Lu Parker wears multiple hats as a news anchor, actress and journalist, but still finds the time and energy to advocate for homeless animals.
Lu Parker, former Miss USA, actress, journalist and news anchor, is also a volunteer at an animal shelter. The job she volunteered for? Cleaning cages. “I just couldn’t stand the thought of lost and scared dogs sitting in a dirty cage,” she says. “Give me a hose and a scrub brush and I’m a cleaning machine.”
It might not be something you’d expect a beautiful multi-talented celebrity like Lu to do. after all, she’s busy enough as it is. she has appeared on TV shows such as Days of Our Lives and Bones, as well as on the silver screen in The Green Hornet and Winged Creatures, and she currently anchors and reports the news for KTLA in Los Angeles. But in her spare time, Lu is a passionate advocate for animals and founder of the Lu Parker Project(www.luparkerproject.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of homeless animals and at-risk youth through education, the arts and community projects.
Los Angeles has six city-run animal shelters; Lu put her focus on the south la location starting in early 2009. “The halls were drab but we painted the lobby to brighten things up since it makes the first impression,” she says. “Project Art was born as a way to add color as well as involve kids.” The Lu Parker Project, Found Animals Foundation, and the city of Los Angeles partnered with the LA’s BEST After School Enrichment Program to launch the Student Art Project and the resulting work livens up the shelter’s halls.
Not one to hold back, Lu got even more involved with the shelter through the creation of Project Picture, which brings in volunteer photographers to work with adoptable dogs and cats. The photos are posted on the Lu Parker Project’s Facebook page and tweets are also sent. “We network and have an email list of over 1,000 people,” says Lu. “The photos the shelter took were done when the animals arrived, scared and overwhelmed. It was more for record-keeping than to persuade someone to adopt them. Our photographers love working with animals. They seem to get the personality of the animals in the shots and that makes them more adoptable. We use props and backdrops, put on bandanas or bows. It’s fun and the dogs love the attention.” She adds that each photo shoot resembles a runway show with someone on hand to brush the animal, put a boa on him and convince the dog to smile or the cat to wave a paw. Glossy 8X10s are hung in the lobby to give potential adopters a first glance at who needs a home.
“We call Project Picture the dating service for dogs and cats,” laughs Lu. “Our photos might not get them a ‘dinner date’ but will probably work for a ‘coffee meet’; it gets them noticed and somebody might make the trip to the shelter to meet a dog they’d never know otherwise. It also shows the animals outside the cages and makes the shelter a less intimidating place to go.”
Thanks to the Lu Parker Project, thousands of animals have been adopted since its inception in 2010. and as the work gained momentum, additional volunteers arrived to help, including an interior designer, a man who built tables, and someone to calm the animals and fluff their fur for photo shoots. All these people and more came together to make a team.
Have a Heart, Donate a Bed is another brainchild of the Lu Parker Project. “The shelter dogs slept on bare floors but when I asked about beds, I was told the dogs would chew them,” says Lu. “However, we were able to find a bed that was virtually indestructible. we just had to find a way to buy a lot of them.”
Have a Heart, Donate a Bed went into effect in 2011. For Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, people donate the price of a bed, and in turn, receive a bouquet of flowers. Enough money was raised in the first year to buy 144 water-resistant, elevated, shelter-approved (and dog-approved!) beds.
“Due to my schedule, I can’t be at the shelter as often as some of the other volunteers who do so much of the work and see more of the negative on a day-to-day basis,” says Lu. “But I found that another way to be a voice for animals was in my job as a reporter.” she has twice been honored with a Genesis Award for outstanding reporting on animal issues such as laboratory testing on beagles and the truth about puppy mills. “I love being able to expose the facts,” says Lu. “It makes people aware of the situation. in 2010, I investigated puppy mills and it opened my eyes. I educated myself and the public. Thanks to protests and legislation, pet stores are closing or working with rescues to get animals adopted. West Hollywood has passed legislation to ban the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores.”
Not surprisingly, Lu has animal companions of her own – a terrier mix named Monkey and an 11-year-old cat, both rescues. Monkey even has a job of his own: he reports on inspiring canines for Leashline News on youtube.com/petsami (he hired Lu as his producer!). Monkey speaks about sheep herding and rehabilitation for disabled dogs, interviews canine heroes, talks to service and therapy dogs, and learns agility.
Lu encourages others to also help animals. “Just get involved, and it will build,” she says. “Do what you can, when you can. clerical work, phone calls, educating others – it all helps. My ultimate goal is not to be needed because every dog or cat has a home.”