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 […]

Being Instead of Doing

 

When I think back on all the good work that Downtown Dog Rescue has done for more than twenty years, I’m really proud of the amazing team that I continue to work with, and the other non-profit organizations that we collaborate with to provide services. Too often, I think about what we’ve done in terms of the numbers. When we apply for grants, or appeal to donors for funding, it’s usually about how many services performed, how many dogs rescued, how many pets prevented from entering the shelter system, and the number of pets spayed and neutered.

DDR has rescued and adopted thousands of dogs, facilitated the spay and neuter of tens of thousands of cats and dogs, and prevented more than 14,000 pets from entering one shelter in only seven years. On paper, all of this looks impressive, the work that we have done. However, I measure success differently, much differently than I did when I started this organization. As a result of doing this type of work, and the pet owners and the dogs teaching me what I need to learn on a daily basis, I measure success by the relationships that we build one pet and one pet owner at a time.

Don’t think for a minute that I’m all “zen”, and everything in my world is unicorns and rainbows. It doesn’t take much for me to get caught in the cycle of putting too much emphasis on achieving a goal, a number that represents “a job well done”.  As a people-pleaser in recovery, it’s a daily challenge to just be in the moment, not worrying about how everyone else feels, or is reacting to me.  Just when I thought that I was doing super duper at being present, our monthly dog clinic with the SCVMA was an opportunity to stop, and examine what is truly important.

Due to COVID, our usual clinic locations, public parks still closed, the company that I work for, Modernica, agreed to generously allow the use of the five acre Modernica Factory campus.  It’s amazing, we had so much space to line up more than 100 cars of pet owners, and volunteers. This is how we kept it safe for everyone. Pet owners were required to call our office and make an appointment. Each pet owner was given a reservation time, and we filled out all their paperwork before the day of the clinic. When they arrived, the paperwork was placed on the windshield, the pet owner and the pet remained in their car until they drove up to one of the vaccination stations, where a tech took the pet out of the car to be vaccinated, microchipped, dewormed, and flea and tick meds were applied, all free of charge. We’ve completed two drive thru clinics, and almost doubled the number of cats and dogs served from the first drive thru clinic.

Before each clinic, I say the serenity prayer […]

Drive-Thru Food Drive = More Pets Spayed and Neutered

 

I wanted to share a great event that we participated in on Saturday, a free dog and cat food drive thru, hosted by council members Wesson and Harris-Dawson, for South Los Angeles pet owners in need.  With our friends at Watts Project, DDR was able to sign up 67 pets for spay/neuter + vaccinations, who otherwise, might never have learned about the free resources to get more cats and dogs sterilized.

When we first received the event information, it was presented to us as partnering to help pass out food, which is wonderful, but doesn’t have a lasting impact.  Don’t get me wrong, for some pet owners, who are in dire financial situations, a free bag of pet food makes a big difference that month, but what about long term?  Giving out free supplies and food without resources to me doesn’t make a lot of sense.  When I write resources, I mean more than handing someone a flyer, a business card, telling them to call an office, or contact a person, etc, which often never gets done. Why? Because, as I often say to new volunteers who can’t understand why pet owners don’t spay and neuter their pets when it’s free, my reply is,”Life happens. ”

Getting a pet spayed or neutered when one may not have housing at the end of the month, or enough food to feed their children until the first of the next month, is not going to be top of the list of things to get done.  Plus, even free sometimes isn’t free.  The surgery is free but the vaccinations are not, and the vaccinations are required. A dog license must be purchased to get the free surgery.  All of the sudden the free service is costing $20 or more, which may not seem like a lot of money to you, but it’s the difference of paying the phone bill, or getting the phone cut off for many of our clients, and a mobile phone is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity to stay connected to opportunities, and more.

Back to the event, set up in a parking lot, cars drove through, food was picked up, DDR and Watts Project volunteers asked each pet owner if their pet was sterilized.  Of the 100 pets who received food, 67 needed services.  Not all of them needed surgery, some were sterilized, but needed booster vaccinations, which we will be provided at our drive thru vaccination clinic next Sunday with the SCVMA volunteer veterinarians and techs.  We will also partner with Spay4LA, who will have their mobile clinic parked and offering free spay and neuter surgeries.

Through ongoing community events, partnering with other non profits, we continue to spread the message about the importance of spay and neuter, as well as providing pet owners with a resource, right in their community, called the Pet Support Space.  At […]

Urgent – My Baby

I wanted to share a case with all of you, that really touched my heart on many levels.  It all started when I read an email entitled “Urgent – My Baby”. As you can imagine, I receive a lot of urgent email pleas, usually from people trying to re-home their dog, or asking DDR to rescue a particular shelter dog.  As a form of self-care, I limit the amount of messages and the types of messages that I will read.  This one appeared to be something different.  Jennifer, Baby’s “mom” was desperately reaching out to anyone and everyone who could help her redeem her Chihuahua named Baby. The fees totaled $385, and every day that Baby remained in the shelter, the fees increased by $50. I immediately thought about what this dog owner was going through, as someone who did not have the money to get her dog back.  Then, I checked myself, thinking, this dog is Orange County, I have to set boundaries, and just because someone is homeless and loves their dog doesn’t always mean the dog is better off going back to the owner. I had nothing but this email to prove to me that Baby’s case was different.

