The headline in the Desert Sun this week proclaimed, “As many as 600 strays to be taken from dilapidated mobile home park.” The squalid trailer park called Duroville is a migrant worker camp located on Indian land in Thermal. It was placed under federal receivership several years ago due to the unsanitary living conditions for the people. Many of the animals there now face an uncertain future as the mobile homes in Duroville are being demolished. Over the next couple of months the residents will relocate to the state funded Mountain View estates in Oasis. The new Mountain View complex will not permit residents to have more than 2 animals, no dogs over 25 pounds, and owners must provide proof of vaccinations. Loose canines, often running in wild packs, have been an issue at the park for many years. The requirements at the new housing project have resulted in a new wave of abandoned animals on the 40 acre property.
JJ Ruch, local animal advocate and dog trainer, recently drove out to Duroville to take photos of the dogs for an upcoming meeting. He heard about the massive undertaking in 2010 by local animal welfare groups to vaccinate and spay & neuter. But nothing prepared him for what he saw at Duroville. JJ reports, “I was devastated at what I saw. There were dogs laying all over the street, and I had to honk the horn or drive around them. Many of the dogs were injured, some were emaciated, and there were many lactating mothers. I saw many animals eating out of trash cans, and scavenging for whatever scraps they could find. I returned home, reviewed my pictures, and sat and cried. I knew I had to do something. I decided to start a food drive, and created an event on Facebook, Operation Hungry Dog.” JJ grew up involved in dog rescue. He explains his affinity for them, “Dogs can love. With their loyalty and compassion, they sometimes come close to being human. They are more than just pets to me.”
Operation Hungry Dog mushroomed. Stories of dogs in need capture our hearts, and the people responded. Valerie Katz spread the word about the dogs on R & R broadcasting 100.5 FM. The Desert Sun reported on the food drive. Folks sent money and drove out with carloads of dog food to the distribution site at Save A Pet animal shelter. Amazingly 17,000 pounds of food were collected. When JJ and his friends returned to distribute the food last week, the dogs knew they had arrived with “rations”, and hundreds more emerged for the feast. The group distributed food and water in makeshift containers to the hungry animals, and left bags of food for the residents.
Sadly, the situation with abandoned animals in the East Valley goes beyond Duroville. There are dozens of low-income mobile home parks where migrant workers barely scrape by enough money to feed their families, and animals often go without adequate food or vet care. Some are well cared for treasured pets. Other animals are left behind when the workers leave at the end of the season. There are no veterinary clinics in the region, even if residents could afford to spay and neuter their pets. The dogs breed more litters and more suffering. Their struggle to survive will continue long after the final trailer at Duroville is demolished and the last family leaves. Long term solutions are needed.
Meanwhile, Riverside County Department of Animal Services, convened a meeting with local animal welfare groups and concerned citizens to lay out a plan. Animal Samaritans pledged to help. Save A Pet volunteered to take in any puppies and kittens that need bottle feeding. Loving All Animals lended their support. Rob Miller, Animal Services director, outlined a plan that includes a mobile spay and neuter surgical unit, free vaccines, and relocation of unwanted animals to the county shelter. Miller states, “We aren’t just out there impounding dogs without taking into consideration some of these people’s pets are just outside. But we plan on removing the unwanted dogs and strays, and it is not our goal to euthanize them. We want a positive outcome.” Animal control officers canvassed the area with bilingual flyers offering free veterinary services. For now the impounded Duroville dogs are at the county shelter located at 72-050 Pet Land Place, in Thousand Palms, and many are now available for adoption.
For more information and photos of the Duroville dogs, visit jwdogs.com/blog/. You can email JJ Ruch at JJ@JWdogs.com. You can help by identifying one of the partnership organizations assisting with Duroville by volunteering or giving a monetary donation. Save A Pet in Desert Hot Springs (www.saveapetonline.org), Animal Samaritans in Thousand Palms (www.animalsamaritans.org), and Loving All Animals in Palm Desert (www.lovingallanimals.org) are all drop off points for food donations. These groups welcome your check earmarked for the “Duroville Dogs”. Talk to your friends and family about this issue.
These wonderful animals ask for so little….a good meal, a warm bed, and a loving touch. Please do what you can to help the animals in our East Valley. Eugene O’Neill described them, “Dogs….do not ruin their lives worrying about how to keep the objects they have, and to obtain the objects they have not. There is nothing of value they have to bequeath except their love and their faith.”