Will ER Care Be There When You Need It?


Share post:

On February 23, 2015, after an anonymous tip, San Bernardino County Animal Control discovered an apocalyptic sight at a run-down property in DeVore, California. Nearly 200 dogs had been abandoned by backyard breeders, most crammed into cages and wooden crates with barely any room to move. They’d been left without food and water. They were forced to live in their own filth, as well as with the dying or dead bodies of their companions. Older purebreds were found weak and malnourished from over-breeding that resulted in producing too many babies – some of whom were blind.


All the dogs, including a timid gray and white terrier with one blue and one brown eye, were rounded up and taken to the Devore Animal Shelter. They were checked by a vet (many could not be saved because of their grave condition). A local pet groomer volunteered to clean up the survivors. The plight of these dogs made national news. And the little 10-pound terrier with one blue and one brown eye was featured getting groomed on television screens across Southern California during the evening newscast of a Los Angeles news station.

Lindi Biggi, president and founder of the animal rescue nonprofit Loving All Animals based in Coachella, California, was in line with other rescue groups responding to the DeVore emergency. Lindi and her friends were on hand bright and early to be a part of a lottery to obtain as many of the mill pups as possible. They were given seven rescued dogs, including the adorable terrier. Lindi and her team made plans to place the puppy mill dogs into local foster-to-adopt programs to rehabilitate, socialize, and train the feral pups to make good companions. After weeks of social training, I was blessed to adopt the terrier with two different-colored eyes. I named her Amy.

Painful Lesson

Amy was as cute as heck, with an outgoing personality that garnered her many awards and an impressive Facebook following.

Then, four years later – on December 22, 2019 –- tragedy struck. I opened the French doors to let precious Amy and our 75-pound American Bulldog Sugar go out into our backyard to sun themselves on the chaise-lounge, as they loved to do in the California high desert. Our property overlooks wide vistas of rugged desert terrain. We were aware there were predators – coyotes, bobcats, hawks, owls, and rattlesnakes – but we’d never encountered any in the few months we’d lived in our new home near Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert.

Amy and Lindi Biggi

Until we did. I let the dogs out one day, as usual. I turned back briefly to pour some tea, and in that instant, my Amy was gone. Killed by three large coyotes. We were utterly heartbroken. I was traumatized and shattered.

To honor our special fur-baby, my fiancé Jeffrey and I decided to start a foundation, Amy’s Purpose, to help educate and bring awareness to pet owners to better safeguard their dogs and cats, and even themselves.

About a year after Amy’s death, our American Bulldog Sugar injured her back leg and was in extreme pain. I contacted my local veterinary clinic, a five-minute drive from my house. The doctor/owner was on overload and could not take my dog. I ended up calling every vet and emergency clinic in the high and low desert to no avail. Sadly, the answer was always the same, “Sorry, we are too busy.” We ended up driving almost an hour to the nearest clinic willing to accept our emergency. When all was said and done, I initiated an online poll. I asked, simply, “What the heck is going on?”

Amy and DeAnn Lubell

Where are the Veterinarians?

I received dozens of responses, horror stories from pet owners who experienced the same challenge of having to drive miles outside of their communities to obtain medical treatment for their dogs and cats. Some of these stories did not have happy endings. Pets died along the route. The critical shortage of veterinarians, vet technicians, and vet assistants is activating a major crisis in animal emergency healthcare. Panicked pet owners seeking urgent medical aid for Fido and Fluffy are regularly being turned away as veterinary hospitals are critically short staffed to handle the demand.

I was determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. I contacted my veterinarian, Dr. Linda Colburn, owner of Companion Animal Clinic. Dr. Colburn was a wealth of information. She said that there are three major reasons contributing to the crisis. One, too few veterinary medical vet schools exist in the United States. Vet medical schools are as expensive and as academically challenging as human medical schools. For every veterinarian in this country, there are 18.5 positions available. Vets can choose to work wherever they wish to practice. Second, people were obtaining more pets than usual during the pandemic, which caused an overload of veterinarian healthcare needs on top of what was already an impossible scheduling feat. Third, there are simply not enough qualified and certified veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants.

