Fu­ture of an­i­mal res­cue home un­clear

Old Souls fa­cil­ity wasn’t granted per­mit


The Old Souls An­i­mal Res­cue and Re­tire­ment Home is be­gin­ning to work out short-term and longert­erm plans for the non­profit ded­i­cated to sick and el­derly dogs, fol­low­ing its de­feat in front of the Yuma County Board of Su­per­vi­sors last week.

Paula Ri­vadeneiras said she is still “in a lit­tle bit of shock” over board’s 3-2 vote on the per­mit she needed to con­tinue op­er­at­ing the res­cue out of her home. That would nor­mally be enough, but be­cause of the al­most unan­i­mous op­po­si­tion from prop­erty own­ers within 300 feet, at least four votes were needed for ap­proval.

“We knew this was a pos­si­bil­ity, but I’m up­set be­cause this whole thing

is about some­thing ridicu­lous, which is Face­book posts, and not ac­tu­ally about the op­er­a­tion that we’re run­ning here,” she said.

She said she takes re­spon­si­bil­ity for not delet­ing com­ments from the Old Souls page by sup­port­ers of the group which her neigh­bors said were threat­en­ing to them, af­ter their op­po­si­tion to per­mit­ting the res­cue be­came pub­lic be­fore the pub­lic hear­ing process be­gan.

But she main­tains the same neigh­bors have been is­su­ing threats against her, her husband and the an­i­mals they care for, while they also field calls from peo­ple des­per­ate to find a new home for a beloved pet.

“My neigh­bors are not the ones re­ceiv­ing phone calls lit­er­ally ev­ery day from peo­ple with ter­ri­bly tragic sto­ries for why they need to give up their dog,” she said. “And so that’s what’s re­ally up­set­ting to me, that we’re not go­ing to save dogs, and dogs are go­ing to die, be­cause of this.”

Be­cause the special per­mit wasn’t ap­proved, a hear­ing of­fi­cer at a zon­ing com­pli­ance hear­ing set for Dec. 7 will de­cide whether to ex­tend the dead­line for the prop­erty to com­ply, and could also im­pose civil fines.

She said she cur­rently has 11 dogs on the prop­erty, down from the 18 she re­cently had and would have been al­lowed by the per­mit. She has been told she needs to re­duce that to five in order to come into com­pli­ance.

Those dogs are the ones who can’t be adopted out due to the sever­ity of their med­i­cal con­di­tions. She has dis­cussed with county of­fi­cials the idea of al­low­ing Old Souls to reach that num­ber as the re­main­ing dogs die or are eu­th­a­nized,

rather than hav­ing to do so abruptly.

The ini­tial re­sponse was pos­i­tive, but she won’t know un­til the hear­ing whether that will be al­lowed, she said.

Other an­i­mals on the 1.28-acre prop­erty, in­clud­ing two horses, two pigs and nu­mer­ous “small farm an­i­mals” rang­ing from chick­ens to tor­toises, are al­lowed un­der the neigh­bor­hood zon­ing.

The Old Souls non­profit will re­main ac­tive with fundrais­ing and other ac­tiv­i­ties away from their home. Money will be needed to care for the dogs re­main­ing at the “Old Souls Ha­cienda,” plus an­other 13 dogs in foster care, she said. The next planned event is a “takeover” at the Yuma Palms Chipo­tle res­tau­rant from 4 to 8 p.m. Dec. 6, with 50 per­cent of prof­its to be do­nated to Old Souls.

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit the Old Souls Face­book page or www.old­souls.org.

Ri­vadeneiras and husband Isaac are both tor­toise bi­ol­o­gists, and Isaac nor­mally over­sees care of the an­i­mals full-time. He did not at­tend the pub­lic hear­ings on the per­mit be­cause he has taken a tem­po­rary job to pay for ex­penses re­lated to the per­mit fight.

“He’ll be back in an­other month, but he’s very up­set, and when he’s home, he runs this place 24 hours a day so he’s very up­set, and we’re just kind of baf­fled as to what to do,” Ri­vadeneiras said. She is also a food safety spe­cial­ist at the Univer­sity of Ari­zona’s co­op­er­a­tive ex­ten­sion in Yuma.

Old Souls has gar­nered much sup­port from donors, vol­un­teers and adopted fam­i­lies over its two-and-ahalf years here, with reg­u­lar vis­its from groups in­clud­ing a veter­ans’ sup­port group and a special-ed­u­ca­tion class. Many tes­ti­fied at both meet­ings about how well they cared for the dogs and the need for a ser­vice

ded­i­cated to res­cu­ing older an­i­mals, many of which need to be re­lin­quished by el­derly own­ers.

One backer started an on­line pe­ti­tion that has picked up more than 300,000 sig­na­tures, of which Ri­vadeneiras said about 1,000 came from the Yuma area dur­ing the board hear­ing.

But ten­sions that be­gan with one of their next-door neigh­bors spread through­out their sub­di­v­sion about a mile west of Yuma, lead­ing to a uni­fied neigh­bor­hood op­po­si­tion that long­time county su­per­vi­sors was un­like any­thing they’d ever seen, and which ul­ti­mately led to the per­mit’s de­feat.

She said the con­sen­sus seems to be that she and her husband will need to move out of their home, given the state of their re­la­tions with their neigh­bors.

“Our sup­port­ers would like us to move out of the neigh­bor­hood so they can vol­un­teer, be­cause I can’t have vol­un­teers any­more,” she said. “So yeah, every­one would like us to move, but this was go­ing to be the last home we would ever live in, so we have sunk ev­ery­thing we have into this house, and this yard, and mak­ing it ev­ery­thing we’ve hoped for. So we’re kind of in a bind, be­cause no­body’s go­ing to buy a house with an an­i­mal res­cue in it,” she said.

“So we’re def­i­nitely go­ing to need the com­mu­nity’s help. We’re def­i­nitely go­ing to need peo­ple look­ing out for us,” she said.

Dur­ing the bat­tle over the per­mit, she dis­puted neigh­bors’ claims that the pres­ence of Old Souls was re­duc­ing their prop­erty val­ues, as well as com­plaints of odors and in­sects. She said she never threat­ened her neigh­bors her­self, de­spite what some claimed. She was also crit­i­cized for not ob­tain­ing a per­mit be­fore start­ing the res­cue; she re­sponded that she did call the county at the time, but no one told her they would need one.

Other neigh­bors tes­ti­fied about in­creased traf­fic on the un­paved roads of their sub­di­vi­sion, in­clud­ing in some cases sup­port­ers of Old Souls driv­ing past to take pic­tures. One said she was chased on foot by one.

The ten­sions cre­ated enough con­cern at the county that Board of Su­per­vi­sors Chair­man Tony Reyes said there were “many heav­ily armed po­lice­men here,” as the ses­sion was held in Yuma City Hall to pro­vide more seat­ing for at­ten­dees. But no in­ci­dents were re­ported at the meet­ing.

Two res­i­dents of the Buntin Es­tates sub­di­vi­sion who live one street over from Old Souls said Fri­day they did not ex­pe­ri­ence any di­rect ef­fects from the an­i­mal res­cue, but still signed the neigh­bor­hood pe­ti­tion op­pos­ing the per­mit over con­cerns about noise, traf­fic, and over­all fit with the com­mu­nity.

Both sup­ported the mis­sion of Old Souls, but not the lo­ca­tion. John Sem­roska said,” I think it’s very no­ble of them to do that, and if they have enough sup­port out­side the com­mu­nity, from us, to do what they’re do­ing, they should be able to thrive and sur­vive out­side of a res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood.”

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