In 2004, Galina Coleman slipped and fell at work not far from where she lived in Petaluma. She had five surgeries for the injuries she suffered. In the wake of that personal catastrophy and disillusioned with her marriage, she got a divorced and moved to Southern California.
Today, estranged from her former husband and two sons, she lives in Aliso Viejo and struggles to pay her bills. She was declared totally disabled in 2006 and lives on a Social Security disability check.
“I’m just really struggling,” she said. “I’m in affordable housing. My rent is $1,398 a month, which is ‘very affordable’ here. However, for me it’s just really, really difficult. I’ve tried to get jobs but it just hasn’t worked out for me. I have two senior dogs and a senior cat and I know they’re basically at the end of their lives.”
Late last November, her struggles came into clear perspective when Abby, her nearly 14-year-old Dachshund, appeared to be having a digestive issue. “When I took her to a veterinarian, the doctor discovered a heart murmur. She thought it was pretty serious and prescribed medication for Abby after doing an x-ray,” Galina said.
Later, she took the dog to Dr. Lynn Sanchez, a veterinarian she said she likes and trusts at Garden Grove Dog and Cat Hospital. Dr. Sanchez recommended an electrocardiogram to get a clearer idea what Abby’s problem was. But Galina could not handle the cost. She applied for an Angel Fund grant and was awarded $451, a sum that was matched by the hospital.
Abby got the electrocardiogram in late December – and with it some good news: the murmur was not as bad as originally suspected. “Dr. Sanchez said that everything looked pretty good and prescribed three medications,” Galina said. A week later, when she took Abby back for a recheck, two of the medications were discontinued. “One of them was really hard on her kidneys,” she said, “so I was really glad to get rid of it.”
After another recheck early in January, the dog is continuing to take Vetmedin. “She’s not in heart failure but has some damage to a mitral valve,” Galina said.
When Galina divorced, she took her animals with her. “I have tried to help them on a piecemeal basis,” she said. “I’ve had to rely on charity. They’ve all been in pretty good health but now they are at the point where that’s starting to change [because of their ages].”
Augie, Abby’s brother, is two years younger at 12. Aurora, her cat, also is 12. Galina believes that Augie will need a dental treatment soon.
“I’ve been given the blessing of having these animals – they are just truly a blessing for me. I am their steward and I need to make sure they get whatever is needed to take care of them. I have to do that.
“Had I not been able to do this [echocardiogram], I would either have been giving Abby way too much medication or no medication at all. It wouldn’t have been good either way. it was going to be detrimental to her health one way or the other.”
Galina is grateful to Angel Fund. “They really helped me out,” she said. “It is a wonderful thing to help people because things can be so expensive. I think it’s a really great thing for veterinarians to give back. I admire them for doing that. I think that’s what we’re all here for – to give back.”
She is thinking about moving with her animals to a place – perhaps New Mexico – where her disability check would go further. She is 58 years old.
“I have ignored a lot of my life for these dogs. But, in return, they’ve provided me with something,” she said. That something is love and support.
Some five years ago, Linda Lockwood found a stray cat outside her home in Vancouver, British Columbia. “She was nobody’s cat. I contacted shelters and looked around the neighborhood. Nobody claimed her. The shelter asked if I could keep her. I had another cat but I thought I could take care of two. So I said, OK, fine.”
Linda named her new charge Mango. She soon discovered that the new family member had some chronic health problems, particularly constipation. “She had to get enemas once or twice a month,” she said.
Linda came to Southern California to go to school in June, 2014, with Mango in tow on the airplane. (Her other cat had died.) She enrolled at Pierce College in Winnetka, intending to become a veterinary technician because of her love of animals. But she ran into some trouble with a chemistry course and decided to change her major to computer science. She did well – all A’s and one B –but decided to enroll at California Institute of the Arts to pursue her first love, music. She will complete course work this spring on a master of fine arts degree. Earlier, she had earned a bachelor’s degree of music in jazz studies from Vancouver Island University in British Columbia.
