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 […]

Street Code

“Active Baby”

Last Wednesday was our day of service for pet owners who live in the Skid Row area. We are still on the corner of Industrial Street and Central Avenue, once a month, with a plastic folding table, some caution tape, and lots of pet food.  Some of the 110 pet owners, (65 dogs and 45 cats) who picked up supplies, are seen by DDR every month because we are their only connection to pet food.

Often, our counselors are confronted with emergencies such as a pet that has been poisoned or one who has been hit by a car. This week, a dog owner (who is homeless) walked his dog to our corner because he heard we might be able to help “Baby Active” who had been stabbed by a man with a knife, and attacked by the man’s aggressive dog.  I wish that I could write that meeting a new client with a pet that had been attacked by a dog, or stabbed was something new to us. It’s not.  Skid Row is an extremely violent place where people are living in survival mode 24/7. Looking at the bloody wounds on the Baby Active’s neck, our counselors remained calm and began calling partner animal hospitals to see if any veterinarian could examine him immediately. Dr. Vasquez at North Figueroa Animal Hospital came to the rescue.  With no appointment, Baby Active was loaded into a car and off they went to the hospital in Highland Park.

It was later that the entire story of how this horrible act happened.  Baby Active was resting inside their tent when an off-leash, aggressive dog broke through the tent and began attacking him. The owner of the aggressive dog pulled out a knife and stabbed Baby Active in the neck.  I could go into more details, and post some graphic photos, but I won’t because this post is not about Baby Active being attacked.  The purpose of my post is to explain to you, our supporter, about the street code and how it prevents justice from being served.  Not only for pets, but mostly for people who are attacked, raped, or terrorized physically and mentally while they live on the streets of Skid Row.  Some of you reading this post may think the people living on the street want to be there, that it’s their choice, but is it?  Despite what you feel about the “Homeless Situation” or as I call it, “The Humanitarian Crisis”, you may think that there is help for anyone who wants it.  Help is complicated, and someone has to feel safe enough to accept it. Using Baby Active’s case, let me walk you through what happened next.

As soon as counselor Amanda texted me that a Skid Row dog had been stabbed, and was taken to the hospital for surgery. I texted her, and then called for more details.  Since we had photos to document the injuries, a veterinarian to document that […]

Loba Lives Here

Sunday morning, I got all of my handmade Pet Clinic signs and flyers together, and headed off to the parks to hang them up.  Over the years, vinyl banners, poster board signs, and lots of flyers, door to door, in targeted zip codes of South Los Angeles has resulted in more than 10,000 community pets being spayed/neutered and vaccinated at our monthly dog clinics with the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association. Prior to COVID we were operating our monthly event out of the Watts Senior Center, planning on staying for two years, like the previous locations.

3 year ago when Lola was microchipped at one of our free dog clinics

Committing to an area, focusing on the needs of the community, we get to know people and their pets very well.  In some cases, we offer their pets a lifetime of support with both food and veterinary services.  We get to know the pet owners like Loba’s “dad” who appears to live in one of  the parks that I visited Sunday morning. I visit this park often. Sometimes I see Loba, laying under the table while her owner plays cards with friends. Other times, she is following behind him, wagging her tail, watching his every move.  Then there are the times that the park seems deserted, no Loba, and I wonder if she is still alive.

A couple years ago, driving north on Compton Ave., I saw Loba sprawled under a truck, as if she had been hit by a car.  Believing what I had feared might happen came true, I assumed she was she was dead. I even wrote a Facebook post so that DDR dog clinic volunteers who knew her would know that she died.  There was no doubt in my mind, Loba was dead, I was sure that I saw her lifeless body.

To my great surprise, who do you think pranced up to our dog clinic, it was Loba!  She was alive, I was shocked.  How could she be alive, I had seen her under a truck, dead.  Since her owner speaks Spanish, a volunteer translated, letting me know, “Oh yeah, she does that when she is hot.” Well, I was so happy and relieved to see Loba alive.  I felt ashamed thinking that my very first thoughts when I saw what appeared to be her “lifeless body” under the truck was, Damn it, I knew that she was going to get hit one day. I should have rescued her. I should have convinced her owner she deserved a better life.

Fast forward to Sunday morning in the park off 47th street.  I saw Loba’s owner, or was it him?  He looked older and tired. As I approached him reading our clinic sign, I realized, yes, that’s him, and there was Loba, under the picnic table, curled up in a ball. He called out for her to come, and that’s when I saw that she also looked older, with a matted […]

Doris Doesn’t Need To Be Rescued

8 year old Doris

A couple of weeks ago, a Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA) case worker reached out to counselor Amanda about Doris, an 8 year old Yorkie mix, who we helped before. Actually, this was the third time that Doris’ owner needed our services to support her path of recovery. Doris would need to go into boarding while her owner went into detox and rehab.

When you look at the photo of Doris, what do you see? Are you upset by the image? Do you want to rescue her, and get her out of that box? Or do you see a well cared for dog, who is snuggled in a blanket and placed in a box for safe keeping during her car ride? When I posted this photo on the DDR social media platforms, we received a variety of comments ranging from the assumption that she needed a new home, to offers of fostering. We also received very personal sharing of recovery and how pets had positively impacted, and in some cases, saved the person’s life.

Reading the comments posted on Facebook and Instagram, I can’t deny that I felt defensive, even a little judgmental reading the comments from followers, who thought that Doris needed to be re-homed, was in a bad situation due to being transported in a box, and even speculated as to what type of life she has had with her person. I wondered how someone could question whether she has a “good home”? To me it was obvious: she is well loved and adored. The photo told me everything I needed to know. FYI I have never met Doris or her person. I have never spoken to her over the phone. I know Doris and her person just about as well as anyone on social media knows them. But I could imagine how she felt. I’m grateful that I’ve had an opportunity to learn how incredibly difficult a path to recovery is for anyone, and how it is complicated more by being homeless, and/or without a stable support network.

Like most of our clients who need to go into treatment, Doris’ owner would not have accepted the offer of treatment if she could not be assured that her dog would be in a safe place and returned to her as soon as it was possible. Too often, not providing that assurance leads to pet owners who are experiencing homelessness and struggling with addiction, to stay living an unhealthy lifestyle on the streets.  Not to over generalize here, but I think it’s fair to write, based on many stories that I’ve listened to for more than 20 years, that for the pet owner who is homeless or addicted to drugs and /or alcohol, the dog or cat is their reason to get up everyday, the reason to live, and to try to get clean. It is their pet who offers them unconditional love. Caring for their pet might be their […]

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