Even though I was going on a hike, more self care, and I told myself that I was going to be one of several that would donate, I replied back to Jennifer, asking her how much money she had raised, where in Orange County was Baby impounded, and to please send me her phone number so that we could talk.  Within minutes, I received a reply.  We talked, and within a few minutes, I knew from a lot of experience that the fees were accumulating faster than she could raise funds. With a very limited income, some recent health problems, which was the cause of Baby going to the shelter, she did not have any money raised.  From what I could hear, her network of friends were in similar situations to her current situation.  She went on to tell me she applied to other dog rescues and programs, and I was the first one that had gotten back to her.  I have to admit, I had a tinge of regret for getting involved as soon as we hung up.  I knew that this wasn’t going to be an easy case.

I cut my hike short so that I could speak to someone at the Orange County shelter about what it would really take to get Baby back with his mom. After being on hold for 20 minutes, it was now 1:30, the shelter closed at 5:00 which meant Jennifer had to get over there now.  When I called Jennifer, telling her to go to the shelter and that DDR would pay all the fees, as long as she agreed to use her free spay voucher, she was ecstatic, and very grateful.  However, she wasn’t […]

Remembering Larry

 DDR supporters, I want to share a story about a very special dog named Larry.
It was the fall of 2009 when I first met Larry – chained to a phone pole with no shelter, no water, and no hope.  He was one of over 100 “rescue dogs” on a large “kennel property” in South Los Angeles run by a Diane B. Carey and her non-profit, South Central Stray Rescue.  Diane was later prosecuted on animal cruelty charges and lost her ability to practice law in California, all due to this case. Thinking that I was helping an overwhelmed good hearted rescuer who was in over her head, I soon realized that this property, and everything that was going on, was a far more complex situation. Later, DDR would become involved in prosecuting the people involved in running this operation.
Each weekend I would volunteer at the “rescue” situated in an industrial area off Central Avenue.  As I arrived, I would hear the barking and smell the filth of uncleaned makeshift runs. Some of the dogs were chained to non-operational motor homes and others were grouped in areas with very little, if any, space to exercise. Surely this was illegal.  Wow, did I have a lot to learn.  I quickly discovered that the kennel requirements for the City of Los Angeles had not been updated since the 1950’s.  Other than the chained-up dogs, this organization was not breaking any laws.
This case became my life for six months. My mission was to get every dog off the property and into real rescues and foster homes one dog at a time.  DDR had an amazing group of volunteers who also dedicated their time to get the dogs out anyway they could.

Some of the over 100 dogs that we rescued off the property.

 

Photo taken of Larry right before he was rescued

Larry was the first dog that I felt deeply connected to. I met him on a Saturday morning and when I saw his pleading eyes, tears flowed from my eyes. While the situation was emotionally overwhelming, I somehow focused on getting Larry out and into my car.  I was told by the man working at the kennel that Larry was a “problem dog”  because he had too much energy and constantly wanted to jump the fence.  Offering to take Larry off their hands, no one at the facility objected.  So, Larry was riding in my car, back to our old DDR kennel on 7th Place and Santa Fe.
Larry thrived at our kennel and was quickly adopted by a wonderful woman who promised to always give him the space he needed and to love him forever.  She kept her promise, and we stayed in touch over the years.  In fact, after she adopted Larry, she married, had a beautiful baby daughter, and adopted a companion dog from DDR that […]

Phoebe – A story of hope

Phoebe

 

Last Monday, I received a Facebook message from the son of a dog owner who wrote, “Please help me I’m desperate. I barely had just under enough for a consultation and no vets would take me. I checked all over the place.”  Thankfully, he didn’t wait for my response via Facebook Messenger, he called our Pet Support Space Office, and was able to speak directly with one of our counselors.

4-year-old Phoebe had been hit by a car. Phoebe’s owner and her son were homeless, living in their vehicle when Phoebe accidentally got out of the car.  Upon finding her lying on the pavement, the son knew Phoebe was seriously injured. With no money and no support from family or friends who could loan him money, he started reaching out – calling animal hospitals and checking prices. He even started a Facebook fundraiser to try to save Phoebe’s life before finding DDR.

DDR counselor Amanda learned of the severity of Phoebe’s injuries and immediately arranged for Phoebe to be examined by a veterinarian.  Thanks to the generosity of our friends at Animal Wellness Foundation, we were able to get treatment for her injuries and three days of hospitalization.  The total cost for her hospitalization and care was $612.  We paid $400 and the Animal Wellness Foundation covered $212.