In November of 2015, Mango’s chronic constipation became a very real problem. “She would poop everywhere – on my bed, on the floor,” Linda said. “Sometimes, she’d try to poop and she couldn’t, so she’d cry. She was losing weight. She was extremely bloated because her colon was impacted.” Linda had little money to spend but she took Mango to Happy Pets Veterinary Center in Valencia.
“They took x-rays and they told me how severe the problem was. I just didn’t know what I was going to do,” Linda said. “Eventually, Dr. [Jane] Kelly told me, Mango was going to require surgery to remove almost the entire colon. She said she would have to refer me to a surgery specialist and that could cost more than $5,000 – and I just didn’t have that kind of money. But Dr. Kelly said that Mango’s life is at risk. If you are unable to afford it, she’ll have to be put down.”
Dr. Kelly put Mango on intravenous fluids, multiple enemas, laxatives and pain medication for three days to stabilize her condition and suggested that Linda apply to Angel Fund for help. She did and received a grant of $275, a sum matched by Happy Pets.
But Mango still needed surgery. “I found myself looking on the ground for coins, when I walked on campus,” Linda said. “It only cost $1.20 to get rice and beans at my school, so that’s what I was eating.” Dr. Kelly suggested going to a low-cost clinic.
Linda talked to several clinics before selecting one. She raised money on a website, the largest contribution coming from a friend in Canada. Mango got her surgery but the stitches holding the incision together quickly came out. “It was a gruesome thing. Her intestines came out,” Linda said. “Everybody thought she was going to die. I took her back and they sewed her up again – and the stitches came out again.”
This time, Linda found another veterinarian (on Christmas Eve), who repaired the damage and ordered Mango confined to a cage for a month as she healed. “After that month she was cage free and was as good as new,” Linda said. “Today, she’s doing very well. I give her everything that I can.”
And, she added, “I can’t believe I went through all of that. I had to get extensions on all my essays and I had to leave classes early to pick Mango up.”
Linda believes that Angel Fund played a major role in saving her cat’s life. “Without them, I don’t know if Mango would have been in condition for what came next. The time she was in the hospital [at Happy Pets] bought some time for me to make plans for what to do. I’m very grateful for what Angel Fund did for Mango.”
She also praised Dr. Kelly: “She is very compassionate and very caring. I know she did it for Mango.”
And, she said, “It’s amazing how people, even if they don’t know you, they love animals. I’m very grateful for what everyone has done for Mango.”
Ann Champion, a production designer in film and television, has “always had animals and the one promise I always make them is, if their lives are at stake and they can continue on with quality of life, I’m not going to arbitrarily end their lives because I don’t have money.”
That promise was put to a severe test last summer. Her Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, then about 9½ years old and a picture of health, suddenly and inexplicably lost the use of her legs.
“Lillie had always been very fit,” Ann said, “so it was devastating to find her collapsed on the floor beside her bed when I went to get her to go for our walk [one August day]. She was completely alert and could raise her head and wag her tail, but even though she was trying to move all four legs she could not get them underneath her to stand up.”
Lillie weighed 110 pounds, “almost as much as I do,” Ann said. So it was almost impossible to move her. But Ann managed to get her in her car, with help from a neighbor, for a trip to an emergency hospital. The doctor did x-rays and blood tests that showed nothing wrong. He recommended taking her to a neurologist at a specialty hospital.
The neurologist recommended putting Lillie on steroids to reduce inflammation in the discs in her neck, which she thought were causing the problem. That sounded better to Ann than the other option – expensive surgery. “It would be a reasonable course of treatment and we could expect a good outcome,” the neurologist told her.
Quickly, Lillie was doing better. After a few days, the hospital wanted to send Lillie home to recover with outpatient physical therapy. “That created a whole new set of problems,” Ann said. “She was a very big girl and there was no way to get in or out of our Studio City home without having to negotiate steps. While there was a lot I was capable of doing to help her to continue to improve, I could not lift her.”
So Ann found a rehabilitation hospital. Lillie was fitted with a harness that made it easier to help her. The doctor at the rehab hospital said that he expected a full recovery. “The only negative in all this truly blessed and positive news was that it would take time – and time was money that I didn’t have.”
