Foundation Helps Loving Animals — and Their Owners

Linda Venegas and her dog Ottie getting pampered by groomer Deborah Stevens. Photo by David Laurell / Burbank Leader

In the aftermath of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Gary Michelson, a renowned spine surgeon and prolific medical inventor, founded a nonprofit organization he called Found Animals. 

Beginning with the establishment of the first free pet microchip registry, today the Michelson Found Animals Foundation has gone on to create the Better Neighbor Project, which delivers pet food and wellness services to pet owners in need.

Better Neighbor Project partners with other nonprofit and for-profit organizations and cities to develop collaborative programs that help make emergency homeless shelters pet-inclusive, provide pet food and supplies to existing food pantries, and offer low- or no-cost medical and grooming services along with spay/neuter and vaccine clinics.

Partnering with state Sen. Anthony Portantino, who represents Burbank, and the city’s parks and recreation department, Michelson Found Animals Foundation and the Better Neighbor Project staged a pet wellness day at McCambridge Park this past Saturday.

While cuddling up with a Welsh corgi mix puppy named Sampson as he perused the various vendors and service providers at last week’s event, Portantino praised the city of Burbank for enthusiastically serving as the day’s host. 

“When my office approached the city about doing this event, they were on board right away,” he said. “The government, on all levels, has done so much to help people get through this past year, and the Better Neighbor Project is a way for us to do something for their pets that, through their love and companionship, is essential to our health and wellness.”

Photo by David Laurell / Burbank Leader
Victoria Piar (center), the Better Neighbor Project’s program manager, and Brett Yates, chief executive officer of the Michelson Found Animals Foundation, are pictured with state Sen. Anthony Portantino.

Last week’s event was coordinated by Victoria Piar, who is the Better Neighbor Project’s program manager, and Brett Yates, who serves as the chief executive officer of the Michelson Found Animals Foundation. Working with their partners, they offered assistance at the event under three categories: wellness, which included vaccinations and flea treatments; hygiene, that offered ear cleaning, teeth brushing and nail trimming; and support, which provided owners with food, various supplies and resources. 

“We are grateful to Sen. Portantino and the city of Burbank for hosting us,” said Yates. “In the wake of the pandemic, we know there are people who have to make difficult decisions when it comes to their own shelter, food and healthcare. We never want people in those situations to have to choose between feeding themselves or their pets. We want to make sure they never have to surrender a pet because they can’t afford to care for them. We believe that everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status, deserves the right to the joy of pets, and our goal is to keep these important and loved members of the family with the families who love them.”

Among those who made the day, which saw the pets of more than 350 local residents cared for, were students from John Burroughs High School who served as volunteers, Burbank Animal Shelter staff, and city parks and recreation representatives Erin Barrows and Kristen Smith.

“We were happy that Sen. Portantino approached us about doing this event,” said Smith. “We knew it would be something that would have tremendous value to some of our residents and we were thrilled to partner with him to make it happen.”   

That sentiment was echoed by Burbank City Councilmember Sharon Springer, who was on hand for Saturday’s event. 

“This has been a wonderful opportunity for residents who are in need of assistance in caring for their beloved pets,” Springer said. “We are extremely thankful for the work the Michelson Found Animals Foundation does and, that through Senator Portantino, they have been able to help so many Burbankers and their pets.”  

For more information on the work and services of the Michelson Found Animals Foundation and the Better Neighbor Project, visit

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at or (818) 563-1007.