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.”