Ann had maxed out her Care Credit card and she applied for a higher limit. She also asked about Angel Fund and applied for help. She recalled visiting Lillie and taking her for a walk in the corridor with the help of the special harness a few days later.
“She was doing really well. I didn’t have to support her front end at all and she was placing her hind feet correctly and she was pulling me through the corridor. And I was thinking: ‘Yes! A couple more weeks of this and we’re gonna be home and walking up the hill.’ Then Lillie started doing less well, running a fever . . . and she started back sliding.”
The rehab hospital wanted Lillie to have a checkup so Ann took her to a nearby hospital, which found nothing wrong besides the disc problem. Ann decided to take her to the veterinarian in Pasadena who had treated Lillie in the past. He found liver problems, including a lesion. “So that was it,” she said, “there was nothing more that could be done. It was such a shock. Several vets had said: ‘You should have a full recovery’ or ‘You should expect a good outcome.’ Nobody said, ‘well, she may not make it.’ So I made this huge leap of faith and took on this enormous financial commitment. I‘m going to be paying for the rest of my life.”
Expenses for Lillie’s care totaled more than $9,000, including euthanasia and aquamation. She used her Care Credit to pay the balance owed to the rehab hospital – less $500 provided by Angel Fund. She also tried to raise money through an online website but after Lillie had to be put down that did not work. “I was very grateful for the help I got from Angel Fund. In this kind of situation, everything is a help. It’s a wonderful program. It was a godsend.”
Ann is struggling financially because working in the film and television industry is erratic at best.
Ann had given a home to a Swissy named Rozie before Lillie came into her life. She had lived with Rozie for six years after acquiring her at age six. So she had expected to have more time with Lillie, who had come into her life at four and a half years old.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs “are, without a doubt, the most wonderful dogs you can imagine in terms of their disposition,” she said. “They are beautiful and they are just absolutely incredible. But as much as I love the breed, I will never have another. They are so wonderful and you love them so much and their life span is so short. When they die, they just rip your heart out.”
They quickly investigated and discovered their two small dogs – a Corgi mix named Lucy and a Chihuahua mix named Lady under attack by three large dogs in the yard next door.
Before the three large dogs, including a Boxer mix and a Pit Bull mix, could be chased away from the smaller dogs, Lady was dead and Lucy had suffered severe lacerations.
“We didn’t have a car here, so Bill ran to a neighbor’s house and asked them to take us to the vet. Lucy was ripped open in several places. She had surgery and was in [Bear Valley Animal] hospital several days, then she came home. But she had to go back for more surgery a week later. And she had to go back for more treatment after that.”
Mary is a retired widow who worked part-time for 25 years at Victor Valley College and Bill had been laid off from a maintenance job there so there was little money to pay Lucy’s bills. The hospital suggested Angel Fund, which stepped in with $500, a sum matched by the hospital. Mary is grateful for the assistance that saved her pet’s life. A daughter helped her with subsequent veterinary bills.
Lucy still shows signs of the trauma she suffered. Now about two years old, “she has good days and bad days and every now and then you can tell that her wounds still bother her,” Mary said. “She has trouble jumping. She is usually a very active dog and sometimes she gets real still and doesn’t have much energy.”
Before the attacks, Lucy slept on her bed, Mary said. Since Lucy could not jump up on the bed during her recovery, Mary made herself a bed on the floor and slept there with Lucy for a few weeks after her surgery.
For a long time after the attacks, Mary said, Lucy would go out in the yard and look for Lady. “She missed her so much. So we went out and got her another pal. They have a great time together.” The new dog is Crystal, also a Chihuahua mix.
Lucy came to Mary’s house originally when a friend found her at the side of the road not far away. “She couldn’t keep her so we took her in. We checked with animal control and people in the neighborhood but no one claimed her.” That was about six months before the attack by the neighbor’s dogs.
The two yards are separated by a wooden fence. “I don’t know how our dogs got into their yard. I think the big dogs dragged them through the fence,” Mary said. The three large dogs still live next door, although all is now peaceful.