Nemesio Arteaga, better known as Memo, was born in a small Mexican village in the state of Zacatecas with no running water, electricity or sewers. He grew up on his family’s farm raising cattle and harvesting corn and beans. His dad had a temporary visa to work on farms in the United States and was gone four months each year. As the oldest son, Memo was left to manage the farm. Whereas other kids his age may have attended school, Memo’s village did not have a teacher, so he never learned to read or write as a child.
Eating what they grew on the farm, Memo learned a great respect for the earth and the sustenance it provided. Always feeling a strong connection with the animals living on the farm, Memo developed a special relationship with Changa, a German shepherd mix that watched over the herd. Although she wasn’t allowed in the house, Changa was a loyal family member and friend. Excited about the stories his father would share about his time away, Memo would secretly tell Changa his hopes and dreams of traveling and growing up in the United States.
In an effort to make a better life for his family, Memo’s dad applied for permanent residency status in the United States and the application was approved in 1981. The transition to life in Pasadena proved difficult for Memo at first. He didn’t know anyone or speak the language and nothing felt like home. He was missing Changa and the other animals on the farm who were left with his cousins. He felt empty. He wanted a pet but knew his dad could barely afford to feed the family. Memo thought it would be irresponsible to bring a pet that the family could not care for into the home.
Instead of going to school in the states, Memo went straight to work at 13 years old. His dad said to him upon arrival, “We didn’t come to the United States for handouts.” So, Memo decided to help his dad support the family. He worked washing dishes from age 13 to 17. In 1991, Memo became a citizen of the United States.
Realizing that he needed an education, Memo signed up for school. It wasn’t easy, but Memo persevered. Staying up until two or three each morning to study, he learned to read and write. He took his GED test and waited for the results. After a very nerve-wracking two weeks, Memo learned he had passed with flying colors. The very next morning he enrolled in the Pasadena City College criminal justice program.
Wanting to give back to the country that gave him and his family support and a home, he became a proud member of the Los Angeles Police Department. A chance encounter with a Pasadena Humane Society animal control supervisor, however, changed his career path after realizing what had been missing in his life. Seeking a connection to animals, he immediately applied to become an animal control officer.
Today, 20 years later, Lt. Nemesio Arteaga is the supervisor of the animal control department at the Pasadena Humane Society (PHS). When asked why he has stayed so long at PHS, Memo says, “Whether it’s the injured dog I rescue after being hit by a car, the cat I remove from an abusive home, or the education I give to a new pet owner, the rewards of this job don’t come in the form of monetary compensation; it is the satisfaction I get every day from strengthening the connection between people and animals.”
Memo shares his home with his wife of 24 years and four boys ages 17 to 24. One is in the U.S. Navy, two are in college, and one is a senior in high school. He also has a canine best friend, his 12-year-old, partially blind, pit bull-type dog named Cisco.