Chessies' Girl

Tracy Hughes has rescued more than 300 dogs

Published in 2017 Southern California Rising Stars magazine

By Jessica Ogilvie on June 5, 2017


A stack of poster-sized photos leans against the wall in the bright, 15th-floor office Tracy Hughes recently moved into in Orange County. Her favorites are the pictures of the dogs she and her husband, litigator Thanh Nguyen, have rescued over the years. 

“Wooly,” says Hughes, “really opened the floodgates.” 

The couple adopted Wooly, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, in 2005. Soon afterward, Hughes, now a personal injury-defense attorney at Koeller, Nebeker, Carlson & Haluck, began volunteering with Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief & Rescue. She sat on the organization’s board, then started her own rescue organization, Southern California Animal Rescue, in 2010. “I came from a family that was very rescue-animal friendly,” she says. “It really instilled the value of it in me.” 

Growing up in Palo, Iowa, population 500, Hughes and her family often found themselves caring for stray dogs and cats who wandered onto their property. Before finding homes for them, her parents would ensure that they were well-fed and healthy, including being spayed and neutered. 

Her favorite breed was the Chesapeake Bay retriever, which her father kept as hunting dogs. She remembers summers in the backyard when she would play fetch with apples with her father’s retriever, Porter. As soon as she and Nguyen bought their first home, she delivered an ultimatum: “It’s time for my dog.”

Hughes settled on a Chessie puppy named Chase. Six months later, she wanted another. She connected with Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief & Rescue, and while waiting on one dog the organization asked if she could foster a Chessie coming from Arizona. That was Wooly.

“It was raining,” she says. “This car pulls up and they open the back hatch of the SUV, and out comes this 130-pound Chesapeake. … He just sauntered right into our house like he was going to own the place. That dog did not go anywhere. We fell in love with him.”

During her time with Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief & Rescue, she estimates that more than 250 foster dogs came through her home. 

At Koeller, Hughes defends insurance companies against high-end suits. “People talk about us being the heartless corporations, but then in my home life I’m the bleeding heart,” she says. “So there’s kind of a dichotomy. But that also gives me perspective. I have a level of sympathy, but I also have a level of rationality that comes into play in both my rescue work and my legal career.”

Beyond rescue, Hughes spends time running half-marathons to raise money for her organization, wearing her dogs out through the organized sport of dock-diving, and taking her smaller dogs to circus classes. Even if the plan is only foster care, every dog is a serious consideration for her and her husband. They know that they might keep the dog, either because they can’t find a home for it or because it will Wooly its way into their lives. 

“When we take a dog on,” she says, “we are in it for the long haul.”

Want to Help?

Along with her own (, Hughes recommends these local nonprofits for rescue dogs:

– Labradors and Friends Dog Rescue Group
  “A great rescue group that I work with closely.”

– Downtown Dog Rescue
  “Makes a tremendous difference in the lives of many dogs and underprivileged families trying to do right by their pets.”

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