Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

I never win anything—other than that one time when I won a lifetime supply of Saran Wrap. That’s why I was so thrilled last year when I won a raffle at one of the most-enjoyable fundraisers for animals in our valley, Society’s Outkast Animal Rescue’s Mutt Margaritas.

Of course, large gatherings aren’t possible now due to COVID-19, so S.O.A.R.’s seventh-annual Mutt Margaritas event will move online on Saturday, Sept. 26. However, because of all the giveaways and surprises the event promises, I’m confident this year’s Mutt Margaritas will be just as fun and effective—and it’s crucial that the fundraiser is effective, because all of the money raised goes to help animals in the Coachella Valley and Slab City, near the Salton Sea.

S.O.A.R. was founded in 2014 by Janeen Hudson Bahr and Belinda Zaparinuk. Trust me when I say that founding an effective rescue organization involves a lot sweat and tears, with countless hours of labor. I asked Bahr, a Coachella Valley resident for more than 55 years, what made them decide to found S.O.A.R.

“I became a volunteer for the Riverside County Department of Animal Services when the Indio shelter closed, and I saw a need for local rescues to help with the huge number of animals that were entering the shelter system,” Bahr said. “At first, we were funding freedom flights—and realized that as soon as we loaded up a plane and emptied the shelter, it filled right back up again. We needed to do more.”

Bahr and Zaparinuk realized that they could do more by providing funding and care for animals here in the desert than the rescues coming in from outside of the valley.

“We felt that by everything being donated or volunteered, 100 percent of what we were raising was going right back into our community,” Bahr said.

One of the most important things S.O.A.R. has done is build Molly’s Miracle, a spay-neuter trailer that allows more large dogs to be spayed and neutered at a time. Molly’s Miracle is leased to the Animal Action League, which provides the veterinary staff.

“The statistics are excellent,” Bahr said. “In the almost three years since she was put in service, including six months of down time due to COVID-19, Molly has fixed 3,000 animals.”

S.O.A.R. does a lot of work in Slab City, adjacent to the Salton Sea. S.O.A.R. initially provided beds, blankets, toys, puppy pools, thousands of pounds of dog food and vaccines for the numerous animals that reside there. S.O.A.R. also funded the first several spay-and-neuter clinics at Slab City, and now Molly’s Miracle goes down there three or four times a season to continue to spay and neuter. S.O.A.R. also helps with the community’s extraordinary Doggie Christmas celebration, and helped create a nonprofit to make sure the resident animals receive medical treatment, inoculations and food.

Andra Slaburbia, one of the hardest-working Slab City animal mothers, said S.O.A.R. has been vital at helping both the humans and animals that call Slab City home.

“I call S.O.A.R. our Slab City dog godmother organization,” Slaburbia said. “S.O.A.R. has helped save many, many Slab dogs’ lives, by helping us have enough parvo/combo vaccines to help address our sadly, very real, parvo problem; by having Molly’s Miracle, the mobile spay/neuter clinic, come to our community to ensure a rigorous spaying and neutering of our animals; by supplying emergency dog food and such things as kiddie pools, so our Slab dogs can weather the torturous summer heat at our off-grid conditions; and last but not least, by being our doggie Santa Claus for our Slab Doggie Christmas celebrations.”

At the county’s Coachella Valley Animal Campus, S.O.A.R. funded a 5,000-square-foot play yard, including agility equipment and a shade structure. The organization also sponsors adoptions by veterans and others from CVAC, and provides Christmas cheer and presents to the campus’ animal residents.

Last year, S.O.A.R. even paid for bulletproof vests for the five Riverside County Sheriff’s Department canine officers not already protected, at a cost of $1,700 each.

In 2017, S.O.A.R. started the Lucky and Huey (L&H) Fund, after trying to help save a sweet but sick rescue puppy from CVAC. Thanks to matching grants, the fund has helped more than 135 people with their vet bills and more.

S.O.A.R. does so much good in the community; to help them in their mission, or to virtually attend Mutt Margaritas on Saturday, Sept. 26, visit

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.

Published in Pets

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.

Published in Pets

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

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.

Published in Pets

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.

Published in Pets