Ann Field and I stand on a dusty lot on Avenue 81. We’re in Oasis, south of Thermal and close to Highway 86. We’re watching for two dogs that have been abandoned and are running around the neighborhood.
As the sun starts to set, there they are—only instead of two dogs, there are now four. Ann sighs softly.
Animal-control officers from the Riverside County Department of Animal Services rarely venture south of 66th Avenue in Thermal. The department’s mission statement touts educating the public on keeping animals, the importance of spaying or neutering them, and ensuring they are in a good home. Yet Ann said that when she has spoken with people from the department—asking them about coming out to visit the nearby migrant work camps, where a lot of these dogs get left behind—they come up with a number of excuses.
Socioeconomic factors, as well as the inability to take their dogs with them, are just some of the reasons why the migrant farm workers leave behind their dogs. These animals often do not get spayed or neutered.
That’s where Lost Dogs of the Desert, Ann’s organization, comes in.
Ann has tried to work with local animal shelters, but she wants nothing to do with shelters that put animals down after a few days. There are some animal charities that have proven to be invaluable, she said. Michael Acosta, Ann’s partner, often drives to Morongo Casino to hand over dogs to people from no-kill shelters located in Los Angeles and San Diego. There is, for example, a charity dedicated to the rescue of boxers. Others rescue only purebreds, and yet others only rescue dogs less than 40 pounds. Still, these organizations are a big help.
But for dogs who are mutts, life is not so easy.
In the setting sun, the dogs are running toward a reservoir to get some water; they then cross a road and head toward a tunnel, where they will be safe for the night. Ann watches out for them. On the nearby stretches of highway, dead dogs are a common sight.
For the time being, she is only able to help two dogs at a time, given her limited resources. When I spoke to her, she was waiting for two dogs to get re-housed before being able to take in two more.
Honey and Rosie are two Australian shepherds currently being looked after by Holly Rose Martin, a young mother in Desert Hot Springs who volunteers to bring the dogs to the groomers and to keep them until new foster homes can be found.
Ann said Canadians who are staying at the nearby RV park often decide to take home a rescue dog. These people take on the costs of getting the dogs spayed or neutered, pay for all the shots, and apply for a health certificate, which each animal needs to have before being brought over the border.
She dreams of being able to build an animal shelter in the vacant lot opposite the RV park. However, she said that as of now, 80 percent of her income goes toward vet bills, feeding and grooming. This does not leave anything left over to put toward the fees needed for Lost Dogs of the Desert to become an official 501(c)3, much less start the process of building a shelter.
In the meantime, Ann, Michael and Holly and other volunteers do what they can to find funds and foster parents, one dog at a time.
Before I met with Mike and Ann, I asked her some questions via email. Her answers were so revealing that they are worth presenting here, as a Q&A.
I have been following via Facebook the hardships and difficulties you face finding homes for lost and abandoned dogs. Tell me: What led you to start rescuing dogs and other animals? How long have you been doing this?
My partner, Michael, and I began to rescue dogs quite by accident. One day, three years ago, a lovely white lab that was starving to death came to our door. I took it to the shelter, (and it) couldn’t accept a dog over 40 pounds. I realized then there was little help here for dogs. I took the dog home, fostered it, provided vet care and in the process found out the dog belonged to a priest in the neighborhood (who had) died. … I kept the dog until a local farmer provided a wonderful home for the dog. The dog is in excellent health now and is happy. I knew I had to at least try to help some of them, as it would be impossible to help all.
What is the procedure when you find a dog?
When I find a dog—or the dog usually finds us—the first action is vet care. Due to the expense, we can only rescue one or two dogs at a time, and I only have one foster. We have to (check) the dog, check for owners, and do spay and shots. We have very few supporters, so a lot of the money is out of pocket. It limits me, because I am low-income. We do home checks (after dogs are adopted) and require monthly follow-up visits, even if it is by Skype. … We will drive anywhere we have to, to know a dog is in safe hands and can live happy, healthy and in peace. We make sure the intention is forever. The dogs that have been abandoned have been through enough. They can’t be left behind again.
What is the number of dogs/animals you find on a weekly basis?
The number varies. I can go three weeks with none, and one day with three. There is a cycle. When farm workers leave the area for their next job, we see a lot more, as they can’t take the dogs with them. Ninety of the dogs are over 40 pounds.
You are currently applying for 501(c)3 status. How is that going?
It’s…at Financial First Aid in Beaumont. Due to needs of the dogs, we have never been able to finish paying for it. We hope one day, a miracle can happen, and it can get filed. A grant would make a huge difference to this effort.
What was the strangest animal you rescued?
A praying mantis. … Somehow, the guy got caught in a light. After the rescue, he stayed for one year and moved on.
What are your hopes for the future of Lost Dogs of the Desert?
My hope for Lost Dogs is the same hope for all shelters or rescuers: that people spay their animals, be responsible, and that we are no longer needed. For now, we pray for the 501(c)3 so we can see a no-kill sanctuary and a free spay clinic here. It can happen. It is our goal to see community awareness and education put into place, as we do not have that in my community right now. We would also love to see an educated professional volunteer coordinator come in and get the community geared up to foster. There are not enough fosters. Fosters are the glue of any no-kill system.
For more information on Lost Dogs of the Desert, or to help out, visit www.facebook.com/pages/Lost-Dogs-of-The-Desert Rescue/331058100310038, or firstname.lastname@example.org.