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Why I Will: John Zavaglia, Animal Rescuer & Dog Dad.

August 26, 2021
@johnisforthedogs is an avid dog rescuer and advocate and is well-known in the dog rescue community. Learn why he created his Will.
Written By Amanda LevineAugust 26, 2021

A life-long animal lover, John volunteered with the Toronto Humane Society all throughout his teens and 20s. About five years ago, he kicked things into high gear when he started volunteering with animal rescues and, more recently, starting his own organization that helps dogs in need from northern Manitoba.

Since 2016, John has helped save the lives of almost one thousand dogs from all over the world. He’s even adopted 5 of them himself (yes… five!) On top of the work he’s done with Ontario-based dog rescues, he recently founded Ruff Riders Animal Transport. Ruff Riders is an organization that collaborates with several Ontario rescues and community leaders to bring dogs from the reservations of Northern Manitoba to Ontario to find them loving forever homes.

john zavaglia dogs

Being a single dog dad of five comes with its fair share of fur, cuddles, kisses, and poop bags. His dogs are his life, and sometimes it keeps him up at night wondering what would happen if he didn’t come home from work one day. He needs to know they will be well taken care of by someone he trusts if he isn’t around. Especially considering his fourth rescue, Marley, is a more challenging dog and not one that can be cared for by anyone.

Despite looking like a sweet and innocent Doodle, Marley has a bite history, and without the proper knowledge and training, he could quickly end up back at a shelter again. An outcome that makes John shudder to think about.

john zavaglia marley

When it came to choosing a pet guardian, John had no hesitations. He had previously had conversations with a close friend, Angela, about taking his dogs if anything happened to him. Angela and John used to volunteer for the same dog rescue, and he knows she is someone who would never give up on an animal in need. But he knew without a valid Will; there was no guarantee of what would happen to his fur babies if he wasn’t around to advocate for them.

john zavaglia angela

“I’ve seen families fight over getting or not getting dogs, especially throughout the pandemic. I wanted to make sure my dogs would go to my close friend, Angela, and she’d receive a portion of my estate to help with their care.”


I’ve seen families fight over getting or not getting dogs… I wanted to make sure my dogs would go to my close friend.

The uncertainty surrounding “dogs and death” became too stressful, and he decided he didn’t want to take the risk. So, John finally sat down and completed his estate planning with Epilogue.

“After working in the hospital system and seeing how much can go wrong if someone dies without a Will, I never realized it could be THIS easy to avoid those potential complications.”

As he completed his estate planning, he found clarity on what matters to him. He completed everything in about 30 minutes—with a Chihuahua on his lap!

“Are the ones I love being taken care of? Nothing else matters. Going through the process of completing my estate planning drove home what’s important in life.” With everything officially down on paper, John now feels a tremendous sense of relief knowing he’s avoided many potential headaches and conflicts for his loved ones down the road.

john zavaglia whiskey

When it comes to having a conversation with your potential pet guardian, John recommends being blunt. When he first discussed pet guardianship with Angela, he simply said: ‘If something happens to me, I want you to be my dogs’ mom. I don’t trust anybody else.”

Now that John has his wishes down in a valid Will, he feels so much better. While he doesn’t plan on going anywhere any time soon, it’s something that’s been hanging over his head for a couple of years now, and it feels good to finally check it off his to-do list. As someone working in the hospital system and in rescue, he knows that anything could happen at any time.


I’ve worked in the hospital system for 12 years and know life can change in an instant. It’s never too early to start thinking about the end.

And if you’re wondering if there will be a 6th rescue dog? John says that’s unlikely… he’s maxed out.

Learn more about John and his dog rescue adventures on Instagram!

Written By Amanda Levine
Amanda is the Director of Content at Epilogue. She's committed to helping all Canadians learn the importance of estate planning and protecting the ones they love most. In her spare time, she fosters with a local rescue and walks her rescue dog, Louise!