Joseph Fleishon may have come to the U.S. 50 years ago as a teen, but his memories of growing up on Kibbutz Ramat Rachel in Jerusalem prior to and following the creation of the state of Israel remain engrained deeply in who he is today. Fleishon, a Southern California resident since 1965, was born and raised on the kibbutz, and his fondest memories are of the many animals who lived on the land with him.
“I grew up in a farming community on a kibbutz,” recalls Joseph, an Orange County accountant. “We had our own — what we called — zoo. We used to have sheep, dogs, cats, cows, horses and camels. As kids, we learned how to take care of them.”
A love of animals stayed with him across time and space, and today, he keeps quite a menagerie of pets in his home: four dogs, seven cats and a parrot.
But Fleishon is also Jewish, so the concepts of tzedakah and tikkun olam are not foreign to him.
Several years ago he decided he wanted to turn his love of animals into a way to help other pets caught up in the circumstances of a struggling economy, lost jobs and fixed incomes. He officially incorporated as a 501c3 Animal Assistance Donations (AAD) Animal Rescue, Inc., last year.
“We raise money to help people who are unemployed or on a fixed income to pay their veterinary bills,” he says. “Last year we spent $30,000 net. We also support other groups that do animal rescue, find foster homes and hold spay and neuter clinics. We also fundraise for lots of campaigns in Mexico because of their large [homeless and feral] animal population.”
Most commonly, Joseph says, AAD works with veterinarians and other similar organizations to pool their funds to cover unusually expensive procedures for clients who have contacted them for help or been referred by the vet. If the family qualifies, AAD and other small organizations try to cover as large a portion of the bill as possible. Sometimes, it’s a few hundred dollars. Other times, it’s the whole $2,000 bill. It all depends on how much money is in AAD’s coffer at the time.
According to Jackie Fleishon, one of Joseph’s two daughters and a main contact for vets and clients working with AAD, they work in conjunction with six or seven other local organizations to accrue pledges that cover each vet bill.
“Though we’ll help families anywhere in the country, we do a lot of work in San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles and Palm Springs and the Desert area, says Jackie, who tracks donations into and out of AAD. It’s a struggle, she adds, trying to make incoming donations top, or even match, requests for outgoing donations.
“We’re such a small group, and we’re just getting started,” she says. “But what we’re hearing is we’re able to give a lot more than other groups. We’re trying to grow and figure out ways to reach the community so they can learn about us. [In December] we were starting to run out of funds, and so many people were calling. We wanted to help, but we could only give a little bit.”
According to Jackie (whose sister and mother also assist with the organization), their work wouldn’t be possible, at least at this early stage, if they didn’t work in conjunction with other groups. One of those is Concerned Animal Lovers, also based out of Orange County.
Kathleen Casella, CAL’s treasurer, has worked closely with AAD before it was even an official 501c3. Casella recalls learning of the Fleishons and their work when Joseph overheard Casella’s client at the front desk of their vet’s office, explaining how he couldn’t afford the bill for his senior cat’s dental work.
“Joe was sitting there with his sick pet,” recalls Casella, who has been working in animal rescue for 42 years, “and he got up and walked to the counter and told my client not to worry, that he would pay the whole thing [before AAD was even incorporated]. He didn’t even bat an eye.”
Says Joseph, prior to becoming incorporated, he raised money on his own, often from generous clients at his tax office (who still contribute), and used it to pay veterinary bills for unsuspecting but very grateful pet owners. Though they can make payment arrangements with any vet willing to work with them, Joseph has developed an especially good relationship with his personal veterinary practice, North Tustin Veterinary Clinic. It’s where he takes his own pets and where he sends local clients. To extend AAD’s funds to as many clients as possible, the clinic began offering discounted services to clients referred there by AAD or any of the other organizations with which they work.
“Dr. Kali [the owner of North Tustin Veterinary Clinic] took into account that a lot of people needed help, and more clients had to be turned away,” says clinic receptionist Julie Panpoja. “Because of a lack of finances, a lot of these pets [with life-threatening injuries or illnesses] have to be put down, so [a discount] was his way to offer a little help. This way, the organizations could also help more people.”
Of course, says Joseph, the hope is that the economy will improve enough that fewer people will require assistance to afford their bills. Just in the past several months, Panpoja says, the vets at North Tustin have seen a decrease of assistance cases, from about 10 monthly to just a few. The Fleishons and AAD have earned a reputation at North Tustin and among their group of organizations as being one of the most generous, often covering large balances of bills following small contributions from other organizations. But, Joseph says, they’d like to expand their services from not only assisting with veterinary bills, but also fostering and rehoming animals.
“A year from now, once the economy picks up and fewer people may need us [to help pay bills], we will probably [expand] our efforts toward creating foster homes and then finding homes for those dogs and cats.”
The bottom line, though, is they’ll continue to keep pets healthy, happy and in safe, loving homes. With a little more time and experience, their hope is to be able to assist more animals, who, the Fleishons say, are like family to so many people.
“Joe Fleishon is so helpful,” Panpoja says. “He does it from the heart, and he’s made a big difference, as far as doing this out of his own time and effort. A lot of these other organizations are very dependent on Mr. Fleishon to make that last pledge. I just think it’s wonderful what he does. A lot of these people are very, very appreciative of AAD helping their pet, which is their family.”
AAD Animal Rescue, Inc.
P.O. Box 11149
Santa Ana, CA 92711