Homeless woman’s love of animals saves lost North Hollywood dog

Martha Aguel shares her camp with her poodle, Chino, and a Chihuahua, Nina. Few shelters allow homeless people with pets.
(Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)

Jay Hofstadter was in a panic as he taped his missing-dog posters on streetlight poles in North Hollywood.

His 8-year-old beagle Snoopy had escaped out the front door of his Ben Avenue house and disappeared.


Though he didn’t know it at the time, Martha Aguel had already come to his rescue.

A former county worker who lost her job, Aguel is homeless. She’s also an animal lover. So she didn’t hesitate when she spied the beagle foraging for food behind a shopping center trash bin.

She scooped up Snoopy and carried him to the culvert where she lives with her own two dogs, a poodle named Chino and a Chihuahua called Nina.

Three days after Snoopy’s May 23 disappearance, Hofstadter expanded his search beyond his neighborhood. He was posting a flier in a commercial area when a passerby said he had seen Aguel carrying what looked like a beagle. He described the culvert where Aguel camps and soon Snoopy — whose collar had come off during his odyssey — was back in Hofstadter’s arms.

Snoopy’s grateful owner tried to pay Aguel a reward and was stunned when she declined it.

“She told me she was just glad I had my dog back,” said Hofstadter, a real estate broker. “She mentioned that the rainstorm last month had washed away her clothes and other belongings. She said all she had left were her own two dogs.”

He returned with replacement clothing for her and with a determination to get her, Nina and Chino off the street and into safer housing.

That may be easier said than done, however. Few shelters allow homeless people who have pets.

“I heard of one place, but when I checked there’s a five-year waiting list,” said Aguel, 50.

Aguel said she has been homeless for about a year after being laid off from her job at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services office in Panorama City. She had been out on medical leave following a September 2011 heart attack when she was dismissed, she said.

“I have a retirement plan but I can’t touch it yet. I don’t have health benefits until I’m 60 but I won’t get that if I take the money now.”

Without income, Aguel was forced to move out of her Panorama City home. She took what she could and set up camp near the Hollywood Freeway. California Department of Transportation workers ordered her to move, however, and dismantled her encampment. “They took everything I had brought from home. Then the flood took all my other stuff,” she said.

“I’d love to get a job, but for that you need a place to bathe. When you live outdoors you can’t help but get dirty.”

Aguel said she is ready to do any type of work. “I’ll do anything. It would be great to be an apartment manager or someone’s caretaker. That way I’d have a job and a place to stay.”

County officials, meanwhile, indicated they will attempt to find shelter for both Aguel and her two dogs. Flora Gil Krisiloff, an aide to county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky who specializes in homeless issues, said she will ask the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to assist her.

Aguel stressed that her two pets are important to her. She rescued 9-month-old Nina when an addict tried to trade her for drugs at a North Hollywood park. Chino is 2 years old.

“My dogs are a part of me,” she said. “They become your children. They’re all I have left.”