CVIndependent

Thu02272020

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Carlynne McDonnell

The love we receive from our animals is deep, beautiful, unconditional and extraordinary. The relationships we have with our animals are incredible: You might be aggravated with all the humans in your house or even in your life—but the magic woofie or kitty will always save the day. Whether you’re returning home for a trip or a simple errand outside, a pet is always happy to see you, wagging or barking to welcome you.

This magical relationship makes it even more difficult, painful and heartbreaking to say goodbye. No matter how many years they live, it is never enough—and sadly, we often must make the decision to end their lives.

It’s terrible to watch the decline of a pet. Sometimes it seemingly comes on suddenly—our eyes are opened for the first time to a slowing gait, a missed jump onto the couch, or the inability to finish the usual walk. Sometimes we must watch as an illness takes hold. Regardless of how the end of the life of a beloved approaches, it takes a toll—emotionally and physically.

The hospice aspect of our sanctuary is the most difficult—and it’s an aspect we deal with a lot. We usually bring in senior dogs that are in the shelter system; they’ve been abandoned by their family because the family can’t afford to pay for euthanasia, or perhaps they don’t want the responsibility of caring for an ill senior dog. We know from the moment we get the first request and/or see the first picture that the remaining life span will be short. Nonetheless, we approach each dog with the same hope—that there will be some sort of magic that restores quality of life or longevity. We know that will almost never be the case, but the heart wants differently.

There have been times we have taken a dog straight from the shelter to the veterinarian to be euthanized, because the animal was dying, and the shelter did not want the responsibility. We recently welcomed an older dog that wheezed and gasped. We tried a few medicines, and while he responded slightly, his level of discomfort was heartbreaking. Late at night, we took him into the ER vet and gave him the ultimate gift of love.

Yes, we call euthanasia the ultimate gift of love—because that’s what you’re doing when you’re ending your animal’s pain and suffering, while your heart is breaking. People always say that they do not know how we do what we do. I always say: How can we not? These gentle and loving creatures are completely dependent upon us for their well-being and care; in return, they give extraordinary love. How can we not love these beloveds enough to say goodbye and end their suffering?

People also ask: How do we know when it is time to say goodbye? It’s an easy (while still heartbreaking) decision, after checking with the veterinarian, if your animal can no longer walk. It’s easy if your animal is too weak to stand up or has lost bodily functions. It’s easy if your animal no longer has any interest in food or water. Be sure to ask the veterinarian if he or she is just extending the life or providing longer-term care. Veterinarians are life-saving heroes—and sometimes it’s hard for them to recommend saying goodbye.

But not every situation with an animal is such an obvious crisis. It is the more subtle times that people need to be aware of: Suffering animals will sometimes still eat, drink and show you love, because you are their everything. Up to their last breath, they want to please you. Your great sadness and heartbreak should not stop you from seeing clearly what is happening, and doing what is best for your animal.

People always wonder after if they say goodbye if they did so too soon—if they did the right thing. Well, we say that it’s a good thing to wonder—because you will never forget if it was too late. We had a dog with congestive heart failure dog before we started Barkee LaRoux’s House of Love. She went into respiratory distress at the end of her life, because we were not paying enough attention. We have still not gotten over that experience. Do you want one more day or one more week with your animal if it’s truly suffering?

Trust me: We aren’t clinical about any of this. Our hearts break every time; we cry over every dog to whom we say goodbye. But every one of those dogs is held tightly, sung to or whispered to, and loved in the last minutes of their lives. Isn’t that something we all deserve?

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.

Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for California to become a “no-kill” state by including $50 million in his budget for the University of California at Davis to create a new grant-based system to help shelters achieve the goal of no longer euthanizing treatable cats and dogs.

Making California no-kill is an outstanding and commendable goal. Animal shelters almost always kill animals simply because of a lack of space. Hold times for animals in a shelter can range from no time at all for animals surrendered by owners, to five days or less for an unchipped stray, to 10 days or more for a microchipped animal. Hold times are up to the discretion of the shelter manager or shelter veterinarian—and animals that show any sign of illness or unfriendliness often end up on a euthanasia list.

It’s a matter of simple math: The only way to reduce the animal-shelter population is to reduce the number of animals.

Mimi Mitz has been the president of the Morongo Basin Humane Society in Joshua Tree for the better part of 30 years.

“Spay and neutering, and reducing backyard breeders, (are all) important to reduce the animal overpopulation,” she said. “There are three animal shelters within 10 miles of each other, and all three are always full, all of the time. If unwanted animals are not in a shelter, they are on the street.”

There’s another reason to spay or neuter your beloved animal: It can prevent medical issues. I asked Dr. Rachel Reedy, of Carter Animal Hospital in Cathedral City, about the top reasons to spay and neuter. “First, to avoid more puppies or kittens,” she said. “Second, to prevent mammary and ovarian cancers in females, and prostate cancer in males; third, for behavioral reasons: to reduce aggression in both males and females.”

We are fortunate in the Coachella Valley and high desert to have access to low-cost spay and neuter services. We have the Animal Action League, located in Joshua Tree, which provides low-cost spaying, neutering and vaccines (plus other services). AAL was founded in 1989, started providing mobile services in 2005, and has spayed and neutered more than 55,000 cats and dogs. Think about it: The number of dogs and cats that did not end up in a shelter as a result of AAL’s work is incredible.

AAL works with SNIP Bus and Molly’s Miracle, a mobile spay and neuter hospital built by S.O.A.R. (Society’s Outcast Animal Rescue) to provide low cost clinics. The need is great; check the calendar at www.animalactionleague.net.

