By KATHEE YAMAMOTO
Kandace Kuwahara knew from the age of 8 that she had a life mission to help animals. She spent her childhood rescuing and adopting dogs and cats, and dreamed of starting an animal sanctuary.
For over 20 years, she’s served as a volunteer with a variety of rescue groups in Los Angeles and the South Bay.
Kuwahara, a Gardena native, is now the founder of Infinite Love Animal Rescue, a nonprofit started in 2017.
The name, Kuwahara says, was inspired by her late “soul pup” Boo. “He taught me that love is infinite and eternal, and I wanted to honor that.” Boo, a Jack Russell/chihuahua mix, was rescued from the SPAC LA in Hawthorne, and is even now featured on the rescue group’s logo, which Kuwahara designed.
As with Boo, dogs are rescued by Kuwahara from animal shelters and also from the streets. (For now, the focus is on small dogs under 18 pounds.) They are given medical attention, when necessary, as well as grooming and nurturing to prepare them for adoption.
Kuwahara’s most recent rescue dog is an example of why funds are critical to the work Infinite Love does. Ten-year-old Lotus, a 9-pound Yorkie mix from the North Central shelter, has, among other things, an ear infection, kennel cough and a chronic skin condition. Moreover, Kuwahara adds, “She has a lot of issues that I wasn’t aware of and it’s already costed the rescue over $500.”
With additional medical expenses to come, Kuwahara notes, “We are doing all that we can to save her, but we need donations.”
Kuwahara hopes that once Lotus has come through necessary medical procedures, she will be an adoption candidate and available to a loving home.
Other rescues, Kuwahara says, she selects because they are scared and shy, “and I really have proven that I can love up a dog to have full confidence, and to smile and to be happy. That’s one of my gifts.”
“Someone told me I was the Mother Teresa of dogs,” she laughs.
To finance and continue her rescue’s efforts, Kuwahara has marshaled skills from her former work in graphic design and marketing towards organizing the group’s first major fundraising event, this weekend’s Furbaby Lovefest, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 22, from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Cosmic Brewery, 20316 Gramercy Pl. in Torrance.
Along with adoptions, the event will also feature music, food, raffles, a silent auction, free dog nail clipping and ear cleaning, a photo booth, vendors, free vet and grooming advice. Kids and dogs are welcome.
Some of Lotus’ medical problems stem from the fact that she was not spayed, which in addition to reducing the number of dogs and cats in shelters, is another reason Kuwahara feels it’s important to educate the public about spaying and neutering pets.
It’s her experience from yet another aspect of her career that informs her animal rescue work. “I was a humane educator with the SPCA, going out to school classes and to Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, teaching animal responsibility.”
With Infinite Love, she has continued that outreach and is currently offering presentations on “Dog Safety,” “Pet Care” and “Pet Overpopulation.”
Though committed to her animal rescue group and its mission, over time, Kuwahara says it became “very frustrating and challenging.”
“I often cried and I had many restless nights filled with worry. Many times, I wanted to ‘throw in the towel’ and quit because I felt alone. My volunteers were doing what they could, but they work full-time, they have families, they have their own dogs, their own lives, and I really felt it’s a one-man show.
“In these moments, I prayed for peace. In my spiritual practice we pray for a quality, not a specific outcome or a person. And in June, my prayer was answered!”
A chance encounter with former Gardena High School classmate Daryle Nagano-Krier at a dog-related event evolved into Nagano-Krier’s volunteering with the rescue group. “In this very short time, Daryle has really supported me and Infinite Love Animal Rescue. She is great with people and dogs. She is positive, self-motivated, a great communicator, and organized. I am grateful to be able to lean into her for support and know that she will get it done.”
Kuwahara recently announced that Nagano-Krier has taken on a leadership role with Infinite Love and is now the group’s program manager. A communications studies professor at El Camino College and Communication Studies Department chair at Los Angeles Harbor College, Nagano-Krier says, “All my life, I have always loved animals and believe that they give us so much more than we give them. It is my passion to be able to save and love as many of them for as long as I can while I can.”
Nagano-Krier and other members of Kuwahara’s volunteer team, whom she’s dubbed “Love Ambassadors,” have been busy preparing for Sunday’s “First Annual Furbaby Lovefest,” anticipating 300 attendees.
And even while final details are attended to — for example, a recent donation for the silent auction from actress and artist Lucy Liu of a hand-painted dog bowl and an autographed jacket — Kuwahara, now a licensed spiritual counselor, already has her eyes on plans for the future, including fulfillment of a long-held dream.
“My goal is to have an animal sanctuary, a loving and safe haven for animals.”
She’s completing a book, “Be Your Own Sunshine,” to be published in 2020. She’s ready “to help people realize their dreams through the power of positive thinking and self-love” as an inspirational speaker.
And she’s already working on Furbaby Lovefest 2020. “It’s going to be Hawaiian-themed, so it’ll be Furbaby Lovefest in Paradise!”
$10 suggested donation for event admission. For ticket information: www.InfiniteLoveRescue.org/FurbabyLoveFest