Rancho Santa Fe woman helps save life of pug dog in Japan


By Diane Y. Welch

The recent photo shoot of a noble female pug brought both laughter and tears to Rancho Santa Fe resident Kelley Kupfer and Suzi Schutzman, vice president of adoptions for Pug Rescue San Diego County (PRSDC), who posed with the little pug at Del Mar’s Powerhouse Park.

For the perky pug, Meiko, the occasion marked the end of a journey that involved a 17-hour flight – in a cargo hold – that stretched from Japan to Los Angeles and was made possible by a network of passionate dog lovers.

Rescued by volunteers of Doggies, Inc., a nonprofit organization of the wives of U.S. Marines based in Okinawa, Japan, Meiko, fragile and abused, caught the eye and the heart of Kupfer, who already has two pugs, a beagle and a puggle (a crossbreed of a beagle and a pug).

Through emails disseminated by PRSDC, the word went out to find a home for the pug renamed Meiko by Kupfer – it translates from Japanese to mean beautiful, beloved child, she said. The pug had spent her entire life caged in a breeding facility where her sole purpose was to give birth, said Kupfer, who was touched by the sad history of “this beautiful little girl,” as she saw her.

Over the years the quality and size of Meiko’s litters had diminished and adoption into a local Japanese family was unlikely.

“Dogs like these get five days in a Kill Shelter, and if no one comes forward to adopt them they are pushed into a room together and are mass-gassed,” said Angela Brewer, co-founder – with Donna Stock – of Doggie’s, Inc. “It’s a horrible death especially for the older dogs like Meiko; she had no chance at all. Sending her to the U.S. was the only chance that she had.”

Meiko, whose age is estimated at between 5 and 7, was snagged from the fate of the gas chamber by a volunteer who had grown up with pugs and loved them. She arranged for the frail pug to be examined by a Japanese rescue vet and immediately placed her in quarantine.

Brewer, now living in Fallbrook – her husband is a Camp Pendelton-based marine –was then able to arrange for Meiko’s transportation. Part of the mission of Doggies, Inc. is to facilitate the safe transportation of the pets of military families stationed overseas. It also helps to find temporary foster families or adoptive families for rescued animals in Okinawa.

Through her own volunteer work with PRSDC, Kupfer soon learned of the pug rescue. “I said that if they can get her here, I’ll take her,” she said. Money was raised in Okinawa and Tokyo with a long chain of people facilitating the rescue, which took about three weeks.

When Meiko arrived at Los Angeles International Airport she was emaciated and starved. Kupfer took her to local veterinarians Steve Mira and Layne Havens, co-owners of the Animal and Bird Hospital of Del Mar, who provided much of their service pro bono. “I’ve had her two weeks now and she’s put on a pound and a half and she is the sweetest little thing,” Kupfer said.

The survival of Meiko has been a miracle, remarked Brewer, who said that she had nothing but praise for Kupfer for taking her. “We could not have found a family for her in Japan.”

Kupfer joked, “If you had told me 10 years ago that I’d be doing something like this I would have laughed you off the face of the earth.”

Last year Kupfer was diagnosed with a rare brain disorder, a fake brain tumor that carries the same symptoms as a real tumor but without the growth. She lost her vision and speech for a few months, but both have returned. Kupfer credits her passion for her pug rescue work in aiding her recovery, she said. Kupfer and her husband, a local surgeon, provide funds and help foster and place rescue pugs in caring homes.

It is anticipated that by July Meiko will have gained weight, will be healthy enough to be spayed – preventing further pregnancies – and will be ready for adoption. To find out how to adopt her, contact Kelley Kupfer at (619) 920-9901 or Suzi Schutzman at

Visit to find out more about Pug Rescue San Diego County.