About Brenda Rees

Brenda Rees is a freelance journalist with decades of experience that showcases her versatility and unending curiosity. She’s written for The Los Angeles Times, Westways Magazine, Arroyo Monthly, Edible San Fernando Valley, Pomona College Magazine and more. She cut her editorial teeth and won awards at The Tidings, a weekly newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese; she has edited newsletters, simplified complex academic case studies, and created Southern California Wildlife, a blog featuring wildlife issues in the Greater Los Angeles area.

Brenda currently works as a freelance writer and newsletter columnist highlighting people and companies that are making a difference for The Eastsider LA, an online news publication. She also volunteers her editorial services as newsletter editor and board member for Friends of Griffith Park, and can finally say that she is able to tell the difference between a crow and a raven.

Pitch her a story at brenda (at) brendarees (dot) com.

Mountain Yellow-Legged Frogs in Water-Less World, SoCalWild, August 2014

You don’t have to be a biologist to assume that California’s epic drought is affecting water-loving critters. Frogs and amphibians lazing and splashing around mountain streams and pools are harder to find these days – especially for those endangered ones like the rare mountain yellow-legs frogs which are on both state and federal lists.

A recent survey of mountain yellow-leggers revealed that, yes, indeed these hoppers were showing signs of stress because of the dry conditions up in the San Jacinto Mountains, near Palm Springs. Researchers were checking the frogs which were originally hatched at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and the Los Angeles Zoo. “The drought is adding an additional challenge to their survival, but we are still finding a significant number of frogs that are healthy and growing,” says Frank Santana, a research coordinator for the Institute.

Of the 300 tadpoles that were released, researchers believe about 25 percent continue to survive.

“Every frog counts,” confirms Ian Recchio, curator of reptiles and amphibians at the Los Angeles Zoo that has participated in the program to repopulate the mountain yellow-legged frog for the last five years.  Other partners in the recovery program include: the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Once plentiful, the yellow-hued hoppers now number about 200 in the San Gabriel, San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains. The natural habitat destruction, the introduction of the hungry “Eat Anything” bullfrog and the drought is causing a “perfect storm of problems for the yellow-legged frog,” he says.

There is talk to expand the program to other locations in the Southland, continues Recchio. “We are looking at areas of the Los Angeles Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains for new populations to add to our breeding programs,” he says. Currently a small BioScience Facility at the LA Zoo has been raising tadpoles and froglets for the past five years. (It’s off limits to guests and visitors.)

No doubt amphibian biologists will be doing their own version of a rain dance for a wet winter in SoCal. But Recchio points out that if zoos “hadn’t stepped in with these programs about 10 years ago, there might not be any frogs at all in the mountains. We have to keep moving forward.”


“The Legend of the Red Dog of Eagle Rock,” April, 2011

Our regional paper, the Boulevard Sentinel, contains news stories, events, local happenings and stories. Here’s an article I did for them about a very special canine.

The Legend of The Red Dog of Eagle Rock

By Brenda Rees

For many years, Eagle Rock residents who live in the hills above the Eagle Rock Mall have embraced, worried about, talked and watched over, fed and finally rescued a homeless dog that had become a fixture on the winding narrow streets overlooking the 2 Freeway.

But this story is more than just a simple dog tale, it’s how the heart of a neighborhood worked together to save the soul of a discarded dog – a canine that, through the years, developed a legendary status among residents who affectionately refer to the critter as simply The Red Dog.

No one knows for sure how The Red Dog came to wander the neighborhood; stories circulate that a couple was seen placing the auburn puppy near the electrical towers that are perched high on the hills near the intersection of Lawndale Drive and Round Top Drive. Did a kindly coyote mother pity the little pup and take her as one of her own? How did this dog endure in area for so many years, escaping dog catchers, eschewing run-ins with coyotes and surviving only on the kindness of humans who regularly placed food on their doorsteps for the timid beast?

Ask anyone in the area – and neighborhoods beyond – and they will tell their memories of The Red Dog hiding in bushes, hanging out in backyards, playing with other dogs, eating alongside cats and sometimes laying down in the middle of the street, blocking amused drivers who really couldn’t be angry. This was just The Red Dog’s way.

Still, the pooch was a loner. No one could get close to it, not even new homeowner Lynne DeMarco who in 2002 took special interest in the dog; her day was not complete until she had a glimpse of The Red Dog.  Not alone in this routine, Lynne met most of her new neighbors through The Red Dog, including Candy and Don who loved to put out huge bones for him. The Red Dog was their common denominator; everyone was upset when he was gone for a spell of days and all rejoiced when once again he was spotted.

