Giving the gift of a second chance
Upon entering the double doors at High Sierra Animal Rescue, you will be met with more than one friendly smile, and usually at least one wagging tail.
“We like to give our dogs a chance to get up front and meet potential forever families,” said Director of Marketing and Fundraising Abigail Birnbryer with a smile, rubbing a friendly dog named Jezabel behind the ears.
Jezabel, a sweet female Akita mix, is one of 15 dogs currently getting their second chance at life thanks to High Sierra Animal Rescue, a no-kill animal shelter dedicated to saving the lives of homeless dogs that can no longer be held in county shelters.
A lot of work goes into the running of a rescue, and without the support of the community, it wouldn’t happen, said Birnbryer.
“I started here myself as a volunteer over a year ago,” she said. With a passion for dogs and a four-year degree in marketing, Birnbryer made the move from New York to Plumas County, and in time, was put into the position of director of Marketing and Fundraising at the rescue.
“It’s a beautiful place to live, and High Sierra Animal Rescue is really incredible,” Birnbryer said. “In my time with High Sierra, the environment here has only gotten better, and in large part that is due to our amazing volunteers, who support our staff members in creating positive changes for our dogs.”
Those positive changes include a heavy focus on bolstering the volunteer program that is the lifeblood of organizations like HSAR, which in turn gives the dogs more one-on-one time to socialize, go for day hikes, run in the snow and polish their manners.
There are currently 10 to 15 active volunteers that spend time helping shelter dogs in various capacities, working alongside the 10 employees at the rescue. “We value our front office staff and kennel techs so highly,” Birnbryer said warmly as she explained the work done by staff to fulfill the shelter’s mission.
“They put all of their heart into HSAR and work so hard to keep things going smoothly. The front office staff also plays a large role in training adoption counselors in how to look over adoption applications and how to go over adoption folders with adopters. They are always there to answer questions and make our volunteers feel comfortable and welcome.”
A look behind the scenes reveals a system of communication between staff and volunteers that constantly evolves to fit the needs of each dog.
Mornings at the shelter are filled with rotations that allow each dog to get quality time playing outdoors, fresh water and a healthy breakfast.
Lauren Gissibl, a kennel tech for over a year at the rescue, expertly measured and scooped food into a plethora of clean, metal dog bowls during one such feeding time, paying attention to small details such as which dog is on a special diet, and who hasn’t had the best appetite lately.
“I love being here to be able to help give the dogs care and an opportunity to find a home,” Gissibl said, with a cacophony of excited barks rising as mealtime approached.
After feedings are over, dogs get more time outside, and the neat, comfortable kennels are deep cleaned, ensuring a highly sanitary environment.
Certain dogs are earmarked for one-on-one play and training, and Hannah Tomatis, volunteer dog trainer at HSAR, spends countless hours working with dogs to bring out their best qualities, as well as working with people so that they can better communicate with the dogs they are training.
“Dogs communicate with us more than I ever knew,” Tomatis said as she demonstrated some tricks of the trade with an eager and willing Jezabel. “Training rescue dogs is my specialty, and if someone adopts from High Sierra Animal Rescue and runs into a behavioral issue, I will meet with them to do some further training as a service from the heart — I want to see the dogs succeed.”
Tomatis herself received her training certification in 2017, after a chance event that led to her passion today. “I initially came into the rescue looking for a dog, and met Raider, but before I brought him home for good, I spent a lot of time here at the rescue as a volunteer and spent a lot of time with him. Of course, I ultimately ended up bringing him home, along with another rescue dog, retired early, got my certification, and here I am.”
Volunteer Coordinator and dog lover Marty Heinrich has been with HSAR for two years, after adopting her best friend, Casey, from the rescue. “I think the key is that we are all focused on the dogs,” she said. “It’s a single-minded approach for the group and we share a common goal.”
Heinrich is currently reaching out to the community and to dog lovers that want to give back and help support the good work being done at the shelter. “We are in dire need of adoption counselors,” she said. “We are looking to grow our core set of counselors, with a time commitment of four to eight hours a month.”
Adoption counselors are a vital part of the process of getting a dog into the right home and help with events such as visits to Petco on Saturdays to allow dogs to meet potential forever families.
“We can find a way to make our schedules work for volunteers if they are willing to commit a little bit of time to support the fantastic staff we have here,” Heinrich added.
Birnbryer explained that adoption counselors give space for staff to focus on the day-to-day, main priorities at the shelter. “With the guidance of Ben Steele, our kennel supervisor at the rescue, counselors make phone calls, follow up on dogs that have been adopted and even assist in socializing the dogs. We also rely on counselors to assist with getting dogs to adoption events and transportation to and from veterinary appointments.”
HSAR is also looking for help with event planning, with a current need for six or more to assist in preparations for the upcoming Paws on Parade event June 20 at the Graeagle Park, either in a committee role or in event setup.
“This is extremely rewarding work,” Birnbryer said. “There is major community involvement and that is so important. Everything that we do is to set up a dog for success in the best way possible, even if it takes longer. We want to make sure that the dogs get families that are the best fit for them, not just first come, first serve, and adoption counselors are an integral part of that process.”
For those that might be interested in volunteering at HSAR as an adoption counselor or in another capacity, email [email protected] or visit highsierraanimalrescue.org and click the Volunteer tab.