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May 25, 2022

Battle-rapper plans to bring dog rescue program to Gilroy

Daniel Martinez hops out of his black Cadillac SRX and nods toward me, chatting enthusiastically on his cellphone. Around San Jose, he’s known to many as the gregarious, insult-slinging battle-rapper and podcast host Dirtbag Dan, but there’s no trace of that character now. Instead, he is passionately proselytizing to whomever is on the line about his new dog rescue program, Adopt My Block.

I wait for him, standing by my Ford Focus with my three-legged German shepherd, Nisa, who my wife and I adopted seven years ago from the German Shepherd Rescue of Northern California. Nisa sniffs the nearby dirt and weeds.

We’re in Gilroy, just a hop and a jump away from the outlet malls off Highway 101, yet you would think you’re far away from any sign of civilization were it not for the occasional noise of traffic zipping by.

Currently, the property operates as a walnut farm. Soon, it will be the site of Adopt My Block.

Martinez hangs up, immediately ready to talk about his plans. 

“We’re ready to park a trailer here, set up a fenced-off area, and start bringing some dogs around,” he says. 

That plan, he explains, likely won’t unfold until sometime this summer. He’s working out the details with the property owner, Dr. Puneet Sandhu, a dentist who runs Milpitas Smile Design. A believer in Martinez’s mission to save dogs, she offered it to him. She knows what it’s like to want to help. In her spare time, she donates dental services to homeless veterans out of a van that’s parked on the property.

“I want to put some turf down,” Martinez continues. “Fence it off on all sides, and have a dog run here.” 

But that’s just an idea at this point. There’s a lot of work that needs to happen first.

Adopt My Block has been an official nonprofit for two years, with Martinez and his wife, Rachel La’Roux, running operations out of their house. His plans might seem ambitious, but he has already shown that he can move mountains when he wants to.

Just over a decade ago, Martinez was one of the most traveled battle-rappers in the world. He’d competed in the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Australia, the Philippines and all over the U.S., shouting, “The ’Zae, baby!” wherever he went, in honor of his hometown. He still ranks in the top 50 most viewed battle-rappers—and his last battle was seven years ago.

Later, he created the Dirtbag Dan Show, one of the first battle rap podcasts, which ran for eight years. They did their final episode in November 2019. After that, he stepped away from all things Dirtbag Dan related to save dogs.

“There’s an unlimited amount of dogs that need to be rehomed. Every shelter is packed full of them,” he says. “What we do is super important. There’s so many little dogs around the north side. How are there not 10 other rescues?”

Martinez points out the van and speaks proudly of Sandhu’s mission to help veterans. Not all veterans who receive medical care from the VA qualify for dental benefits. So, Sandhu brings the dentist to them.

“We want to make this like a nonprofit hub,” he says. “That’s what we’re doing.”

Setting up shop on the property promises to make a huge difference for Adopt My Block.

“We can only work with the amount of dogs we have time and space for,” he says. “Having a fenced-off area, and a trailer, on the property means we can bring in more volunteers and help more dogs.”

Paw patrol

In the fall of 2019, Martinez and La’Roux were walking their dog, Lily, around their neighborhood in San Jose. It was a cold evening, and they saw one of their neighbors’ dogs alone, shivering inside their fenced-off front yard. It wasn’t the first time they’d seen this dog shivering outside or standing in the rain. But suddenly it struck them that they should do something about it.

They drove to Lowe’s and bought a doghouse with materials to insulate it and weather guards to keep the rain out. They gave it to their neighbor, no strings attached. After that, they noticed many other dogs trapped outside in their freezing cold yards. They set up a fundraiser to pay for more insulated doghouses and sweaters. People were happy to donate, and when they delivered these goods to the dog owners, they did so in the least judgmental way possible.

“We would say, ‘We had extra supply. We saw you had an outside dog, so we just wanted to drop off some extra stuff,’” La’Roux says. “That way, the owner wasn’t, like, offended.”

In November, they got a call from a friend in Fresno, who said that her neighbor’s dog, a shepherd pit mix, was stuck outside, trapped in a small three-foot fenced side yard, hopping around like a kangaroo. The owners never brought her inside.

It was raining when Martinez showed up. He shouted at the neighbor that he was coming over to give their dog shelter, but no one came out. He carefully climbed over and set up the doghouse for her.

“The dog’s sweet. I fell in love with her,” Martinez says.

A month later, a huge storm hit Fresno. Their friend’s neighbors skipped town and abandoned their dog in the yard, which was now flooded. When the friend noticed her, she was standing on top of her doghouse. She grabbed the dog, brought her into her garage, fed her, and called Martinez. He and La’Roux took her home.

“She was really underweight and was limping when we got her. We nursed her back to health,” La Roux says.

Initially, the plan was for a friend’s mom to adopt her, but because of the negligence she lived in, she proved a challenging dog. They kept her and renamed her Penny. 

They posted about the whole experience online, and soon other people were contacting them about other dogs that needed to be rehomed. As Martinez and La’Roux saw the scope of their project grow, they changed its name to Adopt My Block. Along the way, one of La’Roux’s best friends, a lawyer, suggested they become a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit and make what they’re doing an official endeavor. In January 2020, Adopt My Block became official.

adopt my block daniel martinez dog rescue
After starting out in an apartment, Adopt My Block is preparing to go big for Bay Area dogs. Here, Daniel Martinez holds Yoda, a “lifer” at Adopt My Block. Photo: Greg Ramar

Making fetch happen

Though Adopt My Block has grown a lot in its first two years, it’s still currently being run out of Martinez and La’Roux’s house.

At times, things get overwhelming. There are several dogs in the home. Some will be adopted. Others are there to stay.

Adopt My Block has become more than a rescue. Martinez wants to share the view that the practice of dog breeding creates many problems. Though California has banned pet stores from buying dogs from breeders, Martinez says the breeding process itself remains under-regulated, increases genetic defects and creates the idea that dogs have a financial value, which has even led to an uptick in thefts.

“You don’t buy a dog, you adopt a dog because it’s going to be part of your family forever,” Martinez says. “Anytime people are making money off of living creatures, the living creatures are pretty much in a bad shape.”

As he continues to grow Adopt My Block and help more dogs, Martinez is hoping that more people will take the problem seriously.

“The most important thing I can get across to anybody interested in adding a dog to their family is ‘adopt don’t shop.’ The homeless pet population is out of control,” Martinez says. “I don’t know how many dogs I walked by for 30-35 years and didn’t chase down or follow home.”

For information, visit adoptmyblockdogrescue.com.

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