I wanted to share a turning point in my life, one where I felt very desperate and alone. Back in 1995, my calico cat “Mickey” was really sick. I had no idea what was wrong with her so I got out my Yellow Pages, looked up the closest animal hospital, and made an appointment. As a college student, I was working full time and living in a makeshift loft in back of a storefront. To say I a struggling student would have been an understatement. I remember wrapping Mickey in a towel, placing her in a box, and driving to the hospital. Upon entering the hospital, I was not greeted but was told my carrier was inadequate. I remember feeling ashamed. Finally, it was our turn to see the veterinarian, an older man, who asked me why I, “waited so long to seek care.” I could feel tears in my eyes as I thought to myself, “He must think I don’t love my cat.” Then he asked me, “Does she go outside?” I explained she was free to go through an open window and she went out during the day, but always slept with me at night. I remember him looking down at me, quietly saying that without much money and because I didn’t care about my cat’s safety, there wasn’t much he could offer. I also remember crying all the way back home.
July 5th is the one year anniversary of opening our Pet Support Space office on West Florence Ave in South Los Angeles. For many of you who follow DDR on social media, you already know about the more than 500+ pets to whom we provide services each month. To be exact, 3,549 cats and dogs have received services through our program designed to help no-income to low-income pet owners care for their pets. 52% of all cases our counselors see are pets that require some type of veterinary care. Therefore, one of our goals in 2021 was to expand veterinary services.
Because we have an office in a great location, I envisioned opening a scaled-down veterinary clinic in the lobby of our office that would be open once a month and then scale up to once a week. I was considering hiring a veterinarian, RVT, buying supplies, and learning about what it takes to run a clinic. I then had several discussions with Dr. Weinstein, President of the SCVMA, and, through those discussions, I became more aware of just how much I didn’t know. Because I didn’t know!
We needed a solution. Should we raise money and buy a mobile clinic? Reality set in and I decided we needed to find a partner who already owned and operated a mobile clinic. Although I am not letting go of my dream to start a clinic, the path is going to be different than what I imagined, which has always worked out well for me personally and for DDR as an organization.
Today, from 9:30am to 2:30pm, we hosted the first mobile veterinary clinic at our office and provided services to 11 pets (4 cats and 7 dogs). Here are some of the cases:
“Micha” and “Totoro” (who are a little difficult to see in their carriers in these two photos) were flea infested , were not eating, and had never been examined by a veterinarian before receiving care today.
2-year-old “Max” had been vomiting and had diarrhea. Worried that he might have an obstruction, our counselor wrote a medical voucher, and sent him to Dr. Vazquez at North Figueroa Animal Hospital where he received x-rays and might need surgery.
“Einstein” came to the mobile clinic because he was overwhelmed and not too friendly at our last drive-thru vaccination clinic. He received a rabies booster so that his owner could renew his dog license.
“Snoopy” and his person, Alex, have been in our Pet Resource Center program for Skid Row pets more than five years. Over the years, DDR made it possible for Snoopy to receive ongoing veterinary care. Alex phoned counselor Amanda when he became concerned about hots spots that had developed all over Snoopy’s little body.
Dr. Ramirez owner of Los Angeles Veterinary Center, volunteers every month.
Some of the most beautiful things to happen in my life recently have come from being more present. I have had to learn how to stop thinking, “This is too good to be true” or ,”It might be going good now, but just wait, the bad times are always just around the corner”. Writing this blog post to share the success of our monthly pet clinic with the SCVMA as well as to share some of the moments that touched my heart, causing me to reflect on the many blessings in my life. I am grateful to be in a state of mind where I am able to have an opinion, such as the importance of spaying and neutering pets, without obsessing on how to reach others so that they may share my opinion. The reality is, and always has been, not everyone is ready or will ever be ready to agree with my viewpoint – and that’s okay. The majority of pet owners truly want what is best for their cat or dog and are open to learning how to accomplish that goal.
