“Devore’s Angels” work tirelessly to save lives. For these ‘unpaid volunteers,’ quitting is not an option.
Across the vast expanse of southern California’s San Bernardino county lie some 20,105 square miles of largely unincorporated land, a small array of largely understaffed, underfunded animal shelters and a handful of rescue groups engaged in a never ending fight to save lives.
One of these shelters, located in rural Devore along Route 66 near Interstate 15 north of San Bernardino has often been a focal point of controversy due the number of animals it puts to sleep. Located in the largest county in the contiguous U.S, this underfunded, understaffed facility is forced to euthanize animals on a regular basis.
Animal rescue groups converge on this lonely facility on a more or less daily basis, in an ongoing mission to save kittens, cats, and dogs, often from almost certain death. On one particular day about three weeks ago, an unusually large number of cats and kittens were “pts” put to sleep because rescuers weren’t available and no one came forward to adopt them
Life for the members of Kitty Devore Rescue Network (KDRN) is a nonstop, everyday affair of putting their own lives on hold to rescue kittens and cats within a narrow “window of opportunity” before they are put to sleep often for no other reason than a minor illness, fearfulness, or lack of interest by potential adopters. Founded in 2011 with currently more than a hundred members in southern California, Colorado, Arizona and Washington State, their mission is a ceaselessly exhausting landscape of agonizingly unpredictable and chaotic circumstances. All to frequently, their efforts are in vain, because time runs out on a particular cat, or family of kittens with their mother. Or kittens once rescued and seemingly safe suddenly fall prey to devastating illnesses.
For this group, saving cats takes precedence over many areas in their lives. They risk losing friends, losing relationships, in some instances losing jobs and/or homes, (if in rented apartments or condos) not to mention the never ending stress of meeting life or death deadlines, and the pain and sadness of failed rescue attempts. Among its members, group dedication is perhaps the one uniting factor, and from time to time, even that is pushed beyond its limits.
Most cats ending up at Devore are lucky if they last more than 7-10 days, if not rescued or adopted. Cats which are deemed to be sick, not friendly, or otherwise non-adoptable have even less time. Within the walls of a single room for cats, sit rows of cages on concrete with newspaper and the bare essentials of food and water as comfort for what for many cats, may very well be their last days. Daily lists are displayed on Facebook of cats needing to be rescued along with photo id’s and pleas for help from the general public and other potential rescuers. Each cat or kitten has their ‘last day’ posted in an urgent message. Often whole families of cats are at risk, mothers with litters are regularly “dumped” at the shelter by persons unfamiliar with shelter holding policies. In some instances, tiny kittens are almost immediately euthanized if they’re too young with no mother. Daily assessments are made as to whether cats are ‘friendly’ hence available to the general public for adoption, or ‘RO’ (rescue only). Cats in the rescue only category may be sick or not of friendly temperament and require a more intricate process for removal from the facility, and not available to the public.
In the past, blame has been focused upon both practices and personalities at this and other high-kill shelters in California and nationwide. But the truth is, economics as well as attitudes play a much bigger role. KDRN co-administrator Renee McElwee points out that the root of the problem lies more in today’s societal attitudes. “We, the people, are the ones who are responsible for the fact that these facilities exist and that animals die in them every day. We created them to enable our irresponsibility of throwing away what has become inconvenient or of no use to us. Unfortunately, these are living, breathing beings we are throwing away. Perfectly healthy animals who, for whatever reason, are unwanted and homeless and for this crime and no other, they are often killed.”
Adding to the complexity of the problem is pet overpopulation, due in part to apathy by animal owners regarding spaying and neutering of their pets. To the uninformed, the shelters are a convenient although temporary solution. According to Mc Elwee, “Many people have the mistaken notion that the ‘shelter’ portion of ‘animal shelter’ actually means shelter – indefinite shelter until a home is found.” Unfortunately, many less than responsible individuals may take this as an open invitation to dump unwanted pets with the false assumption that they will be taken care of, relinquishing former pet owners of their responsibility. But as Mc Elwee further points out, shelters are often a “very short term holding zone, like a concentration camp, for animals until their time is up to be rescued or adopted – i.e. wanted and considered of value by someone. When their time is up, it’s literally up. They are killed and sent to rendering plants to be distilled down into chemicals that will become crayons and cold cream.”
KDRN was founded with the mission of helping Devore’s cats find homes and hasn’t stopped to catch its breath ever since. It can be and often is—a 24 hour job for its most dedicated members. Daily, often riveting posts and threads between its members on Facebook clearly give testimony a depth and dedication far beyond the ordinary. They truly live and breathe their long-standing motto: ‘Saving the cats of Devore shelter, one kitty at a time – no Friendly left behind.’
The group emphasizes that it is not affiliated with the shelter and defines its mission as entirely separate and independent from that of the Devore facility. KDRN receives no financial assistance from city, county, state, or federal sources. They rely solely upon donations from individuals and groups. There’s a never-ending need for volunteer ‘fosters’ willing to temporarily house and treat cats in need so that they may become eligible for adoption. KDNR provides reimbursements to its approved fosters and members which includes transporters. Cruz Diaz, who transports for KDRN has driven in excess of 300 miles in one day. One day recently, she drove 1049 miles for other rescue interests.
The group recently was granted non-profit status, and it claims to be “in the business of losing money in order to save lives.” Despite their most valiant efforts, the battle is often a losing one. The depth of emotion can approach that of losing a child. Said one member recently, “When one doesn’t make it, it takes away from the joy for the ones that we do save…” “We all feel the pain.”