Battle-rapper plans to bring dog rescue program to South County


Daniel Martinez jumps out of his black Cadillac SRX and nods at me, chatting excitedly on his cell phone. Around San Jose, he’s known to many as the gregarious, slur-throwing battle rapper and Dirtbag podcast host Dan, but there’s no trace of that character now. Instead, he passionately proselytizes anyone online about his new dog rescue program, Adopt My Block.

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

We’re in Gilroy, a stone’s throw from the malls off the 101 freeway, but you’d think you’d be far from any sign of civilization without the occasional traffic noise.

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 area, and start bringing dogs in,” he says.

That plan, he explains, is unlikely to unfold until this summer. He works out the details with the owner, Dr. Puneet Sandhu, a dentist who runs Milpitas Smile Design. Believing in Martinez’s mission to save the dogs, she gave it to him. She knows what it’s like to want to help. In her spare time, she donates dental services to homeless veterans from a van parked on the property.

“I want to put on grass,” continues Martinez. “Fence it on all sides and run a dog here.

But that’s just an idea at this point. First, there is a lot of work to be done.

Adopt My Block has been an official nonprofit for two years, with Martinez and his wife, Rachel La’Roux, running operations from their home. His plans may seem ambitious, but he’s already shown he can move mountains when he wants.

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

He later created the Dirtbag Dan Show, one of the first fight rap podcasts, which ran for eight years. They did their last episode in November 2019. After that, he walked away from all things Dirtbag Dan to save the dogs.

“There is an unlimited number of dogs that need to be rehomed. Every shelter is full of them,” he says. “What we are doing is super important. There are so many little dogs on the north side. How are there not 10 more rescues?

Martinez shows off the van and proudly talks about Sandhu’s mission to help veterans. Not all veterans who receive medical care from the VA are eligible for dental benefits. So, Sandhu brings the dentist to them.

“We want to make it a nonprofit hub,” he says. “This is what we do.”

Moving onto the property promises to make a huge difference for Adopt My Block.

“We can only work with the number of dogs that we have time and space for,” he says. “Having a fenced area and 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, in their San Jose neighborhood. It was a cold evening, and they saw one of their neighbors’ dogs shivering alone inside their fenced front yard. It wasn’t the first time they’d seen this dog shivering outside or standing in the rain. But suddenly it seemed to them that they had to do something about it.

They went to Lowe’s and bought a doghouse with materials to insulate it and weather shields to keep the rain out. They gave it to their neighbor, without any conditions. After that, they noticed many other dogs trapped outside in their freezing yards. They held a fundraiser to pay for more insulated doghouses and jerseys. People were happy to donate, and when they delivered these goods to dog owners, they did so in the least judgmental way possible.

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

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

It was raining when Martinez arrived. He shouted to the neighbor that he was coming to shelter their dog, but no one came out. He carefully climbed on it and set up the niche for her.

“The dog is nice. I fell in love with her,” Martinez says.

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

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

Initially, the plan was for a friend’s mother to adopt her, but due to the neglect she lived in, she proved to be a difficult dog. They kept her and renamed her Penny.

They posted 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, an attorney, suggested that they become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and make what they were doing an official business. In January 2020, Adopt My Block became official.

After starting out in an apartment, Adopt My Block is gearing up to go big for Bay Area dogs. Here, Daniel Martinez holds Yoda, a “lifer” at Adopt My Block. Photo: Greg Ramar

Perform a recovery

Although Adopt My Block has grown a lot in its first two years, it’s still running from the home of Martinez and La’Roux.

Sometimes things get overwhelming. There are several dogs in the house. Some will be adopted. Others are here 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. Although 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 financial value, which even led to an increase in thefts.

“You don’t buy a dog, you adopt a dog because it will be part of your family forever,” Martinez says. “Whenever people make money from living creatures, the living creatures are pretty much in bad shape.”

As he continues to grow Adopt My Block and help more dogs, Martinez hopes more people will take the issue seriously.

“The most important thing I can impress on anyone interested in adding a dog to their family is ‘adopt, don’t shop’. The homeless pet population is out of control,” says Martinez, “I don’t know how many dogs I’ve run into for 30 to 35 years and I haven’t chased or followed home.”

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