Two of the nearly 200 pets who came to our clinic on Sunday arrived in an Access Van. Both had to use walkers and had their cats in carriers. I could see that the cats were nervous so we found a safe spot for them to wait until a veterinarian could meet with them. Upon examining one of the cats, the veterinarian stated the cat was ill and suffering greatly. The kindest option would be humane euthanasia. Amanda, our senior counselor at the Pet Support Space, took the time to explain the process and to listen to the cat owner who, understandably, was really upset. Amanda coordinated a plan for humane euthanasia. I watched from a distance as vet techs hugged and comforted the owner during her time of loss. We may not have known each other well, but we all know what it is like to say goodbye to a beloved pet who is suffering. Everyone involved allowed themselves to be vulnerable in the moment, shedding tears because they genuinely cared.
A similar case involved an 18-year-old Chihuahua. I had been texting with the dog owner’s daughter who explained to me that her mother, who was battling cancer, felt she just could not give up on her senior dog even though he was struggling to eat, could no longer walk, and was most likely suffering. The family realized their little dog was near the end of her life, but it was important to get a professional veterinary opinion and ask some questions. Unfortunately, they could not afford a veterinary exam. As she drove into the clinic, I greeted her and walked her over to the station where she would receive the free veterinary exam. I don’t know what the outcome was because there were more […]
Senior dog Bernadette @ DDR kennel
As I write this blog post at my desk in the DDR kennel, I hear a few of the dogs barking, reminding me as if I need a reminder) that dinner time is now! My turn to take care of the dogs is every evening, except Sundays when Noemi takes over. The nightly routine of feeding and preparing them all for bed gives my life purpose. I never tire of seeing how excited the dogs get just before the food bowls come out of the kitchen. Their unwavering trust in me and all of their wonderful daily caregivers (Jenny, Shyann, Debbie, and Daniel) is constantly displayed by their wagging tails, zoomies, and puppy-like energy, even in the senior dogs.
Kobe has been in our adoption program 3+ years
I appreciate our kennel crew, not just for the work they do with the dogs, but also the opportunity they offer me to grow spiritually as I learn to trust people more, one day at a time. Writing my thoughts really reminds me that I have always had trust issues which prevented me from experiencing all the joy in life that I deserve. Until recently, I did not understand that I could be happy on a daily basis. There was always part of me preparing for the time when someone was going to disappoint me or let me down. That is what I believed most people did if I allowed them into my life.
Growing up with a father who was diagnosed as bipolar, I learned to be quiet, helpful, and kind, and not to cause problems. I never trusted anyone to be there for me when I needed help. From an early age, it was always easier to take care of everything on my own as this gave me a sense of control over my life. No matter how much my dad tried to be “normal”, he couldn’t. Violent mood swings followed by depression resulted in an often chaotic existence. The one solid part of my life was my German Shepherd, Heidi, who was always there for me – in good and bad times – licking away my tears and making me laugh. She and I had a magical bond that no one understood.
Maybe that is the reason I have always had a fascination and love for dogs since I was four years old. Dogs are exactly who they are. They do not make promises they won’t keep. As anyone who has ever lived with a pet knows, their love for us is unconditional, as is their trust in us. I always wished I could trust people as a dog does rather than the person I grew up to be. Even when someone has “proven their loyalty” to me over months or even years, there has always been a thought in my mind that perhaps this will not […]
As I sit down to write this blog post, I am very happy to be part of a team that loaded 35 cats and dogs onto the Spay4LA mobile clinic to be spayed and neutered this morning. My day did not start as planned as I overslept by an hour. I woke at 5:00 am thanks to Fender barking and wanting to go outside. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, rushing around and trying to do multiple things at once, I am at a place in my life where I can accept that this is what is happening now and all is well. I arrived at the clinic to see a line of cars parked down the street waiting for me to let them inside the gate. I have to admit, I felt a rush of anxiety seeing everyone waiting for me. I took a deep breath and remembered that all is well. Instead of feeling rushed and anxious, I was able to feel centered and greet the first pet owner waiting patiently to drive in with her cat (she listened to instructions and had him safe in a carrier). Then, it was on to the next car, truck, van, and so forth. The reality of the situation was that they were never waiting for “me”. The people in the line of cars were there because they could not afford to get their cats and dogs spayed or neutered.
