Caroline Higgins is the adoption coordinator for GEPDA, the San Martin-based rescue organization that deals primarily with large-breed dogs like rottweilers in hopes of saving them from euthanasia and finding them a loving home. Photo by Stan Szeto.

The Group Education to Protect and Defend Animals (GEPDA) has prevented countless dogs from being euthanized since its inception in 2004.

But due to a variety of factors, the South Valley rescue organization is wobbling on its last legs—no pun intended. Run out of Director MaryAnn Lima’s San Martin home, GEPDA rescues and finds homes for large-breed dogs, primarily rottweilers. 

“We pull in all the breeds, but our rescue focus is on rottweilers because they don’t make it out of the shelters,” said Caroline Higgins, who is GEPDA’s adoption coordinator. “They get stressed in the kennel and then they’re labeled aggressive. But all they need to do is get out and they’re great family dogs.”

While the operation is tiny—it’s basically Higgins, Lima and Higgins’ husband, Ward, on staff—the work they do is incredibly impactful. GEPDA saves dogs from the local shelters who are deemed too large or whose medical needs are too exorbitant to adopt out. 

Their goal: save as many dogs from death as possible.

“When they (kennels/shelters) call us and we go evaluate the dogs, we go in there knowing we either take them or they’re going to die that day,” Lima said. “We go in strong-minded that we can train the dog (so it can eventually be put up for adoption). But sometimes we just get a dog and they don’t go up for adoption, and they’re going to stay here with us. I’m not going to euthanize them.”

While GEPDA continues its mission to save dogs’ lives, there are a confluence of factors that threaten their operation. Higgins said adoption rates have been slow in the last year and even then, puppies—not large-sized dogs—are the preferred choice. 

GEPDA has been at full capacity for years and in that time have been paying all the service fees from their own pockets. 

“Unfortunately, we get emails everyday about dogs on the euthanasia list, but until we can place addtional dogs or get more foster families, we can’t save them,” said the 51-year-old Higgins, who also owns K9 Budget Bathing, a pet grooming service. “We’re at a point where we can’t continue the way we’ve been going.”

The numbers are costly because when GEPDA picks up a dog from a shelter, sometimes they need to be transferred immediately to a hospital which results in thousands of dollars on their own dime. 

“We’ll take those dogs in for $4,000-$6,000, and then adopt them out for $400-$500, which certainly doesn’t help our rescue from a bottom line perspective but it does save a life,” Higgins said. 

Rising medical fees, food and transportation costs have all turned GEPDA’s ability to continue operating in dire straits. 

“This is my passion, I don’t want to give it up and I don’t want to close it down,” Lima said. “For these animals, we’re their voice and we keep them alive and happy.”

Higgins said what separates GEPDA apart is they’ll take the hard cases, or dogs that may never be in line for adoption. They also make sure to thoroughly vet foster families and train the dogs to ensure an optimum success rate of finding a dog and a potential owner a fit that will last. 

“We get the dogs the vetting they need and training they may need to get them ready for new homes,” Higgins said. 

Higgins and Lima have a rolodex of testimonials to prove their point, including San Jose couple Sam Sankaran and Raja Sabra, who have fostered three to four dogs through GEPDA. Most recently, Sankaran and Sabra took care of Bella, a German Shepherd who needed to undergo hip surgery or probably would’ve been put down. 

Not only did Sankaran and Sabra pay for Bella’s surgery, they kept Bella at their home for over two months, allowing her to rest and rehab until she was at 100% health. Now, she’s up for adoption and will likely find a loving home to spend the rest of her life. 

“Bella is living because of Sam,” Higgins said. “She’s been very supportive of our rescue and we greatly appreciate her.”

To get a sense of Higgins and Lima’s passion and love for all things canine, one only has to look at Caroline and Ward’s May 2018 wedding, which happened to be at GEPDA. 

“There were more dogs than people at our wedding,” Caroline said. “Our girl Nellie (who has since passed) was in the ceremony. The love has always been in our family—we’re animal people. I think animals are more fun to work with than people.”

Lima was raised around animals as her parents worked on farms. 

“I told my father before he retired, I was going to own my own ranch,” she said. “Instead, I turned around and started saving dogs. I didn’t expect to be where I’m at now.” 

NOTE: Monetary donations to GEPDA can be made via Paypal [email protected] and Venmo@MaryAnn-Lima. The funds will help cover veterinary bills, food, transportation and everyday cost operations. Additional info can be found on the GEPDA and K9 Budget Bathing Facebook pages.

Jazzy, a 4-year-old long-hair rottweiler, has been under the care at GEPDA rescue organization. Photo by Stan Szeto.
GEPDA pulled Gizmo from a shelter so he wouldn’t die there. He got to spend his final months with a foster family.

Reporter/sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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