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.