As more families arrived and their pets checked in, it was clear to me that everyone was grateful for the free services DDR was providing. Some pet owners expressed how grateful they were for help from our counselors to obtain appointments. A few had no appointment but, amazingly, Spay4LA was able to accommodate all but one cat and one dog as there was no more space aboard the mobile clinic.
Most of the pet owners had been to DDR’s free drive-thru vaccination clinic last Sunday where we provided services to 138 pets. Today, some of those pet owners returned to get their pet sterilized. You might wonder, Why do they wait when there are so many free and low cost options to get pets spayed and neutered? While a percentage of our clients can go online using their phone or tablet to fill out applications, most do not own a computer or smart phone. The confusion of how to apply for a voucher, how to qualify, what a co-pay is, and not being able to prove they live in certain zip code, their ID was lost or stolen, their wages are paid in cash, or they do not have an income to document they are low income, are just some of the barriers to getting more pets spayed and neutered.
Today, we had a pet owner with two dogs who is part of the Project Room Key program. He and his dogs had to take two buses in the early morning hours to arrive at 6:00 am to get his male and female dogs sterilized. The […]
I wanted to share an update with all of you. Last week, we received a phone call from Lady’s forever fosters, Andrew & Jacqueline. The news wasn’t good. On top of her weak heart, she had injured her hip, was in a lot of pain, and the veterinarian caring for Lady gave her a 50/50 chance of surviving. With a heavy heart, and a lot of love for this senior dog, the difficult decision to “let her go” was made. You see, it was us humans who wanted Lady to stay here with us for just a little bit longer, but Lady let us know, she was ready to make her transition.
What a life she had. Adopted as a puppy at six months old in 2007, from Los Angeles Animal Services, she was caught by an officer in March 2018 in terrible shape. In fact, her overall condition was so bad that the South LA Shelter opened a neglect case against her former owner, and she was held as an evidence humane case for a year at the shelter. We rescued her from the shelter on March 3, 2019. Like most of the shelter dogs, we keep their names, but I can’t tell you how many dogs that we have had in our rescue named Lady. We decided to give her name a special touch, adding Royal to her name, as in the Barbie Princess Charm School trusted advisor – Lady Royal. With a sparkle of mischief in her eyes, she lived up to her fantasy name.
Photos taken of Lady at the South LA Shelter
Perhaps others had been reluctant to adopt or rescue Lady because of the grapefruit size tumor that had grown on her shoulder? Surgery to remove her tumor was the first order of business for our sweet senior Lady. In addition to the large tumor, Lady also had a weak heart that required medication and many visits to our veterinarian.
View from the DDR Kennel door Hi Cedric Hi Lady!
Once she recovered from surgery, she came to live at our kennel, and quickly made friends with Cedric another senior dog. Nothing seemed to slow this bossy old dog down. She enjoyed her life at our kennel, but LOVED her life with her family Andrew and Jacqueline. Lady went to her forever foster home October 2019. Thinking that she had a month maybe two to live, she ended up living with them for more than a year. As with all of our forever foster families, we worked as a team, covering the cost of Lady’s prescriptions, and veterinary care, while her family provided her with all the car rides, cuddling, walks, kisses and hugs she could have ever dreamed about. We are all convinced that the last year of […]
For the past couple of weeks, I have been reading the Tao Te Ching. These virtues of ancient universal wisdom, have helped me make sense out of the chaos that is often in my mind. One of the virtues that I found to be particularly inspiring is a reverence for all life, plants, animals, and people. This virtue relates to a special case that I want to share with you.
