Turning Pain Into Purpose


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Tanja and Kat love dogs and are the first to admit, if they could save them all they would. They are partial to seniors and those with higher needs because those are the ones who most urgently need saving from the public shelter system. To spread awareness about the plight of shelter pets, they use their Instagram account to network animals in need and currently foster for Home Fur Friends Rescue in Los Angeles.

In 2022, they experienced the loss of their last two fur babies from their “original pack,” and it was not easy. Tanja says, “Losing a pet is the hardest thing for us. The void is just so deep and dark for the longest time. Having to put your feelings and wants aside so you can help them cross over, is never, never, never easy. In fact, for us, it’s the most painful moment in life.”

Sammie and Rosie. Photo: @COOPER_GIGI_WOLFIE_WANDA

Going from a pack of three dogs to one in a short amount of time was brutal on them both. The to lose the final one, Cooper, after 15 years of unconditional love and life, felt gut wrenching. Like most pet parents, they wondered what they should do next.

“Losing Cooper had always been my biggest fear. He was my first dog, my first son, my best friend,” says Tanja. “He was there when I met Kat. In our minds, there was never just “Tanja & Kat”—it was always “Tanja & Kat & Cooper.”

She adds that when her friends began departing Los Angeles a couple of years ago, she held on to Cooper even more, and he became her only best friend. “Losing him literally drove me into depression. I had never felt so empty and alone. It was like the universe took my life purpose away. It was unbearable.”

Wanda, Gigi, and Cooper RITA EARL BLACKWELL
Wanda, Gigi, and Cooper. Photo: RITA EARL BLACKWELL

Realizing they were “dog free,” they thought about taking some time to travel, but the pull of the shelter crisis was too much for them to turn away from. Seeing so many dogs whose lives were on the line every day put things in perspective for them. They could travel later. Right now, they needed to take action to help the dogs in the shelter system.

“Our hearts couldn’t and still can’t bear the pain of all these amazing fur babies left alone at their most vulnerable moments. As unbearable as it is that we can’t save them all, we need to focus on the ones we CAN save. So that’s what we do.”

A few weeks after Cooper’s passing, Tanja and Kat had made travel plans, but spotted two adorable girl doggies on Instagram shaking in their kennels at North Central Shelter. They couldn’t stop thinking about them, because it was a very rainy and unusually cold time here in LA and they were visibly scared and uncomfortable. Fostering seemed the best way to make an impact and help them right away. So, they put their travel plans on hold and called their favorite rescue, Home Fur Friends, who saved the girls from the shelter after their offer to foster.

Marley and Kat. Photo: @COOPER_GIGI_WOLFIE_WANDA

“This experience was life changing. For the first time in years, we didn’t take care of someone sick and old, but young and alive. It filled us up with so much hope and love. There was laughter and warmth in our house again! Our Instagram followers kept asking us if we would adopt them, but we had to say no, because there are so many dogs that need help getting out of the shelter right now.

The girls didn’t stay long, because they became kind of celebrities on our Instagram and found their forever home within a week. It was so, so hard, to let them go. But as difficult as it was to say goodbye to them, we did. It was a win-win. They found a home and we can save more dogs. To be honest though, we did cry a lot when they left!”


While each foster experience is deeply moving for Tanja and Kat and inspires all their followers on Instagram, one foster experience in particular encapsulated the true meaning of fostering. That dog’s name is Marley.

While catching up on networking and recently posted shelter dogs, Tanja stumbled across a video of a dog named Marley. He was very old, ill, and very frightened. Because of these factors he was in the back of the shelter in the medical section, which is out of sight for visitors.

There was something about Marley that struck her. Tanja networked him every day, checked in with other rescuers daily and sometimes hourly hoping he would get scooped up.

“My mind just couldn’t understand why someone would take their extremely old and sick dog to the shelter instead of helping them cross the rainbow bridge. After our foster girls found their forever home, Kat and I took a week off and headed to Las Vegas. While we were in Vegas, instead of gambling and doing the Vegas-y things, we put together a plan of action how to get Marley out ASAP because he was on the euthanasia list.


We contacted Emily from Home Fur Friends Rescue, who put a rescue hold on him. Our friend Megan offered to pick him up from the shelter and foster him for the night until we returned home.

On our way back from Vegas, we picked Marley up. He looked broken. But little did we know what was about to hit us.”

During their first night with him they watched him pace and pace and only for sleep for about 15 minutes at a time. They took turns sleeping that night so that Marley wouldn’t be alone. As a little more time passed, they realized he had lost his hearing, and had very little vision. After that first night with him, they confirmed what was happening. Marley was exhibiting the signs of advanced dog dementia just like their previous dog, Wanda—and they knew what was to come.

“Marley was broken beyond belief. When you looked at him you saw nothing but pain and emptiness. His cries, his pacing…these are the sounds that still haunt me. Every day. When we took him to the vet for his exam, we pretty much knew that we might not come back out with him. He was clearly suffering, and there was no way we would have let him suffer any longer. After just a few minutes of examining Marley, the vet agreed with us, it was time. Marley had no quality left.

Marely was with us for less than 36 hours but that didn’t mean we loved him any less. We cried, we felt defeated, but most of all, felt this tremendous anger. I couldn’t and still can’t understand how someone is able to drop off their sick, senior dog when they needed their human most.”

We knew letting him go was an ultimate gift compassion but that wasn’t enough for us. We wanted him to have a family and know that he was loved and valued. So, we rushed to contact the rescue and asked if we could officially adopt him before he crossed over. They said yes, and rushed the adoption paperwork so we could sign it before he transitioned.”

While it can be extremely difficult to let go, Tanja and Kat say they love fostering because they know it is saving lives and giving each dog the dignity, they deserve. Each time a new foster enters their home, they’re faced with new and unique situations. As a result, they’ve learned about different age groups, breeds, personalities, medical issues, and more through their experience. And they know that each experience better prepares them for caring for future foster dogs.

At the time of this article, Tanja and Kat had just welcomed a new fur baby to their family named Brooklyn and were fostering a senior grandma dog named Lil G. Be sure to follow their Instagram account @cooper_gigi_wolfie_wanda to learn more about the joy of fostering and stay up to date on dogs that need saving from Los Angeles area shelters.

Alicia Bailey
Alicia Bailey
Alicia Bailey is a writer specializing in animal welfare topics and issues. Prior to writing full time she spent 13+ years working in rescue and animal sheltering, holding leadership roles in both. She has worked with numerous local and national non-profit organizations including Best Friends Animal Society, NKLA, The Palm Springs Animal Shelter, Coachella Valley Animal Campus, and many others. Alicia is mom to 3 uniquely abled dogs, including @LittleBoogieShoes & @Bust.A.Moves.


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