As I exited the highway, I could see the Del Mar fairgrounds along Jimmy Durante Boulevard and the glittering ocean beyond. The famous venue, home to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and racetrack, was founded by Durante, Bing Crosby, and Pat O’Brien in 1937, just one mile from my destination: his daughter CeCe Durante Bloum’s farm and site of Thrive Animal Rescue
Checking the GPS, I felt certain I had the incorrect address as I passed through a neighborhood of large Mediterranean-style, 3-garage homes tucked tightly into each other’s shadows. But, suddenly, the road swung down into the valley and opened into a rustic farm lane, tails swishing in the paddocks on either side.
I turned in the drive of Newmarket Farm, greeted by a choir of puppies barking from their shaded enclosure in front of the barn. CeCe stood in the doorway, her tall figure calling cheerfully from inside the barn. The farm, and CeCe’s home for 30 years, was bustling with activity; feed deliveries, golf carts loaded with dog food, and horses being turned out.
CeCe’s love of animals started early. She would round up animals to bring home to her mother, Margaret Little, and her father, beloved entertainer Jimmy Durante. Though they only kept poodles at their Beverly Hills home, CeCe would spend hours at the local pet store and compel her parents to take her to the nearby Beverly Park (now the site of the Beverly Center shopping mall) for countless pony rides.
Bloum was a successful amateur rider on both the East and West coasts, before she turned professional and established Newmarket Farm with her husband, Stephen. There, she ran a successful show barn for decades-boarding upwards of 75 horses.
When CeCe retired from the business in 2010, she turned her attention to rescuing dogs. Thrive Animal Rescue, a nonprofit whose mission is to rescue and rehome abandoned dogs across Southern California, was founded in 2014 by Bloum and fellow equestrian Georgia Spogli. Today, the organization scours the streets and shelters of Los Angeles, San Diego, and nearby Calexico and Palm Springs, looking for dogs in need of help. Coco Worrell works as the trainer and behaviorist and does much of the animal care, along with CeCe and a host of volunteers.
She pointed to the puppies and explained that they were amid a “puppy explosion.” Her recent adoptees, three adult female dogs, had all turned out to be pregnant simultaneously and had all given birth within a week, leading to a mega-litter of 26 puppies (of which 12 are left still to be adopted).
“My office has been taken over as the ‘maternity ward,’” she laughed. “We can just chat out here if that’s ok.” I peeked into her office, now the site of a soft mass of tangled tails, fur, and snouts, snuggled in a warm, sleepy pile. “I’ll just sit here on the ground; you take the chair!” she offered brightly as she sidled up to the mother of one of the puppy litters on a dog bed.
Much like CeCe herself, the property had a warm charm and natural beauty. Not overly manicured, the grounds were nonetheless stunning. The artfully designed barn and its surroundings showcased the natural beauty of the locale. It was bright and tidy, yet lived-in and comfortable.
A cool ocean breeze that drifted down the barn aisle offset the warm California sun, an unusual but luxurious sensation. We stepped outside and climbed the steep path together to the top of the hill, where a new building was being erected. “We used this area for school horses, but we’ve expanded Thrive now to be up here,” she explained. “This new building will give us more room to take in dogs.”
The rescue is as lovely a home as any dog could have, atop the sunny hill overlooking the 12-acre horse farm and out to the Pacific. An inviting, shaded seating area surrounded the play space’s clean green turf, littered with fresh-looking dog toys and cool water bowls. The dogs I met, two sets of bonded pairs, each had an area to themselves the size of a small apartment, complete with a shady patio off to one side and access to the play areas on the other. They frolicked with toys, rolled over for belly rubs, and laid out for a nap. The senior dogs that made their way out to greet us enjoyed the sunshine before contentedly ambling back into their cozy little cottage.
“Thrive offers what we call a ‘forever foster’ program for senior dogs, where we will pay the necessary vet bills. It can be very hard to get them adopted when they have expensive needs,” CeCe explained. Thrive supports adopters with training and daycare, and fostered dogs have the chance to run and play on the farm whenever they’d like.
Finally, CeCe introduced me to a group of dogs rescued from a hoarding situation, still wary of their new surroundings. It was a stark reminder to me that Thrive is much more than just a paradise of happy dogs. The job of rescuing dogs is heroic, difficult, and heartbreaking.
We headed back down the hill via the house’s backyard for a short visit with CeCe’s own dogs; five “foster fails” of various ages and breeds. Her home, dotted with memorabilia to make any Hollywood fan’s jaw drop, is cheerful and airy, with the same effortless class that CeCe herself exudes. I stepped through the living room, past Jimmy Durante’s piano, to snap a photo of a framed note from Frank Sinatra. CeCe pointed out a photo on the wall of an incredible lineup of nearly 100 Hollywood stars, including Clark Gable and Katherine Hepburn, her father seated among them. Then, we step back outside to visit once more with the pile of puppies before I set back out.
Jimmy Durante, who was famous for his authenticity, likeability, and good humor, has had an obvious influence on his daughter. Though life on the farm may be a far cry from her Beverly Hills childhood, CeCe Durante Bloum is spreading goodness in the world, much as her father did.