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19 Apr 2020

Lessons From the Furry Ones: As We Shelter at Home, Animals Can Be Our Best Teachers

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COVID-19 has put me into a haze. Each day runs into the next. My motivation is down, as the days of sheltering in place stretch out ahead, with no end in sight. I’m procrastinating a lot (as if that wasn’t a problem before). I go back and forth—from optimistic to pessimistic, discouraged to encouraged, depressed to grateful.

My husband is considered an essential employee, and he commutes twice a week—an hour and a half each way. That brings a whole new level of worry. Compounding my concerns and fears is the lack of performance by the federal government in addressing this pandemic. Each day seems to bring some misrepresentation or attempted negation of facts—while people are dying in this great country. Our safety net has huge holes in it. At least there is evidence the measures in place in California have flattened the curve. But wondering what the future will hold, how our lives will change, and for how long—that can all be overwhelming.

However, there’s one constant in my life: The animals that live with me. Many of you can relate, I know. They are inconsistently consistent—and thank goodness. The cat that wants to share his opinion on any variety of topic, or the dog that believes any phone conversation is actually her conversation—they ground us in reality, to both the life we had before and the life we have now. They are natural mood elevators. They love us. In many cases, they are clocks—reminding us of our routine. Feeding, walking, petting, cleaning litter, picking up poop, changing the water, giving treats, going for a ride—all remain routine, when not much else is. Lexi, the 19-year-old terrier mix, lets us know at 5:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. every day that she expects her meal within the next 30 to 45 minutes—and that it’s time to let her out, too.

On mornings when I just don’t think I can get out of bed, the residents of our senior sanctuary and hospice convince me, by never failing to remind me how much love they have to give. Their exuberance and joy, despite their medical challenges and advanced ages, are hopeful and uplifting. Every day is new and joyful to them. They are happy in the fresh air and the sun, or laying on the couch or bed with you. They are our teachers on how to live in the moment.

Many people have decided to foster or adopt during this safe-at-home phase—so much so that some shelters are running out of animals. I recommend this highly: Not only will you give an abandoned animal a safe place; you will give yourself a gift of unconditional love that, now more than ever, is healing and uplifting.

Just remember: These animals are not perfect. Many of them have been abandoned, neglected or abused; if they are older, perhaps they have lost the only family they’ve ever known. Be gentle and patient. Expect accidents, fear, anxiety and mistrust, at least in the beginning. Correct them with love, and make them feel secure and safe. Their repayment will be love and trust beyond comprehension. Take one of our sanctuary residents, Tilly, as an example: She is 16 years old and just celebrated her one-year anniversary with us. Today, she is a different dog—freer and more opinionated. Patience has reaped extraordinary rewards.

The rescues and shelters in the Coachella Valley are currently open only by appointment due to the COVID-19 restrictions. There is Riverside County’s Coachella Valley Animal Campus in Thousand Palms; the shelter can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 951-358-7387. In North Palm Springs is the Humane Society of the Desert, at 760-329-0203. In Palm Springs, the Palm Springs Animal Shelter can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or 760-416-5718, ext. 3.

There are many rescue organizations in the valley, too. Just to start, for cats, contact Pretty Good Cat, Kittyland or Forever Meow. For dogs, contact Society’s Outkasts Animal Rescue, California Paws Rescue or Loving All Animals.

For people who already have animals: Be sure to check in with your veterinarian. Some are closed; others are handling only critical care; all have procedures in place to protect both staff members and clients. Expect longer-than-usual waits for appointments and prescription refills.

Despite these tough times, we should all learn from our animals: Live in the moment. Enjoy. Love—and be loved.

Carlynne McDonnell is the founder and CEO of Barkee LaRoux’s House of Love Animal Sanctuary, a senior animal sanctuary and hospice in the Coachella Valley. She has been rescuing animals since she was 4 years old.

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