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Annabella Miller: A passion for animals led her to fostering dogs

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Annabella Miller’s love for dogs can be traced back to her early childhood in New Jersey, where she was born and raised.

“It was a family effort,” she said. Her parents, Neal and Nieves (Cespedes) fostered dogs even back then.

After moving across the country to Aliso Viejo five years ago – and then to Laguna two years later – Miller’s mission to help dogs expanded into founding a volunteer rescue club at Laguna Beach High School, where she will soon be a senior. As president of the club, she selects volunteers from a small core group to attend adoption events. They help ease greetings between pets and potential adopters, maintain a clean pen for the pups and play with the dogs.

Annabella Miller closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Annabella Miller, a dog’s best friend

“I have always been passionate about animals. Dogs, more specifically, had a very special place in my heart,” Miller said. “After participating in a family effort to foster a few dogs at a very young age, I was inspired to foster on my own at the ripe age of 12.”

Her current role as foster started about five years ago when they adopted Puddy from Lovebugs Rescue in Corona del Mar. She started volunteering there and soon began coordinating the dog adoption process.

“I became friends with the founder and CEO, Heather Peterson,” Miller said. “I started fostering, and then became active in facilitating adoptions, which involves an application screening process, interviewing applicants and arranging for meet and greets at Huntington Beach Dog Beach.” She also volunteers at adoption events and fosters for Leashes of Love Rescue in Lake Forest. To date, Miller has fostered six dogs and found them forever homes.

annabella miller puddy

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Puddy inspired Annabella to start fostering

As one might imagine, fostering involves vet visits and boundless patience, since some of the dogs have been traumatized. “The first dog we fostered was rescued from a shelter. He had been tied to a pole and someone found him. He had some issues and chewed up the remote, but usually after a month, the dog gets used to surroundings.”

Lovebugs Rescue pays for medical expenses and furnishes basic equipment when fostering, items that go with the dog when it is adopted. It’s not a surprise that the rescue/fostering process requires substantial funding and the two nonprofit rescues – Lovebugs and Leashes of Love – depend on donations from dog lovers to keep them going. Miller’s six fosters were: Bentley, Winnie, Peanut, Smores, Celeste and Joy.

annabella miller Bentley

Courtesy of Annabella Miller

Bentley

As told by Miller, here are a few of their stories.

January 2019: Bentley had a very difficult first year of life. He was in a home that left him tied outside to a pole, forcing him to dig a hole as shelter. Luckily, he was rescued by Lovebugs. As a 1-year-old, 10 lb. terrier mix, he was extremely energetic and playful. He had no problem getting comfortable in our household, and we often found him play-fighting with our family dog, Puddy. He was a very fun addition to our home for the short time that we had him. After conducting many interviews, I placed him in an amazing home.

annabella miller winnie

Courtesy of Annabella Miller

Winnie

October-November 2019: Winnie was turned into the shelter pregnant, but was spayed anyway, causing her to lose all of her puppies. She was 2 years old and 15 pounds when she came into our lives. She had extreme anxiety coming into our home and would refrain from approaching any human. She had even less trust toward men. It took many hours of sitting in her pen with her to gain her trust. Once she came out of her shell, she was the sweetest girl we had ever met. It was extremely hard to let her go, but I found Winnie an amazing home nearby. My dad and I love to go visit her occasionally and see how well she is doing in her new home. She seems happier than ever and now lives with one other sibling.

annabella miller celeste

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Courtesy of Annabella Miller

Celeste

January-February 2022: Celeste was a sweet girl who was surrendered by her former owner. She came to Lovebugs extremely matted and in desperate need of a haircut. Once she got cleaned up, they discovered she had three large bladder stones and would need surgery. Having been through a lot, Celeste was very shy and mellow. However, once she opened up to us, she was the most loving dog and would always love to cuddle.

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“Some of the dogs we foster could have died without these rescue organizations,” said Miller.

As any animal lover would understand, it must be difficult to foster and then see the dogs go to a permanent home.

“Most have trust issues, and it’s very difficult to earn their trust, but when I do, it’s one of the most fulfilling feelings. Sometimes we’re the only people who have shown them love, and it’s hard to let go, especially the most recent foster, who went to Florida,” Miller said. “It’s emotional to let them go, but they go to good families.”

She explained the process. “Once the dogs are put up for adoption, we go through the applications and pick the best ones. When I call them, I get a sense of their intentions, their kindness. If the interview goes well, and they are interested, we do a meet and greet. If it’s a match, the family can take the dog home at that time.”

annabella miller on patio

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Since Puddy is the family dog, Miller tries not to overwhelm him with too many fosters

Miller has frequent contact with Peterson of Lovebugs Rescue, letting her know when she’s ready to foster again, which will be in a few weeks. 

As stated by Peterson on www.ajmfostering.com, “Annabella has been a dedicated foster and volunteer with Lovebugs for many years. Her passion for helping these dogs in need is amazing. She has been a reliable resource for Lovebugs and does a wonderful job managing the entire adoption process. We are thankful she is a part of the team.”

In addition to her work with the two rescues, for the past six months, Miller has worked as a hostess at Oliver’s Osteria. “My parents go there a lot and my sister was also a hostess for them.” Currently in France for a month-long program, Miller’s sister goes to Northeastern University.

One might assume that Miller would go into a career as a veterinarian, but she admits she will probably go into communication, business or the hospitality industry. “I hope to go to New York University. My father’s side of the family is still back there. My mother is from Peru.”

What parents wouldn’t be over-the-moon proud of a daughter who is so fervently dedicated to dogs, she puts her love for them into action – that saves lives.

annabella miller serious

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Miller takes her commitment to animals very seriously

“I am proud of Annabella and how passionate she is about helping animals in need, it makes my heart happy,” her mother said. “She has a kind and compassionate nature and is a very smart and strong young lady who is putting those qualities to great use. She has her heart in the right place and will do great things in life!”

Her father said, “I am extremely proud of the caring, dedication and leadership Annabella has shown through her volunteering and fostering. I am particularly impressed with her ability to manage the entire adoption process in coordination with the rescue organizations. It’s wonderful to see the positive impact they are having on so many of these dogs in need of help.”

For more information about Annabella Miller’s fostering, go to www.ajmfostering.com.

For more information about Lovebugs Rescue and to donate, go to www.lovebugsrescue.org.

For more information about Leashes of Love Rescue and to donate, go to www.lolr.org.

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

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