D.E.L.T.A.: A Dog Rescue Outfit Like No Other
Meet the organization and the man behind it who helped put 'no-kill animal shelters' into the lexicon — this group is saving lives every day
It all began with a series of dreams by its founder. Now, nearly four decades later, D.E.L.T.A. Rescue Super Sanctuary is home to up to 1,500 animals that had once been abandoned in the wild.
Considered the largest no-kill, care-for-life animal sanctuary of its kind in the world, D.E.L.T.A. Rescue is a 115-acre mountaintop facility located in the high desert area of Los Angeles. Set amid rolling hills with meticulous landscaping, the idyllic haven for once-abandoned animals is as inspiring as it is vast.
D.E.L.T.A. stands for “Dedication and Everlasting Love To Animals.” And its founder and president, Leo Grillo, has never strayed from that promise — nor does he intend to, ever.
“I promise each little angel that I rescue that they’ll be safe for the rest of their lives — and that this cruelty will never happen to them again.” He means it.
A former movie actor, Leo Grillo found that his true calling and most important role in life began emerging in a series of dreams he had back in 1979, while he was living in Hollywood with three pet felines.
In his sleep, Grillo started seeing visions of a “magnificent creature,” he said, which would one day alter the course of his life in every imaginable way.
Then came a turning point. Grillo was on a serendipitous road trip to Bakersfield, some 100 miles north of Tinseltown, when he spotted a black Doberman ambling through a forest. He realized with a start that it was the same furry friend that had previously appeared to him in dreams.
Right then and there, Grillo embarked on his first-ever rescue. He named the dog Delta — the scientific symbol for change. Likewise, Grillo’s life would never be the same again.
“I was living in an apartment in Hollywood with three cats,” he said. “And I thought to myself, Where would I keep a dog? Thus, reluctantly, I began my journey. I knew I was entering a new world and that my life, my plans, would never be the same.”
Shortly thereafter, on one of many hikes in the wilderness with his newfound companion Delta, he stumbled upon scores of starving dogs.
Deeply shaken by what he saw, Grillo jumped into his car and sped back to the city to load up on dog food. Upon his return to the forest, he spread the nutrients on the ground and then watched in delight as nearly three dozen ravenous critters devoured their first meal in what was surely ages. They looked up at him while they were eating their kibble, their eyes filled with gratitude.
“That was it,” said Grillo. “I could never leave them alone in the wilderness again. They were my kids now.”
But that was just the beginning. By 1980, Grillo had leased some kennel space, having already rescued the 35 dogs he found malnourished in the forest, in addition to three dozen more that had also been abandoned.
Fortunately, he was able to find homes for most of them. He kept about 20 of the dogs that had been abused and were now unwanted. It was then that Grillo was also struck by the realization that most shelters kill undesirable dogs — and for him that was, and still is, totally unacceptable.
“After all they had been through, there was no way I would turn them over to the pound to be killed. No way! I didn’t know what to do, but I would not leave them. Everything that followed was thinking outside the box — because there was no box!”
“I have fought for my animals, even in federal court. Today, ‘no kill’ is in the lexicon, and ‘care for life’ is catching on as well.”
According to the No Kill Advocacy Center, based in Oakland, California, shelter killing is the leading cause of death for healthy dogs and cats in the United States. About 6 million animals enter shelters every year, of which 2 million animals are killed — 22 percent of dogs and 45 percent of cats.
And though Grillo’s no-kill sheltering philosophy was met with lots of pushback in the early ’80s, in 1981, D.E.L.T.A. Rescue was incorporated as a nonprofit organization.
By 1983, Grillo was feeding more than 150 dogs in the wild — while also caring for 29 dogs and 12 cats of his own. This is one generous man! However, the Glendale Humane Society of Los Angeles County was unhappy and cited him for having too many animals. This also got the attention of a local newspaper — which was a good thing.
Fortuitously, sympathetic readers sent in $20,000, which Grillo used for a down payment on a 50-year-old kennel in El Monte, California, which he turned into a shelter for 250 rescued dogs and cats.
Eventually, word of Grillo’s grit spread to Hollywood’s A-listers, such as Loretta Swit, Betty White, and others. This only enhanced Grillo’s reputation and brought even more awareness to his no-kill sheltering philosophy.
“I have fought for my animals, even in federal court,” said Grillo. “Today, ‘no kill’ is in the lexicon, and ‘care for life’ is catching on as well.”
In 1986, he acquired the first 23 acres of the animal super-sanctuary. And by 1991, a new state-of-the-art, 2,500-square foot veterinary hospital was built on-site. Not surprisingly, Grillo also oversaw the building of a second veterinary hospital, in 1994, to relieve overcrowding in the first.
One of this animal lover’s crowning achievements came in 1994, in the aftermath of the Northridge earthquake in Southern California. He stepped in to assist the West Valley Animal Shelter with the D.E.L.T.A. Rescue Veterinary staff at the center of the earthquake zone. For one month only, the city of Northridge agreed to make the shelter a no-kill facility.
Grillo has been on a tear ever since, offering more and more relief to animals in need with every year that goes by.
“Besides our own rescued animals, we do things quietly to help animals any way we can,” he said. “‘Ask the Vet’ on our website is one way. It is available for free for anyone with an animal companion. We share our cutting-edge medicine and medical tips — we even developed the world’s first and only kidney dialysis for animals at UC Davis about 25 years ago. Three years into the program, human medicine was changed forever thanks to a disposable kidney we were using in the machines.”
Grillo has personally rescued all of the animals that live at the super-sanctuary, where the accommodations are topnotch. Up to 700 dogs of all breeds, shapes, and sizes live in spacious yards in straw bale dog houses that keep them cozy and warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
“India’s Maneka Gandhi even wrote a letter to me, sharing her admiration for these houses, which they were testing in India for people,” he said.
“If we had the money that some other large organizations have, we could close all the animal shelters in the United States in five years.”
There are also wading pools in each dog’s yard. Specially trained attendants look after the animals — providing them with fresh water, treats, toys, and affection.There is also an elaborate and dedicated protocol in place for the animals. After the dogs are rescued, they’re spayed and neutered. Males and females are then united and even “married,” said Grillo, “sharing their happy new lives of frolic and play — without fear of hunger or abandonment.
Cats — some 800 of them — are equally cared for at D.E.L.T.A. Rescue, enjoying homes with over 30 indoor and outdoor play areas. While outside, they travel on suspended walkways without the threat of predators.
To date, D.E.L.T.A. Rescue’s onsite facilities include two veterinary hospitals with full-time staff seven days a week. The hospitals are equipped with intensive care units for dogs and cats, surgical suites, a diagnostic lab, X-ray equipment, and a cold laser unit, which has already brought one totally paralyzed dog back to full use of his legs again. There is even a helicopter pad for emergencies, a large reservoir of emergency water, and a fleet of six fully equipped fire engines — more example of love in the details.
Grillo’s vision and reach, however, extend far beyond California. He’s assisted with rescue efforts in places as remote as India, Romania and wartorn Afghanistan. His other accomplishments are too numerous to note.
More importantly, he continues to advocate his no-kill sheltering philosophy, and still dreams of the day when a no-kill world becomes a reality.
“If we had the money that some other large organizations have, we could close all the animal shelters in the United States in five years,” declared Grillo. “Then I could fund my fleet of veterinary ships, which could travel the world helping animals that have no veterinary care whatsoever. If only we were rich for the sake of these deserving animals!”
To learn more about D.E.L.T.A. and the extraordinary work this organization is doing, please visit its website here.