Interview: NKLA Executive Director Marc Peralta

marc-peraltaWhen Marc Peralta took the reins of Best Friends Animal Society’s No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA) campaign, he knew he’d be working to end euthanasia at animal shelters in one of the world’s largest cities. But he never imagined the move would also bring both a fiancée and a new furry friend into his life.

Three years later, Peralta — a golden boy in the animal welfare world if there ever was one — is a fixture on national TV and social media, as well as press events, industry conferences and fundraisers. Never far from his side both on and off-camera are fiancée Kristen McManus — whom he met at a NKLA adoption event – and at least one of the pair’s four dogs: Pugs Shorty, Asher and Milton (the newbie), and Pit Bull Clarence.

“All my dogs come to work with me — it’s rare to see me without one of them,” says Peralta. “Dogs are great ice breakers and wonderful ambassadors. I use them as a secret weapon to talk to people.”

Not that he needs much help; if there’s one thing Peralta is passionate about, it is the no-kill mission. Though it’s a movement 30 years in the making, Peralta is giving it new life. Under his leadership, NKLA has reduced euthanasia in city shelters from 23,000 annually to 12,000 — a historic low in LA.

“If a huge city like LA can do it, anyone can do it,” Peralta says. “NKLA is the future. We’re rethinking the system.”

If saving tens of thousands of animals’ lives sounds like a monumental task, that’s because it is. But Peralta says his ability to “unplug” while off-duty is a huge factor in avoiding burnout — and his pack of pups help him do it.

“I give 100% when I’m at work, but my pets absolutely help me decompress. If I want to chill at home and watch House of Cards all day long, they are happy to do so,” he chuckles.

While binge-watching Netflix is a pet pastime, Peralta says the dogs also enjoy walks, playing at the beach, dining out and even grocery shopping. “[Kristen and I] love them being a part of our everyday lives — they’re like our little kids.”

Parents aren’t supposed to play favorites, but Shorty – the pup Peralta has had the longest – holds a special piece of his heart.

“Everybody has that animal who changed their life, and Shorty is the one for me,” says Peralta. And though he affectionately calls Shorty his Lexus for being “super expensive,” it’s clear he considers his best buddy to be priceless.

After Shorty swallowed a rock last year at the Best Friends 30th anniversary party, he needed surgery – but not just to remove the foreign body he swallowed. Like many snub-nosed breeds, Pugs often benefit from soft palate surgery to clear their airways, and Shorty was no different.

“It was a huge procedure and I was terrified, but $3,000 later the rock is gone, he’s breathing better and his shorter palate can actually prolong his life. It was really a blessing in disguise,” Peralta says.

Shorty, Asher, Milton and Clarence certainly struck gold the day they found their dad, but Peralta says they’ve brought as much to his life as he has to theirs.

“Animals push me to be better. I was a work in progress for a very long time, but I’ve gained so much perspective,” he says. “When you spend your life helping something in need, it teaches you a lot about compassion and gives you a sense of purpose. I’ve never been happier with the dude in the mirror.”

Peralta’s next endeavor is of a more personal nature: he and McManus will be married at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in September, making the Peralta pack officially a party of six. After the vows are said and bands of gold exchanged, Peralta plans to go back to doing what he does best.

“I’ll be working with animals for the rest of my life, wherever there’s a need and wherever my family takes me,” he says. “I plan to keep doing everything I can to achieve a no-kill city for Los Angeles. The sky is the limit from there.”

— published in fetch! magazine, the “Golden Oldies” issue