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Yelp! celebrates 1-year reunion

Leila Arefi-Pour was enduring the worst heartbreak of her life more than a year ago when she saw a picture of a severely emaciated dog circulating on Facebook.

Arefi-Pour, 28, of Lafayette, already had three dogs, but her “heart dropped,” she recalled Saturday, when she saw the malnourished golden-haired dog and knew she had to have him.

After contacting Yelp!BR, also known as Yelp!, where the dog was sheltered, and going through the application process, she adopted Joseph a few months later.

“God sent him to me at a time in my life when I needed him,” she said at Saturday’s Yelp! reunion event at Petz Plaza on Jefferson Highway. “I saw Joseph on Facebook and I never hurt for anything else like I hurt for him.”

The reunion event, timed for the one-year anniversary of Joseph’s adoption, also brought together other dogs Yelp! had helped place with area families since its inception in 2009 with the volunteers and workers who cared for them.

After Joseph became an Internet sensation when pictures of his condition spread like wildfire over Facebook, the Yelp! staff wanted to coordinate an event to bring him and other Yelp! dogs together, said Beverly Theriot, the group’s fundraising coordinator.

“It’s like a family reunion,” she said. “It’s like seeing a long-lost relative and they remember us, too.”

She said Yelp! has received donations from Switzerland and France to help with Joseph’s medical care and people still ask about him.

This was the first reunion, Theriot said, and there are plans to make it an annual event.

Yelp!, a no-kill shelter in Baton Rouge, has as its mission to reduce the euthanasia rate at the Companion Animal Alliance shelter run by the city-parish, Theriot said.

Yelp!’s volunteers who remove dogs from the CAA shelter have found new homes for 2,100 of them since 2009. They currently place about 30 dogs a month with adoptive families.

Families wishing to adopt a dog through Yelp! must go through an application and screening process because, Theriot said, the organization’s members are very cautious about where they place the dogs.

Saturday’s event offered face-painting by Friends of Animals, another pet adoption agency; a kissing booth where dogs offered a plethora of wet kisses for a dollar; a silent auction and an adoption area. Frankie’s Dawg House and Cool Tiger Ice were also on hand with refreshments and food.

Theriot said she and other officials hoped to generate about $3,000 Saturday from donations and merchandise sales.

Yelp! also holds charity adoption events at the PetSmart store on Millerville Road three times a year, Theriot said.

Yelp!’s annual operating budget is about $180,000, Theriot said, and that goes toward paying salaries for the six full- and part-time employees, along with feeding and housing dogs and taking care of the dogs’ medical needs.

The shelter’s adoption fee is $100 and the veterinarian fees alone for each dog — they house about 50 dogs at one time — greatly exceed the adoption fee, so the operation is always in need of donations, Theriot said.

In special cases, such as Joseph’s, the organization may spend thousands of dollars on medical care, which eats into the budget, so donations are essential to further the group’s cause, Theriot said.

Valerie Nance, 54, of Baton Rouge, walked around the Petz Plaza parking lot Saturday with her rescue dog, Sandy, a personable 2-year-old long-haired Chihuahua.

Nance adopted Sandy when the dog was 8 weeks old. Nance also has a 4-year-old Catahoula leopard dog named Libby, one of the first canines adopted out by Yelp!.

She said seeing dogs in need of rescue tugs at her heartstrings because of the circumstances that generally surround them.

“With the rescue dogs, they didn’t ask to be born and then they were born and people leave them by the side of the road,” Nance said. “I just get sad when I see these dogs on the road starving. They’re like children and you don’t let your children walk on the side of the road starving. People just need to be more responsible.”

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