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Philanthropy 831 Blog about the people and organizations invested in the future of Santa Cruz County.


Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter Endowment Supports Compassionate Change
By Guest Bloggers / March 20, 2018


In this guest blog post, Teresa Ruiz Decker takes a deeper look at what sparked Joanie DeNeffe (above, right) to create a new endowment for Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter's community education programs.

There’s a quick flash of fire in Joanie DeNeffe’s eyes whenever she talks about protecting animals in our community. As a dog trainer and decades-long supporter of the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter, Joanie (pictured above right) has become intimately familiar with the challenges and powerful community impact of the county’s only open-admission animal shelter.

“The shelter isn't just here to help animals,” said Joanie. “It's also here to help people who love animals and create programs to support those people with the resources and knowledge they need to be better animal caretakers.” 

The steadfast shelter volunteer saw the positive impacts of community programs but also understood how challenging it is to sustain programs. So after years of hands-on involvement and watching the shelter bloom with its current leadership, Joanie decided to start an endowed fund for the shelter. She partnered with Community Foundation Santa Cruz County to create a fund focused on educational programs that target animal homelessness and abuse. Joanie sees education as an opportunity to change human behavior and in turn create more compassion, kindness, and empathy for animals and our community as a whole. 

“Animals allow us to see our softer side without asking anything in return, and they give us so much love,” said Joanie. “We need to be able to get in touch with that softer side, especially in these times. For me, that means we need to step it up in a bigger way.” 

Joanie also gave other animal lovers a way to contribute to the future of animals in our community. Any community member may now add to the endowed fund through current contributions or as gifts from a will or living trust.

“That flash in Joanie’s eyes is a symbol of the passion I’ve seen in so many people I meet and speak with around Santa Cruz County. Seemingly every day, people are feeding a passion to make our community an even better place,” said Community Foundation Santa Cruz County CEO Susan True. “I feel Joanie is part of a larger movement of people in the county finding meaningful ways to contribute their resources of time, money and expertise. I’m moved by their generosity each and every day.”

The shelter plays a unique role in animal welfare by taking in any animal in need including cats, dogs, horses, rabbits and more. The shelter also responds to emergency calls related to animals, provides medical aid, takes in all lost pets and pets surrendered by owners, provides fostering and adoption services, the county’s only comprehensive free/low-cost spay and neuter program, and community education programs. 

In 2017 alone the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter took in nearly 5,000 animals. These are staggering numbers that reflect a larger problem locally and nationally. That’s exactly why Joanie and Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter General Manager Melanie Sobel say education and proactive programs play such a pivotal role in animal welfare at the shelter and in the community.

“This is about changing people's behavior. You have to do that through proactive programs and services that offer prevention, training, humane education and community outreach. Otherwise, you are spinning your wheels,” said Sobel. “You can’t adopt your way out of this problem.”

While many of shelter’s services are supported by county funds, education typically falls outside of county financial support. Private gifts from donors like Joanie become critical sources of income not only for education, but also for staff like Carla Braden, the shelter’s animal behavior, and training coordinator.

Carla focuses on behavior modification for undersocialized dogs that come to the shelter. She uses her background as a certified professional dog trainer and behavioral consultant to address special behavioral challenges – from never being on a leash or being confined to a backyard, for example. With her expertise and border collie Wren at her side, Carla helps dogs overcome fear or aggression, putting them on a path for adoption and happier, healthier lives overall.

“An important part of this is also assessing the animals for safety in the community and for matchmaking. We want the animals to be happy in their future lives, and we also want the adopters to be happy with their animals,” said Carla. “We can do a lot more behavior modification here than I could by doing one-on-one sessions with potential owners. Resource wise, I wouldn’t be able to go to 60 different people’s homes and make the kind of progress that we can make here at the shelter.”

While it’s clear Carla’s work plays a pivotal role in healing animals and the eventual match-up with appropriate adopters, her position is still considered a luxury in the animal shelter world. Carla said her job and educational programs just wouldn’t be possible without private donations. 

“That's why the endowment is really special. It enables people to have a greater commitment to and understanding of the animals in our community,” said Sobel. “It's our hope the endowment will grow and support programs like Humane Education, Planned Pethood (offers free and low-cost spay and neuter, microchips, and rabies vaccinations) and Door to Door (provides education and resources for pets and families in need), which help us reach different communities, too.”

Perhaps the animal shelter’s tagline “Open Door Open Heart” perfectly sums up what makes the shelter so different from other animal agencies and so worthy of our community’s support. By providing an open door to help animals in our community, the shelter teaches us all to have greater compassion for animals and each other.
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