Woven into the fabric of the neighborhood, The Red Dog continued his wanderings until last year when everything changed. Lynne and neighbors were alarmed when L.A. Animal Control trucks started driving through the area looking for The Red Dog. Someone said he killed a puppy, but none of these neighbors could believe that such a shy creature (who was fairly well-fed) was capable of what a hungry coyote could do in a matter of seconds. After many attempts, the dog catchers left empty-handed.

Then the hot days of Summer 2010 came and Lynne realized she hadn’t seen The Red Dog in weeks. Shirley Hawkins, a concerned neighbor – who also fed the dog – told Lynne to check online at the nearby animal shelter. Sure enough, Lynne found a picture of a sadder than usual Red Dog that was caged, lonely and confused. She had to get him out of there, quick. With help from her friend Ana Debasa who runs an animal rescue called One Dog Rescue,  Lynn was able to secure the dog’s release…but there was the bigger question looming: Where does he go? Where does he belong? It was time The Red Dog found a more permanent home.

Using the power of the Internet, Lynne blasted email to thousands of people — friends, clients from her nearby fitness studio and acquaintances — to enlist their help in finding a place for the canine. To Lynne’s surprise, many had memories of The Red Dog – people from Glendale, Glassell Park, Mt. Washington. They wanted to help.

Someone suggested they send The Red Dog to Pete Rodrigues who specializes in training difficult dogs. Pete’s company, K-9 101 Consulting (www.k9-101consulting.com) was in Santa Paula where he trains and boards dogs at his facility. An unknown to these Eagle Rock residents, Pete was the only shot Lynne, Shirley, Candy, Don and all the neighbors had to rescue and rehabilitate The Red Dog. They had to take it.

Lynne and Shirley met Pete at the county vet’s office in downtown L.A. where The Red Dog was taken to be neutered before his release. Handing over The Red Dog to a complete stranger felt odd for both Lynne and Shirley, and at first, Pete’s techniques seemed harsh. The Red Dog had never been on a leash before, cried when he was pulled, and was so resistant that he needed a sedative to eventually get him into Pete’s car.

Lynn and Shirley followed Pete to Santa Paula to see where The Red Dog would call home, albeit a supposed temporary one, for the first time in his life. Once there, they met Pete’s wife and young daughter and saw happy dogs who were under Pete’s tutelage. The vibe was good; Lynne and Shirley left happy with their decision.

To cover the cost of The Red Dog’s schooling, Lynne once again contacted her online network – and raised more than $2,000, a sum that even today makes her cry with joy. So many people wanted to help, neighbors dropped notes in her mailbox, clients stopped her after classes, everyone was relieved that The Red Dog was finally off the streets and somewhere safe.

Lynne kept in touch with Pete who provided glowing progress reports. After three months of training, The Red Dog was finally deemed adoptable. He could walk on a leash, sit next to people, beg for treats and, most important, ask for pets. Lynne broadcasted the message: The Red Dog wants a home! Unfortunately, no one stepped forward and Lynne was once again worried about The Red Dog’s fate.

Lynne didn’t have to worry long, since Pete said his family had come to love The Red Dog and they would welcome him as part of their pack. Still, if someone wanted to adopt him, someone from the old neighborhood, Pete would be open. To this date, that hasn’t happened.

Overjoyed, Lynne, Shirley and the other helpful neighbors breathed a sigh of relief – today, they miss seeing The Red Dog on their streets but they know he’s living a happy dog’s life. Through the years, Lynne and Shirley realize how important neighbors are to one another, how working together they showed compassion and care for another living thing.

Lynne, Shirley and other neighbors are planning a trip this month to visit The Red Dog at his new home with Pete at new and bigger location in Camarillo. They can’t wait to see how this once painfully shy dog has transformed into a beloved family pet. They promise to bring all the well-wishes of his Eagle Rock family with them – a neighborhood that cared for a discarded and homeless dog, a canine that continues his legendary story about the power of love and friendship.

(If you wish to make a donation to K-9 101 Consulting for Pete’s canine rehabilitation programs, please visit www.k9-101consulting.com and follow the PayPal link for instructions on how to donate online.)

New gig, new title, new website

After months of prepping, I have officially launched this month my new wildlife website, Southern California Wildlife, or SoCalWild for short.

The website is a mixture of news, information, resources and original content all about the diversity of wildlife we have here in the Greater Los Angeles area. From dolphins to desert tortoises, from falcons to mountain lions, the vast array of critters that will be explored is practically endless!

As editor, I am always looking for good wildlife news whether it’s from pr people, scientists or field researchers. I am also on the lookout for good writers who can contribute original posts and photos!

Stay tuned as SoCalWild grows!