With just an acre and a half of land and reliance on only a handful of volunteers, Debbie DeGarmo somehow manages to successfully save and place senior animals, all for the love of a full life.
DeGarmo's organization, Heaven Can Wait, is an animal rescue service focused on placing senior cats and dogs, who otherwise get overlooked, in loving homes for the remainder of their lives.
"California has one of the highest euthanasia rates in the U.S." said owner DeGarmo. "They euthanize about 600 cats and dogs a day in L.A. County."
Most of those animals, DeGarmo said, are seniors.
"People are always looking for kittens," the animal lover told Patch. "But those kittens grow up into cats."
DeGarmo, who runs the animal rescue operation from her Ramona home known as Double D Rescue Ranch, finds older animals in shelters and takes them under her wing, finding them foster families, permanent homes and lots of love.
"We just placed our oldest cat in a home three weeks ago," DeGarmo said of a 15-year-old puss. "We've been pretty successful with Ramona family adopting older dogs."
DeGarmo and her husband, Neal, currently have 20 cats in their three "catteries" on their property looking for foster homes. They also have 12 dogs scattered throughout foster homes looking for a permanent family.
Older dogs, anywhere from 6-12 years old, normally don't get adopted, as they're seen as old, lethargic and not playful.
"They're missing out on a lot," DeGarmo said of families looking for youthful animals. "The older dogs are awesome."
Heaven Can Wait is in the process of becoming a nonprofit organization and pays for any costs the animals they take in need—vet fees, food, grooming, etc. On Friday, Jan. 4, a special ribbon cutting, held by the Ramona Chamber of Commerce, will take place in front of Cottage Groomers, a place DeGarmo said has been "wonderful" to Heaven Can Wait.
"They groom all of our own dogs, the rescues, the fosters," she said. "Some of these animals are in really bad shape and [Cottage Groomers] take good care of us."
The ceremony will be held at noon at the 1162 Main St. business and DeGarmo said some of her special seniors will be in attendance to show off their charm, including Griffie [pictured] who's looking for a place to call "home."
DeGarmo said she and her husband have been doing rescues for 28 years, but have been local to Ramona for 13 years. They rely heavily on like-minded people who have a thing for fur and four paws.
"It's a lot of work taking care of these animals," DeGarmo told Patch. "Doing this, you need a lot of caring people."
And Heaven Can Wait has some very caring people to help run things smoothly. DeGarmo said that she has volunteers to help do laundry and clean, but that the organization could always use more help, as anything is "wonderful and appreciated," and most importantly, more foster families.
"We're always looking for fosters to help with cats," she said. "Fostering is great for people who want a pet, but not long-term."
All costs for foster families are covered by Heaven Can Wait, but be warned—if you foster, you may fall in love.
"There's nothing like the love of an animal," DeGarmo said.
DeGarmo emphasized that she's trying to get her cats adopted, but don't call if you want kittens. And like any good animal advocate, she advises all pet owners to spay and neuter their pets to prevent further homeless pooches and cats.
"I would love to have a sanctuary up here," DeGarmo said. "...but we just don't have enough land."
Fortunately, DeGarmo is already helping plenty of pets put off heaven just a bit longer with what she does have—land, passion and one big heart.
Stop by Cottage Groomers today at noon to meet DeGarmo and some of her animals. Can't make it but want to volunteer or foster? Contact DeGarmo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-504-8208.