I asked Melody Farnik, the director of the Animal Action League, why people don’t get their pets spayed or neutered. “Education and not knowing the reality and severity of the problem, as well financial constraints and location/transportation,” she said.

AAL performs spay and neuter services at its clinic in Joshua Tree; before the mobile services became available, people had to travel there.

“Mobile spay and neuter has made a huge difference,” she said.

Farnik recommends spaying and neutering cats and dogs at eight weeks or 2 pounds. I asked Farnik if she had any wishes for AAL.

“One wish would be to have another spay and neuter clinic come in and help out,” she said. “It takes a lot of planning, and we service communities in Banning and Beaumont, the Morongo Basin, the Coachella Valley and even as far as Imperial.”

Each low-cost mobile clinic session costs around $3,300 to put on; between 27 and 33 male and female cats and dogs can be seen per session. Clinics are underwritten through grants and donations.

Even with all of these wonderful spay and neuter services, the need is greater than the amount provided. To get to no-kill status as a community, we must first get spay and neuter laws enacted. We must curtail backyard breeding by creating laws and regulations that register and monitor these breeders—or ban them outright. We must educate people about the medical benefits behind spaying, and the devastation to female dogs when they have mammary or ovarian cancer. So many un-spayed dogs end up in shelters with mammary masses and horrendous tumors—and their discomfort and pain are heartbreaking.

What can you do to make a difference? First, adopt, don’t shop. Save a rescue beloved’s life. Go to a shelter, and bring home a wonderful woof or meow. Second, if you buy from a breeder, make sure it is a legitimate and legal breeder. Check out the way the animals there live, and how they are being treated. Cast-off and dumped breeder dogs are commonly found in shelters—often in terrible physical condition.

Third, spay or neuter your animal as early as possible. Unless you are a legitimate breeder, there is no reason not to do so. Ego is not a reason. Finally: Donate to your local animal shelters and rescue groups—organizations like AAL, that work toward a no-kill animal future.

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.

The Coachella Valley is a pet-lovers’ paradise.

We love our animals. We dress them up. We sleep with them. Some of us take our pets out shopping, dining or hiking. We share photos of and stories about our pets, and believe that they are our soulmates. Almost everyone has a funny animal story to share. Almost everyone has a story of loss with which we can commiserate.

But sometimes, that love doesn’t go far enough. Just take a look at any of the lost-and-found pages for our valley communities, and you’ll see that the number of lost and escaped animals is astonishing. And sometimes, love doesn’t mean forever: Animal-rescue organizations and animal shelters know that it’s become far too common for people to abandon older pets.

Janeen Hudson Bahr is the founder and president of S.O.A.R.—Society’s Outkasts Animal Rescue, a Coachella Valley animal-rescue organization that works on the issue of senior-animal abandonment. Bahr said the survival rate for senior animals is low. After all, when a person becomes an animal companion, a relationship develops based on trust and love. Over time, the trust and love deepen—and so does the animal’s dependence on us for safety, care, food and shelter. It becomes a deep and meaningful relationship—and when a human abandons that relationship, it is heartbreaking for the animal, who believes it is part of your pack. To them, being discarded is heartbreaking and life-threatening.

Senior cats and dogs at shelters without rescue efforts are barely seen, and rarely heard about—and when their hold period is up, they’re often euthanized. Even worse, when an animal has been surrendered by its owner, the euthanasia clock starts ticking immediately. Also, many animals are abandoned at shelters by owners as “strays” so owners can avoid paying relinquishment fees. Those animals have to wait a period of time before they can be adopted or rescued—and for older animals, that wait period can be debilitating or even deadly.

In the Coachella Valley, animals are lucky to have Michelle Bergeron, the rescue supervisor for Animal Samaritans, who works with the county’s Coachella Valley Animal Campus in Thousand Palms. She works hard to coordinate rescues and save animals’ lives. She said senior-rescue groups are few and far between, and adoption offers for seniors are limited. Even though rescue groups post senior animals’ pictures and needs on Facebook, and there are many comments on each post, the rate of rescue and adoption is low.

I founded Barkee LaRoux’s House of Love Animal Sanctuary, a senior rescue and hospice in the Coachella Valley. We see many of these abandoned former beloveds. They are heartbroken. They are depressed. They are confused. Regardless of the condition in which they used to live, they are now without their family and without their pack—without understanding why.

I have asked shelters in Southern California about the reasons people give when relinquishing an animal. The most common reason is that the animals have costly medical issues. Another frequent reason is a need for an animal to be euthanized, combined with the owner’s inability to pay, and a belief that the shelter will do what is best for the animal—which is not always the case. Some people have had to say goodbye to a pet when going into assisted living or hospice care, and family members and friends either will not or cannot take in the pet. And then there are people who have simply become tired of their old animals. Some of these old animals are picked up loose on the street; even though there are known owners, those owners never come to claim them.

It does take a village to help abandoned animals—and it takes people with deep hearts and incredible fortitudes to adopt an animal closer to the end of their lives. Yes, losing an animal we love can be soul-shattering—but what an amazing gift of love it can be for a person to hold an older animal close and speak lovingly to them as they leave this world.

If you have a pet, be a forever friend—a forever companion. Keep your beloved animals through to the end of their lives. Recognize the value of your senior animal. Don’t be quick to break their heart and abandon them. Find a solution for their medical problems. Reach out for help if you need it.

And if you are thinking of adopting, consider a senior pet. They need that forever love—but be patient. They may be heartbroken after being left behind, but in spite of that heartbreak, their ability to forgive is extraordinary and educational. You will change their life—and the depth of their love and gratitude will change you forever.

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.