Our Team.

SHELTER TRANSPORT ANIMAL RESCUE TEAM (START) was founded in 2011 by three compassionate people who set out to make a difference in the lives of animals in need. Below are the dedicated individuals who have come together to make up our team.


Steve Spiro
President, Co-Founder, Board Member

Steve was born and raised in London, England and now resides in Los Angeles. Before forming START (a 501(c)(3)) in May 2011 with Rene Ruston and Adam Tarshis, Steve and his wife Suzanna did individual rescues, helping as many dogs as they they were able to bring home or place in foster care. “The goal of START,” says Steve, “is to help more animals in need on a higher level and to bring national awareness to our major animal issues.” Steve is a former boxer but now writes screenplays full time (well, almost "full time," as he also devotes endless energy to START's mission). He has several TV and Film projects in development, including an autobiographical "One Man Show" called UK UNDERDOG, which is heading to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His wife Suzanna opened his eyes to the world of animal rescue (and veganism) and he has not looked back since! Steve is a huge Pit Bull fan and his favorite quote is: "Stop blaming the wrong end of the leash." 

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Rene Ruston
Treasurer, Co-Founder, Board Member

Rene has been a Los Angeles based Realtor for the past 30 years.  In addition she serves as Director of Sales and Operations for the luxury vegan shoe company:  Mink Shoes.  She balances her busy dual careers while overseeing the START Rescue Resale Store in Sherman Oaks, CA.  In addition to co-founding START, she sits on the board of directors of The Brittany Foundation.  Rene is a founding member and served on the board of directors of the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center (SPARC), which is the only no-kill open admission shelter in California.  She and her record producer husband, Jay, co-founded Rock and Rescue which supports small, grass roots rescues thru the music industry.


Candace Modrell
Director of Transports

While visiting her home town of Springfield, OR, Candace took her niece and nephew to visit a Humane Society and noticed they didn’t have many small dogs. She inquired with them about the possibility of transporting in dogs from California, and they said yes! The transports were born. Since then Candace has built relationships with many Humane Socieities and rescues in the Pacific Northwest and joined forces with START to continue the work of getting dogs out of high kill shelters and into groups where they are well cared for and have a new chance at life.


Phillip Gharabegian 
Secretary, Board Member

Phillip is a sports entertainment business affairs attorney at Fox Sports Media Group. He has been involved in animal rights advocacy for more than 15 years and currently serves on the board of the Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation. He also serves as a member of the board of directors of the Susie Spector Foundation. Phillip co-founded a Los Angeles 501 (c) 3 organization called Animal Advocates Alliance. Although Phillip loves all animals, he definitely gravitates towards Pit Bulls and Chihuahuas.


Talitha Davies Wegner
Director, Board Member

Talitha has been a long supporter of START Rescue as an active board member and legal counsel, but has also helped fund many START transports. Talitha’s Los Angeles practice encompasses all matters of Family Law. In addition to traditional litigation methods, Talitha is a certified family law mediator and founded the Intelligent Alternative Mediation Center to offer her clients a cost-effective, collaborative approach to divorce and other family conflicts. In addition to advocating for her clients, Talitha sits on the board of several other non-profit organizations including Rock and Rescue, The Brittany Foundation and The STAND Foundation. Talitha donates her time and resources to give a voice to many voiceless individuals in the Los Angeles Community.


Christina Snyder
Director, Board Member

Christina is a philanthropist, public speaker, and champion for the defenseless. She dedicates her time, passion, and resources to being a voice for the voiceless. In 2011, her eyes were opened to the plight of Pitt bulls. With a conviction for righteousness and a desire to help open others’ eyes and change hearts, she is driven to rescue and rehome these beautiful beings.


Dean Anthony Theodore
Director, Board Member

Dean resides in Malibu Canyon with his wife, Dawn and his 6 Fur-kids. Dean’s passion for sports lead him to design and manufacture the Triathlon Bags worldwide. They were featured in all Nissan X Terra Trucks as he had an exclusive royalty deal with Nissan. Dean later established his fitness studio, 3D Fitness in Calabasas where he trained people in GYROTONIC as well as triathlon training, boxing and designed a program for overweight children called “Fitter Not Thinner.” Dean is an entrepreneur and an inventor who went on to design a tablet holder for children called Tablet Teddy Bears, which was featured at The CES Show in Las Vegas. Dean’s love of animals has led him to his newest occupation as a Non-Anesthetic Dog Teeth cleaner. He loves working with his four-legged friends to give them their beautiful smiles without the danger of putting them to sleep.


Linda Raznick
Director, Board Member

Los Angeles born and raised, Linda had a legal career: cofounder and editor in chief of The Rutter Group, the highly respected and ground-breaking publishers of the California and Federal Practice Guides, mixing her love for the law with her love for writing and gave “birth” to the only child, other than her dogs and horses, she ever had. After some 40 years at the helm of that endeavor, Linda moved on to the passion that tore at her heart as a child. Although she and her husband, Rob, have long supported and, indeed, bent over backwards to support many animal rescue organizations, none grabbed her more than the START folks did when they first met at the beginning of 2017. It was a privilege for Linda and Rob to host the first-ever “annual gala” for START in September 2017. It is with her heart and soul that Linda continues in whatever capacity it may take to bring START’s message and mission forward.

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Ellen Lavinthal
Director, Board Member

After graduating from USC Law School, Ellen assumed the presidency of Animal Alliance, a Los Angeles-based animal rescue and advocacy non-profit organization that she headed up for 29 years. Under her direction, Animal Alliance joined forces with several national animal welfare groups in opposition to puppy mills (helping to end the sale of puppy mill dogs in five L.A. pet stores), the fur trade and elephants in captivity. Additionally, through Animal Alliance, Ellen instituted programs that help provide the pets of low-income families with spay/neuter surgeries and medical care, and has donated cat food and medical funds to caretakers of feral colonies throughout the city. Animal Alliance was on the forefront of several major hoarding situations, re-homing animals who otherwise stood no chance of survival.