The Sunday morning of our vaccination clinic, Amanda received a call from a staff member at the South LA Shelter about a dog owner who needed help redeeming her in the shelter dog. Knowing it was an urgent situation, Amanda called her, and upon hearing that she could receive dog food, resources and support, she drove over to the clinic, and waited patiently to speak to Amanda. We learned that she had come to Los Angeles to live with a friend, to start a new job, but the friend and the job didn’t work out. She never imagined that she would end up living in her car, delivering groceries to survive. She explained that her 7 year old dog named Reflection had ended up at the South LA Shelter when a so called friend, who agreed to watch her dog while she was working, tired of taking care of Reflection, and dumped her at the shelter. With barely enough money for gas, her brakes going out, her dog in the shelter, she confided that she had almost lost hope.
Reflection in happier times
Reflection at the South LA Shelter
First things first, she needed to get gas, to find a safe place to park until Monday morning when she would go to our mechanic to have her brakes worked on. She loaded up a bag of dog food, agreed to text Amanda in the morning, and I would call the mechanic to make arrangements in the morning. First thing Monday morning, Amanda received her text, arrangements were made with Villegas Auto Repair, and an anonymous donor paid for the brake job. Working as a team, within 24 hours, things were moving in a positive direction.
Villegas Auto Repair
Knowing that she needed to make some money so that she could drive home with Reflection, Amanda asked the kennel supervisor to board her dog at the shelter until Saturday. Later in the day Amanda and I received a text from Reflection’s owner that read, “… I’m the happiest person in the world right now because you took care of my problem. I feel so lucky, thank you. You made me feel alive again.” More than helping her with a bag of dog food, paying the fees to redeem her dog, finding a reputable mechanic to fix her brakes, we were the caring people who were there to listen. Even though her family didn’t understand why she […]
South LA Shelter Intervention Client
I want to share our program statistics for the South Los Angeles Shelter Intervention Program, and inform you of the great success we are experiencing at our Pet Support Space office. 2020 was a year like no other. As we entered our seventh year of Shelter Intervention (SIP), our team had been discussing how to serve the community more efficiently. The SIP began in 2013, back when 100% of the pet owners approaching our table, speaking to our counselors, were at the shelter because they believed that they had no other option, but to surrender their pet. Fast forward, seven years later, a lot has changed. When our counselors were located at the South LA Shelter, the SIP had evolved into more pet owners coming to the shelter out of desperation, seeking assistance for a wide variety of resources, with the majority being a need for veterinary care. Our counselors had evolved into case navigators, crisis counselors, who have dealt with cases where the family’s home had burned down, leaving them homeless, including their pets, to pet owners fleeing from domestic violence, to assisting pet owners who suffer from ongoing physical and mental health challenges. As I have always known, the “problem” that we were trying to “solve” was more of a poverty problem than a pet problem.
For some of you who are new supporters, I want to share an article with you written by Sandy Banks for the Los Angeles Times in 2013, back when I believed that I was solving a problem. More important, I believed that I had the answers to solve the problems that low income pet owners were challenged with https://www.latimes.com/local/la-xpm-2013-may-11-la-me-0511-banks-animalshelter-20130511-story.html
The first year of the Shelter Intervention Program was both magical and depressing at the same time. This resulted in me feeling extreme emotional highs when we could help, and emotional lows, and even anger when a pet owner “went against our plan” and surrendering their pet to the shelter behind our backs, off hours, when we didn’t have a counselor on site. In those first months, I would walk through all the shelter dog runs, looking to see how many dogs were in the shelter as owner surrenders vs. strays or personal property holds. I was on a mission to keep every dog, cat and rabbit in their first home forever home. In fact, I even wrote a book called https://www.amazon.com/First-Home-Forever-Shelter-Intervention/dp/1514343541
Then came the reality of working within a municipal shelter, and experiencing, how shelter staff, our staff, myself included, would put personalities before principles. Our shared goal of keeping pets out of the shelter, and with their families was even controversial at times, depending on who the supervisor in charge was, and how the staff accepted or didn’t accept the mission of SIP. No one had an issue with helping a deserving family was the “right ” thing when it came to their pet, […]