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Utah's Temma Martin has dedicated her life to standing up for pets

Published June 2, 2008 12:58 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Perhaps it was the ramshackle farm near her grandfather's upstate New York cottage that awakened the animal advocate within Temma Martin. There, caged rabbits starved.

"Can't you make them do something?" she pressed her grandfather. "Can't you make them take better care of the animals?"

Or maybe it was Mr. Stack, her science teacher at Mount Jordan Middle School, who told her she could become one of Utah's best veterinarians.

Or perhaps it was the picket line in Colorado, where Martin banded with protesters against animal experimentation. The then-high-school senior unfurled her own handmade banner demanding that laboratories "Stop Animal Cruelty."

Whatever the reason, Martin has emerged as one of Utah's highest-profile pet crusaders - a position that hasn't diminished since losing her job this year at Salt Lake County Animal Services to budget cuts.

Her face has become a fixture on the state's four major TV stations. She has lobbied the Legislature for tougher animal cruelty laws and plugs a Pet of the Week in Utah's largest newspapers.

"It's not about me," Martin insists. "I work for a cause that I care very much about and I'm trying to get the message out."

Granted, spreading the gospel of pet care is a little harder these days without her government job, but Martin has worked media magic for her new, lesser-known employer, the Utah Animal Adoption Center (formerly Wasatch Humane).

The nonprofit animal rescue - so small that it provides just two public parking stalls at its north Salt Lake City shelter - now gets time on ABC4, KSL, KUTV and FOX13, plus regular radio and newspaper spots.

Call it the Midas touch for Martin, who has lured camera crowds for years with stunts like having a Jack Russell terrier deliver a wish list to Santa.

The result for her new employer: an unmistakable uptick in pet adoptions, according to interim director Patrick Hoagland.

With a dog bed stuffed beneath her desk, tennis balls littering the floor and a baby gate blocking the doorway to keep her soon-to-be-adopted black Lab, Maisey, from snooping through office trash cans, Martin has made the animal shelter home.

"Was that necessary?" she asks as Maisey dumps pet toys from her bed.

This is a "happy place," Martin explains, free of the day-to-day dreariness of having to euthanize animals. The center has killed just one healthy animal since Martin arrived - a pit bull too dangerous to live with other pets.

It's a nice perk for a shelter that rescues about 1,600 animals a year. But it doesn't erase euthanasia happening elsewhere.

"I don't feel sad as often as I feel angry," Martin says. "And I feel angry about this all the time. I have dedicated 14 years of my life to education and media, and I still can see that many people aren't spaying and neutering their pets. They are still buying from pet stores. They are still buying from backyard breeders. Am I not hitting hard enough with my message?"

The wild life: Martin's childhood was every bit boy - snips, snails and puppy-dog tails.

She kept a cricket named Digby in a peanut-butter jar, staged a neighborhood funeral for a hermit crab named Dino and tended rats as a Goth teen. Then there was her parrot, Max, a turtle, Mustang, her two iguanas, Puff and Amigo.

Her prized pet was a long-haired puppy named Blacky - probably a German shepherd, black Lab, husky mix - whom she taught to jump a 3-foot fence like a show horse. He stuck with Martin from kindergarten to the time she moved away.

Missing from Martin's room: Barbies.

"She never played with dolls," her mother, Paula Garfield, recalls. "She always played with bugs and snakes."

Maybe that's why Martin - who was born in Ohio, but reared in the Salt Lake Valley - was so quick to notice rabbits and chickens dying on a dilapidated farm near her grandfather's summer home.

"I remember being horrified," Martin says. "There were rabbits in cages without food. Some were dead. I really didn't have any experience [until then] with animal cruelty."

Those memories lingered as Martin's interest in animal rights intensified.

She stopped eating red meat in high school (chicken and fish remain on her menu, which she concedes is a tad hypocritical), subscribed to mailings from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and even rallied against animal experiments.

"I was very opinionated," Martin muses.

She still is. But her banner now is animal adoption. Martin has taken that fight to grade schools, TV studios and the state Capitol.

"There are people who give up their pet because it doesn't match their furniture," she tells sixth-graders at Lincoln Elementary in South Salt Lake, pausing as the students gasp. "Isn't that terrible? I think you should match your furniture to your pet."

A borderline interest: Less conspicuous, perhaps, is Martin's campaign for another embattled group - undocumented immigrants.

She embraces it like a religion. Her pilgrimages have taken her to a migrant shelter south of the Mexican border, to impoverished homes where rats scurry atop concrete walls and deep into the Arizona desert to watering stations for migrants.

She has trekked 75 miles from Sasabe, Mexico, to Tucson in memory of those who perished while crossing the border.

Martin later married a Venezuelan - whom she met at a salsa club - and had half the wedding ceremony conducted in Spanish.

She left her mark on the immigration cause with the 2006 Dignity March - a mass demonstration she helped organize through the heart of Salt Lake City that drew tens of thousands of people.

"At a time when we didn't know we were making history in Utah," activist Tony Yapias recalls, "she was one of the most instrumental people."

For Martin, immigration reform and animal welfare go hand in paw.

"If you are compassionate and have empathy for other living beings," she explains, "then it makes sense."

One life saved: Cradling a black poodle, Martin predicts at least one pet adoption will follow her appearance on ABC4's "Good Things Utah."

The poodle is perfect - tiny, affectionate and equipped with a story about being hit by a car, left with a pin in her leg and ultimately given up by an owner who couldn't pay her moving expenses. So Martin rattles off the center's hot line number and passes Taylee around for a quick cuddle.

En route to the shelter, Martin's cell phone rings. It's her boss. The office already has fielded 20 calls about the poodle. A potential owner, Cindy Antonsen, is on her way.

Minutes later, a match is made.

"I need a companion," Antonsen says, displaying photos of a Pomeranian pooch named Boo who died early this year. "I don't want a husband. Thirty-eight years was enough."

That's one life saved - and millions to go.

"In my ideal world," Martin remarks, "we wouldn't have to euthanize anymore because all the shelter animals would have a home."

jstettler@sltrib.com

Prowling for a pet?

The Utah Animal Adoption Center rescues cats, dogs and horses. Those interested in adopting may visit the shelter at 1955 N. Redwood Road (1700 West) or call 801-355-PETS.

Temma Martin profile

* Age: 39

* Family: Husband, Miguel Angel Moronta; stepchildren, Angybel, 14, Chrisangel, 12.

* Education: Bachelor's degrees in political science and Spanish from the University of Utah; bachelor's degree in communication from Westminster College; master's degree in professional communication from Westminster.

* Occupation: Education and volunteer director for the Utah Animal Adoption Center; former media coordinator for Salt Lake County Animal Services and education director for the Humane Society.

* Current pets: Dog, Maisey; cats, Tuffy, Millie and Don Juan; and a parrot, Diego.

* Fun fact: She is an avid sailboat racer on the Great Salt Lake. Her crew captain (also a retired Episcopal clergyman), LeRoy Carter, performed her wedding ceremony.