Not long ago, Alan Woodruff and the city of La Quinta did not see eye to eye.
“The city was all over me in the beginning, and we had shouting matches,” says Woodruff, the founder of AAARF, aka Alan’s All Animal Rescue Foundation. “It took more than a year, but I stood my ground—and let them know I was going to rescue animals, no matter what they said or did.”
Today, the city and Woodruff are getting along much better—and in fact, the La Quinta City Council just named Woodruff as one of three new recipients of the city’s Pillar of the Community Awards.
AAARF is devoted to reuniting lost pets with their owners; finding homes for animals in danger of being euthanized; providing meals to animals in need; and even rescuing dogs who become trapped in the mountains surrounding La Quinta Cove.
Woodruff, 72, is a former head coach of track and field and cross country at Palm Desert High School, and has called La Quinta home since 1989. The ironman triathlete says he feels honored by the award.
“Everybody loves to be stroked—though I don’t need strokes as much as most people—but it’s nice to know that I’m respected, doing good work and being recognized by the city for it,” Woodruff says.
His efforts started around 15 years ago, when he started helping animals he saw wandering on his street. “I’d be down the road, and I’d see a dog, call the number on the tag, and it would be my neighbor,” he says.
Woodruff has always loved animals, he says. He was born and raised in La Jolla and spent every summer at his grandparents’ farm in Oregon, where there were sheep, goats, horses, cows, pigs and such.
He doesn’t flinch from helping any animals, including taking a bird that fell from its nest to a sanctuary, or picking up dead cats from the middle of the street. He feeds feral and abandoned cats who live in the Cove—up to 95 meals a day—and works with the Ramona Humane Society at San Jacinto to rescue dogs who might otherwise be euthanized.
While Woodruff has won over the city government, he still faces a lot of hostility.
“I have to be a social ambassador when going into different areas in the neighborhood when helping cats,” Woodruff says. “It’s not easy; you have to get everyone on the same page. You’re a stranger to some of them. Not everyone loves cats. You have to weave and bend, because you don’t want people to take away the cats’ food or hurt them.
“You have no idea the fear and superstition cats have for certain people. Some even believe they are evil. … It’s something mystic about cats that turns some people off.”
One particularly harrowing experience occurred last summer, on a 120-degree Sunday afternoon. A woman phoned Woodruff, informing him that the man across the street from her had committed suicide. His wife had then left the house—abandoning a dog in the heat of the backyard.
“This dog had never been inside a house,” Woodruff says. “He was a big black pit bull. Nevertheless, I went into their backyard and looked at the dog. In a couple of minutes, he was happy. … He was just a goofy, sweet dog.”
However, the dog was hurt and overheated. Woodruff hosed him down for 15 minutes to cool him off. Thankfully, this story has a happy ending: Woodruff found the dog a permanent home—where he can go inside.
Judy Courtney, a resident of the Cove, says Woodruff goes above and beyond to save dogs.
“I was ready for another dog because one of my two dogs passed away,” Courtney says. “I phoned Alan and said, ‘I don’t care about the breed or size; I just want a loving dog.’”
Woodruff soon matched her up with the perfect pet.
“She’s magnificent—part beagle, part Chihuahua, and fits in perfectly with me and my other dog,” she says.
La Quinta Mayor Linda Evans lauded Woodruff for his commitment to animals.
“Alan’s dedication to animals is commendable,” she wrote in an email. “From reuniting dogs with their owners, to ensuring others are adopted into loving homes, his passion for our furry loved ones deserves recognition.”
Over the years, Woodruff has organized several Turkey Trots which have raised funds and awareness for no-kill shelters. He says his phone is open to handle any problems relating to animals every day from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m., at 760-567-5051.
“My message is simple,” Woodruff says. “Adopt and love all animals.”