Arms marks 10 years with Helen Woodward

There’s a whole lot of love charging Helen Woodward Animal Center, and most of it radiates from President and Executive Director Mike Arms.

In his 10th year, Arms is getting ready to start a major renovation of the center, set to break ground “any day now.” The final step is obtaining a grading permit.

The expansion will move dogs that are up for adoption to indoor kennels and enlarge the animal hospital, equine facilities and administrative offices.

On Monday afternoon, Arms also shared the story of his lifelong dedication to animals with the Rancho Santa Fe Rotary.

Arms called Woodward the animal center of the future. The staff brings therapeutic riding sessions to people with disabilities, 1,500 young campers come to learn how to share their lives with animals, and their Home 4 the Holidays adoption drive found homes for 1.5 million animals worldwide.

This year, actress Hilary Swank will be their spokeswoman.

Arms said everywhere he goes, people tell him they love animals.

“If they love animals so much, why were 5 million dogs and cats killed last year?” Arms asked. “Things have to change.”

Arms travels the world to help affect that change, visiting animal centers to teach them how Helen Woodward works and how they can stop killing animals. There is much work to be done - Arms said that in Puerto Rico, their very best facility has a 95 percent kill rate.

But he still believes change can happen.

Arms said he is always impressed by the compassion animals exhibit such as the friendly wag of greeting when their owners come home from work, or the story of Roselle, the Seeing Eye dog who led her owner down 78 flights of stairs on Sept. 11.

Roselle’s licks on firefighters’ hands as they raced up the World Trade Center steps were the last act of compassion they felt, Arms said, as they never came back down those steps.

“It’s not enough to say ‘I love animals,’ ” Arms said. “You can only be an animal lover if you love animals all over the world. What we do has to change, so animals have the chance to live.”

Arms, born and raised in Kentucky, went to New York to become an accountant. He ended up working for The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He was hired to bring a business approach to running a nonprofit.

“In seven months I lost 25 pounds,” Arms said. “I was tormented by what mankind was doing to animals.”

At that time the ASPCA had a holding period of just 24 hours before animals were killed in a decompression chamber, Arms said.

He was offered a job working for Mutual of Omaha and was ready to go before going out on one last call: to pick up a dog that had been hit by a car in the Bronx.

He found the small dog lying in the street, trembling in pain. Arms said he picked the dog up and held it in his arms when three men asked him what he was doing.

The men said to leave the dog there - they had bets on how long it would live.

Arms ignored the men and carried the dog back to his van. But before he could get inside, the men beat him and stabbed him from behind, leaving him lying in the street just like the dog.

The dog, which could barely move, still found a way to crawl to Arms’ side and lick his face.

“I find compassion that animals have for us that we will never have,” Arms said, who vowed then and there that if he survived he would devote his life to animals.

He was rescued shortly after and has done nothing since but work to fulfill that mission.