out there, waiting for them to pull them from someplace that’s undesirable. It’s heartbreaking to know exactly how many dogs go into shelters and never come out. For me, getting a dog as a kid taught me responsibility, and now as an adult, it’s taught me a lot about myself that I don’t think I ever would have discovered without her. It’s definitely a responsibility that some people aren’t willing to take on, and that’s totally okay, but you can always support, share, and help by networking from afar.
What would be your suggestion to fans on how they can get involved in helping pups find forever homes? I think social media is the strongest tool people can use to get involved almost instantly. Just networking or sharing posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram is a wonderful start. I opened an Instagram account, @AVJRescuePage, exclusively to share dogs in need of homes/rescuing, and I’ve found that to be a wonderful way to connect the dots for some of these dogs. I’m happy to utilize my own fan base and contacts to further the reach of those dogs and groups trying to place them in homes. And although I’m not sure what the statistics are, it always makes me the happiest to get an update that the ones I’ve shared have been pulled or adopted. At the end of the day, that’s definitely a huge reward. It’s pretty easy, so if you’re thinking about trying to get involved but don’t have the space for a pet, you can still share and network for them, simply by sharing and reposting from rescue groups, especially in your own city or state.
What does Maila think about your rock and roll life? I would have to say she’s pretty used to it by now. She’s definitely aware of what it means when the road cases and bags all come out, and even though I know she gets sad, I know that she’s getting way more attention from whoever is watching her while I’m away than I probably give her normally. She’s come to a few shows of mine and some sound checks as well, especially whenever I play here in town. Plus, I can’t even begin to tell you how many fans are constantly sending her toys, treats, and gift cards. She’s definitely reaping all the rewards. Ultimately, I know she loves any kind of extra attention, so indirectly she is 100% supportive of my rock n’ roll lifestyle.
Other Celebs Who Champion the Cause
Lisa Vanderpump is best known as one of the stars of Bravo’s reality shows, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Vanderpump Rules. Vanderpump’s fortune came not from her television appearances but from being a successful restaurateur and entrepreneur, along with her husband. Using both her wealth and social platform, Lisa and Ken Vanderpump have made their love and passion for animals well known through a variety of animal-based philanthropy work. From filling their own home with a slew of rescue dogs to opening their own rescue, Vanderpump Dogs, the two have dedicated much of their free time to the well-being of canines everywhere. In recent years, Vanderpump has fought to end the Yulin Dog Meat and Lychee Festival by bringing awareness and alerting policy makers to its barbaric practices. This past June, Vanderpump Dogs reported a decline in the number of Yulin dogs slaughtered at the 2019 festival.
Often seen as the wild child of the pop music world, singer Ke$ha has a big heart for animals. She has taken the world by storm since the release of her debut album Animal in 2010, which describes more than just her music! Ke$ha has used her fame to help creatures in need, from rescue efforts to animal rights advocacy. Named a spokesperson for the Humane Society International, Ke$ha’s goals are to promote respect, protection, and compassion for animals around the world. Kesha wants to have hands-on involvement in Humane Society International’s efforts to protect animals. “My music is inspired by the freedom and primal beauty of animals and the natural world,” she says.
“I’ve always been passionate about animal rights. When my friends tell me they’re planning to get a puppy, I encourage them to adopt dogs from shelters. Shelter dogs aren’t scary—they’re awesome and really appreciative. You can help animals, too, by volunteering at your local ASPCA to walk a dog, or by educating yourself and friends about the horrible conditions animals are subjected to in puppy mills,” says pop star P!NK. This rockin’ vocalist uses her success to bring awareness to the plight of animals in need of forever homes and helps discourage the purchase of puppy mill pets.
Blasko is a head-banging, hair-flying rock star with a big heart for cats. Known as the bass player for Ozzy Osbourne and the Black Sabbath cover band Zakk Sabbath, as well as a band manager for acts such as Black Veil Brides, Blasko is knee-deep in all things feline. With two of his own furry kitties that frequently show up on his Instagram account, Blasko has also used his fan following to bring awareness to cats in need of homes. Often attending local Los Angeles cat events, Blasko promotes feline adoption in person and on his various social media platforms.
Kat Von D
Tattoo artist Kat Von D became a true celebrity on TLC’s LA Ink. Immersed in the local Southern California scene, she is a strong advocate for animal rights. Through promoting veganism and launching her own cruelty-free makeup brand, as well as other philanthropy work, Kat Von D promotes a healthy, animal-loving lifestyle to her millions of followers. Each year, she names one animal charity to receive $5 from every purchase members make through her website, KatVonDBeauty.com. She currently shares her life with several hairless Sphynx cats that make cute appearances on her social media sites.
A musical culture icon who has directed some bizarrely awesome flicks, rock star Rob Zombie dedicates his spare time to animals. Rob Zombie’s music may be horror-centric and his movies shocking, but he has been a vegetarian for 30 years and a strong advocate of animal rights. “The only thing I ever really care about is animals—animal causes. I don’t really care about people that much, but animals, I feel like they always need to be protected,” he says. Zombie isn’t actively the face of any charity, but he supports various animal causes. In 2010, he joined other rockers for the First Annual Humanity Thru Music concert and “paw-sta” dinner, to raise money for Fur & Feather Animal Sanctuary, resulting in SoCal’s first full no-kill animal sanctuary, medical, and educational center.
Sometimes rock stars open up their own organization! Don Tardy, drummer for the death metal band Obituary, is also the man behind Metal Meowlisha, an initiative that traps, neuters, and releases feral cats within his Florida community to help curb the homeless cat population. Tardy is a real-life hero, having put himself in grave danger to rescue an eight-week-old injured kitten when deadly Hurricane Irma hit Florida in 2017.
Leader of the punk band Black Flag, Greg Ginn is an active member in feral and homeless cat rescues, often using Black Flag reunion concerts to benefit such organizations.
Known all over the world for his 35 years as the Emmy Award-winning host of TV’s The Price is Right, Bob Barker believes his greatest life achievement is his animal advocacy. He’s made cameo appearances to promote rescuing animals, donated $250,000 to help build HIV-infected chimpanzees a safe home, helped relocate three African elephants to a sanctuary, contributed $500,000 to relocate Peruvian circus animals, and so much more.