About Debbie Fan

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So far Debbie Fan has created 46 blog entries.

Asking for Help is a Sign of Strength


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 […]

Being of Service While Providing Services

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 […]

Remembering Lady Royal

photo credit - foster family Happy Lady

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 […]

Finding a Reverence For All Life

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 […]

2020 Shelter Intervention / Pet Support Space

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, […]

Supporting Mental Health is a Team Effort

Sheba and Nubian on their way to boarding

Mental health is a topic that not everyone is comfortable discussing. As a result, too many people needlessly suffer in silence. DDR works with pet owners who struggle with diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illnesses ranging from severe depression, anxiety to schizophrenia.  One thing we all have in common, and I include myself because I struggle with depression, is our love for our pets.  Our pets give us a purpose to wake up and start a new day, regardless of the level of uncertainty tomorrow might bring. Pets are the one constant source of unconditional love. When you or one of your loved ones suffers from mental illness, life can be chaotic, and full of disappointments and lost promises.  A life that lacks meaningful connections.  There is often a range from happiness highs only to be followed by the depths of depression, angry outbursts, feeling like one is alone in a world where no one cares. No one except your pets. I write this from what people have shared with me, and from my own personal experience of growing up with a bipolar parent.

I was about eight years old when my father was finally diagnosed as being bipolar or, as it was called back in the 1970’s, manic-depression.  While I was too young to fully understand what his diagnosis meant, I did feel a sense of relief to hear my mom explain that my dad had an illness, and that his temper, and erratic behavior were not things he had a lot of control over. Sometimes, I wondered what it would be like to grow up in a “normal home”.  I learned that with the bad came the good.  Yes, my father could be violent and scary, but he was a creative person who encouraged me to be creative person, who has made a successful career out of designing.  He was also a giving person who, through his actions, demonstrated the importance of being of service – a lesson I have learned to live by.  Even though my dad was challenged to keep a job, pay the bills, follow through with plans, which resulted in a lot of unhappy times for him, he has always had a positive outlook.

Growing up with a bipolar father made me appreciate mental health – something that many take for granted. Mental illness does not mean that someone is crazy.  1 in 25 people living in the United States lives with a serious mental illness.  Therefore, it is likely that you or someone in your family, has a diagnosis that requires ongoing care. When I started DDR more than twenty years ago, there was little support for homeless and low income pet owners.  If someone needed to be hospitalized, the person would lose their pet to the shelter or be forced to give their pet away to a “good home”, to someone who could offer the pet a […]

Trust Me

“Trust me” or “trust us” are phrases I have said hundreds of times to countless clients, some of which I am meeting for the first time when they hand over their pet to me or one of our counselors. Back when I was new to this work, I believed that if only I worked a little harder each day, I could improve their lives in a meaningful way. I knew what was right for them. Of course I did!  It was so obvious to me or anyone looking at the situation.  Why would anyone not want to hand over their pet in order to receive life saving care, housing, or a step forward towards a better life?  What used to be so “easy” to understand has grown more complex as the years have passed.  Now, I silently think, why should someone hand over their pet to me, to a counselor, or to anyone offering something that is different, new, or an “amazing” opportunity?  Too often, clients’ lives have been filled with a list of broken promises, outright lies and manipulation, physical and mental illness, and/or a lack of basic needs being met, resulting in deep and long term trauma. The question for me to ask myself and what I ask our counselors to always consider is, Why should someone want to trust us?  It takes more than just courage and access to programs.  Sometimes a miracle needs to happen.

Earlier this week I received a call from nurse Josie, who works at the Star Clinic in a Los Angeles County Health Services’ program. Housing for Health has a goal of housing 10,000 of the county’s most vulnerable homeless within ten years.  She calls me whenever there is a beloved pet who needs some type of service before the client will agree to go into a hospital to receive medical care.  In this particular case, the pet owner had a bunny that was her constant companion and there was no way she was going to leave her bunny with a stranger. The client’s treatment plan had to include safe accommodations and care for “Milky Way”.  Boarding dogs and cats while someone is in the hospital is a common service for DDR.  We have fosters, our kennel, boarding facilities, and animal hospitals that we partner with.  Caring for a bunny was going to involve a team effort.  After a couple texts back and forth with nurse Josie, I realized that her client was our client. What a small world we work and serve in.

“Jesus Christ” and his owner receiving services at PRC”

“Jesus Christ”, the pet owner’s previously-deceased bunny, had been in our Pet Resource Center program for pet owners who live in the Skid Row Community.  Noemi had been her counselor and, upon hearing that she had a new bunny, sent me a photo from a couple years ago.  She offered to help in any way with Milky Way.  Counselor Amanda called the ASPCA […]

Foxy’s Forever- Ever- Homes

Foxy at our November wellness clinic

As I write this post, I’m reflecting on everything that I’m grateful for. Grateful that I have the day-to-day privilege of serving pet owners who need more than just a little dog food to keep them going.  They need a commitment. The story of “Foxy” a tripod terrier that I am sharing with you illustrates the power of commitment, connection , compassion, and the importance of microchipping.

When our Pet Resource Center counselors initially met Foxy, back in 2016, it was clear that her owner Jennifer loved her very much.  Watching Foxy walk, we were concerned because one of her legs was dead.  While she didn’t drag it, nor did it look like she was in pain, step one for Foxy was to get her an exam, then spayed, vaccinated and microchipped.  Jennifer told us that while she might live in an SRO apartment on Skid Row and have a limited budget, she rescued Foxy because no one wanted her. She saw a handicapped dog, handicapped just like her, that no one else wanted, so she brought Foxy home.  Dr Ramirez at Los Angeles Veterinary Center confirmed that at some point, before Jennifer rescued her, Foxy’s leg might have been hit by a car, we’ll never know.  The injury was not one that required surgery or treatment.

As months turned to years, Jennifer would bring Foxy, using her walker, to our day of service for Skid Row pet owners. She was definitely a regular that was loved by all of the volunteers and counselors.  Counselor Amanda had a special bond with Jennifer and Foxy.  Amanda was the one who received the frantic call from Jennifer the day that Foxy was lost. Jennifer had suffered a medical emergency, had been unconscious when the paramedics loaded her into an ambulance without Foxy.  For those of you who may not know, dogs, unless they are a service animal, cannot ride in an ambulance.  Later we found out that the paramedics were moving so fast, they handed Foxy to a stranger who offered to take her, since they thought sending Foxy to the shelter would be the worst choice.  Actually, in this type of situation, a pet going to the shelter is the best option.  Especially when a pet is microchipped and impounded as personal property.

The photo we used for Foxy’s lost dog flyer

Jennifer didn’t know where to start looking, as a handicapped person, it wasn’t easy for her to get around.  We put up flyers, posted on social media, but no one had seen her.  Months went by until I received a call from the VCA Animal Hospital in Hollywood. Someone had found Foxy, and brought her to their hospital. Foxy’s microchip saved her, and enabled us to reunite her with her owner. We never did figure out how she went from Skid Row to Hollywood VCA, or how many times she changed hands.  Never […]

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