My first call was to my friend Michael Phipps-Russell, executive director of Loving All Animals. He is a walking encyclopedia of information regarding animal welfare, rules, and regulations. We discussed the problem at length. It seems that animal rescue groups were facing the same roadblocks as pet owners. It was not that long ago when it was a breeze to get a veterinarian to see a newly received rescued animal. Now it can take days, if not weeks. It became clear that the best way to help was to offer, through Amy’s Purpose, veterinary assistant scholarships to individuals interested in animal sciences.

This is when the award-winning journalist, Bruce Fessier, along with the College of the Desert (COD) Personal and Career Education (PaCE) Veterinary Assistant Program located in Palm Desert, California, came into play (the only veterinary assistant program in the Coachella Valley). Fessier became actively involved with Amy’s Purpose and its missions after his little dog Gracie was hit and killed by a car. Bruce realized that if Gracie had required emergency care, trying to find an animal care facility in an emergency would have been a nightmare. He became especially interested in an Amy’s Purpose scholarship program to help educated individuals interested in becoming veterinary assistants.

Sydney Villavicencio

“We learned that the tuition to the seven month class costs $3,195, plus accessories, and the average pay for a veterinary assistant is $16 an hour,” said Fessier. “We felt we could encourage more students to enroll in a class to become certified as a veterinary assistant if we could provide scholarships for students who couldn’t afford that tuition. The course includes an externship at local veterinary clinics and hospitals, including the VCA Rancho Mirage Animal Hospital. It also prepares students to be placed in veterinary assistant jobs after they graduate with an American Veterinary Medical Association certificate. We prepared questionnaires for our scholarship applicants to fill out to ensure they will work in the Coachella Valley or Morongo Basin, and we placed a highest priority on students interested in continuing their education to become veterinary technicians or veterinarian doctors.”

For some nine months, Fessier and I worked around the clock to organize a fundraiser at the Palm Springs Art Museum – we called it “Pet Love and Rock & Roll.” Our goal was to raise a dozen or more scholarships at $3,200 each for the seven-month course, which includes remote and classroom learning, culminating with hands-on externships at local veterinary clinics and hospitals.

Through a partnership with the COD and PaCE, 18 scholarships have been underwritten so far (including 5 that were matched by the COD Foundation), with enough net proceeds to help Amy’s Purpose sustain its pet safety programs. Amy’s Purpose scholarship recipients will make a difference in filling needed positions in the desert communities. Six attended the 2022-23 fall/winter session; six are currently attending classes; and six more will start the program this fall of 2023 thanks to generous underwriters – a team of dedicated Amy’s Purpose executive board and advisor board members; and loyal supporters.

“Because of the Amy’s Purpose Veterinarian Assistant Scholarship,” said Sydney Villavicencio, “I got the opportunity to receive an education in animal sciences. I probably would not have been able to take the course without it, especially coming from a lower income family. Hopefully, I can continue in this career field without having a financial burden. I really appreciated this scholarship. It has enabled me to get a jumpstart into the very competitive career path of veterinary medicine. I am extremely grateful.”

To learn more about Amy’s Purpose, its missions, and upcoming events, please visit amyspurpose.net or call 760-831-3090.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related articles

Surviving the Pain of Losing Your Pet

An Interview with Dr. Katie Lawlor, Psy.D., MIA Losing a pet can feel like a blow to the gut,...


Southern California has no shortage of celebrities, and that includes the four-legged kind. Let us introduce you to...

Legacies of Love

Golden retrievers bring the magic. Their glistening fur, big smiles, and wagging tails have a knack for prompting...

Cooper the Mini Golden

Janet had longed for a golden retriever ever since she was a little girl. Somehow, she just knew...