Upon releasing Phoebe from the animal hospital, it was a difficult decision for all of us to make to let Phoebe return to her family because she still needed continued care, but her family was more than capable of administering medication and keeping a watchful eye over her.  My first thought when I listened to Counselor Amanda explain this case was to take control, insist Phoebe go into a foster home while she recovered, or have another round of medical boarding.  We worried about the heat and how they would manage. However, trusting that her family loves her and only wants the best for her, we remained open to the plan of her going “home”. But, I wanted to know more. What led them to becoming homeless? Are they looking for housing? Is it fair to put Phoebe back with her family when they are living in a car during this heat wave?

When I work directly or indirectly with a pet owner who is trying so hard to do everything right, and I can see how dedicated they are to their pet, I consciously have to remind myself that the pet owner(s) will allow change when they are ready for change. We can provide resources and options and when they are ready for the change to come into their life, DDR will be there. It’s not my responsibility to fix their problems or to impose my idea of what is best on them, because what I think is best, may not be the best solution.

After Phoebe went back to her family, they truly did the best they could considering the situation they were living in. They realized they needed […]

Tribute to Diamond

As many of you supporters know, we have two hotlines to leave messages, an office phone number where counselors take calls Monday – Saturday, but I bet not many of you knew that I use my phone to receive text messages for help.  The pet owners who text me are often experiencing homelessness, and text me at all hours of the day.  Surprisingly, very few text me outside of normal business hours.  Usually, pet owners want to know where they can get services, and I never hear from them again. Then there are the pet owners who text me often, sometimes to let me know they are ok, other times to let me know that they need someone to text them messages of support and hope because they are feeling alone and hopeless. Worse case scenario, I receive a text from a friend, letting me know that a pet owner has passed away, and they need us to find a home for the pet of the deceased client.

I remember getting the text from Diamond’s owner around 5:00AM on June 10th, letting me know that he had died.  For the past month, we all knew that Diamond was ill, diagnosed with high proteins in his liver.  He was not able to keep food down, and had been vomiting.  In fact, Diamond had another appointment at the animal hospital the day he died.  Counselor Amanda called his owner, and learned that she had walked to the animal hospital with his body, and had waited outside until the hospital opened because she wanted to make sure to have his body cremated.

Diamond’s owner sent me a text the following day. ” Thank you SO very much for all you’ve done for my Fur-Baby Diamond & I. Far most important to myself is being here for me in my time of need and wrenching loss.”                                                 Sometimes there is no one who understands what it’s like to grieve after the death of a pet, especially when one is homeless.  I continued to check in with her via text to see how she was doing, and to make sure she understood that she had people who cared.  The loss threw her into a deep depression. As she opened up to me, she explained that she had a devastating loss in 2006, losing two adult children in a bus accident.  She told me that people around her didn’t get why she was still so sad, telling her, “He was only a dog.”  For her and everyone at DDR there is no such thing as “only a dog”. We understand, our dogs are our family. Being together 24/7, she didn’t need to explain their bond to me.

I’m happy to report that I received another text recently, thanking all of the […]

Pet Support Space is now open

I want to share some good news with all of you who have supported DDR, and for those new supporters who are learning about our programs.

We opened our new office, called the Pet Support Space (PSS), on July 4th.  Because the South LA Shelter is still closed to the public, except by appointment, we needed a space to continue to assist pet owners who have no where to turn in a crisis.

Our office is staffed with two counselors, six days a week, Monday – Saturday from 10:00am to 2:00pm or by appointment.  We are offering all of the same veterinary services, and more by combining our Shelter Intervention Program with services from our Pet Resource Center program, including pro bono legal assistance, access to services for pet owners experiencing homelessness, free spay and neuter, grooming on site via a mobile groomer, and so much more.  Post COVID, our goal is to incorporate mental health services, creating peer led support groups, and eventually mental health care vouchers for those who pet owners suffering from the effects of trauma, who cannot access counseling.  All of our services are created to conform with the trauma informed care model.

Due to COVID, turning most of our work “upside down”, we had to get creative, looking for ways to keep both our counselors and pet owners safe.  At our office, it serves as a pet food pantry, crisis counseling for pets who are extremely ill and / or injured, and a place where pet owners who feel isolated can connect with people who care about them and their pets.

We continue to work with LAAS staff and volunteers, who refer pet owners in need to our program.  During business hours, counselors are there to listen and problem solve immediately.  The way in which we provide services might have changed but our goal of keeping families with their pets remains.

In less than a month, our counselors met with 149 pet owners providing the following services: 3% contacted our office because they had a senior dog that could not walk, wasn’t eating, was terminally ill and required humane euthanasia instead of being surrendered to the shelter.  48% needed financial assistance and a treatment plan for a pet with medical issues ranging from emergencies to chronic skin and ear infections. 1% needed legal assistance to prevent being illegally evicted from their home due to their pet.  19% needed access to get their dog or cat spayed or neutered.  28% required pet food.

I remember speaking to a woman who explained that she ran out of pet food and was feeding her dog “people food” but she wasn’t going to be able to do that much longer because it would take food away from her and her daughter.  By the end of each month, she was out of food for the whole family.  Another elderly woman pulled up at our office, driving a car that looked as if she might be living in her […]

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