Matthew Renda

Follow Me

Back to: Local News
January 31, 2013
Follow Local News

Animal nonprofits collaborate for welfare of county's pets

An ostensible glut of nonprofits dedicated to the welfare of pets in Nevada County is not due to inefficiency or overlap in services but is indicative of the variety of services needed to sustain a healthy pet community, leaders of the sector say.

Sammie’s Friends, Scooters Pals and AnimalSave are three major animal nonprofits headquartered in western Nevada County, and the three organizations eschew competition for donation dollars and attempt to coordinate their efforts.

Sammie’s Friends founder Cheryl Wicks, whose nonprofit runs the county animal shelter and provides low-cost pet health care, forwarded the idea of niches being fulfilled as Sammie’s Friends runs what people traditionally associate with an animal nonprofit — collecting and housing homeless animals and providing them shelter, while attempting to find permanent homes through the adoption process.

However, Wicks also employs AnimalSave to conduct low-cost spay and neuter surgeries on animals that cycle through the shelter, saying she is disinclined to trust individual dog owners to have the surgeries performed.

Carolyn Niehaus, executive director of AnimalSave, said her organization performs surgeries on about 300 dogs that filter through the country animal shelter on an annual basis and more broadly provides low-cost spay/neuter programs to about 2,000 animals a year.

Both women believe their programs combine to render Nevada County a “no-kill county,” meaning a small percentage of the animals in the region are euthanized.

“When AnimalSave first started in the 1970s, the euthanization rate hovered in the 70 percent range,” Niehaus said. “Currently, it is less than 2 percent.”

Wicks said her organization is also responsible for the dramatic reduction in the killing of unwanted or homeless domesticated animals.

She began walking dogs at the Nevada County shelter in 2001 as a volunteer and discovered the high euthanization rate and set to work, enlisting the aid of several volunteers to help foster dogs and spread information regarding adoptable pets.

“Volunteers are crucial to our operation,” Wicks said. “If you add up all the volunteers, it’s equivalent to about seven and a half hours (of full-time employees).”

Scooter’s Pals, another animal welfare nonprofit, is also utterly reliant on volunteer help to fulfill its mission, said founder Susan Wallace.

The organization carves out yet another niche in the Animal Nonprofit, as it rescues “last chance” animals from kill lists in the region.

In July, Wallace sued Placer County Animal Control after it killed a dog named Charlie for repeated violent encounters with humans. Wallace alleged the animal control agency should have given the dog to Scooter’s Pals, which would have found it a suitable home.

The effort is indicative of the type of battles the nonprofit fights, and much like Sammie’s Friends, it fights its battles without much revenue.

“We have a really interesting model,” Wallace said. “We operate with about $120,000, so we need volunteers.”

The organization works in donated office space, sits on donated furniture, makes use of foster homes and places phone calls on donated telephones.

“We pay the telephone bill, but we have very little overhead,” Wallace said. “We are enormously resourceful.”

Wallace, who is retired, does not pay herself a salary, despite dedicating much of her time to her organization’s mission.

“If I pay myself, say, $40,000, well I could save a lot of dogs with that money,” she said.

Wicks, who is also retired, runs her nonprofit with her partner, Curt Romander, and they pay themselves about $16,000 a year respectively, according to 990 forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

The same form demonstrates that Sammie’s Friends took in $733,600 in 2011 and spent about $715,000.

The nonprofit spent $142,000 (20 percent) on salaries during 2011 to fund 3.5 full-time equivalent positions. By comparison, the organization spent $356,500 (50 percent) on veterinary expenses and $72,800 (10 percent) on animal supplies.

Sammie’s Friends would not be able to achieve its multi-faceted approach to animal welfare without its support in the community.

Recently, Sammie’s Friends helped prosecute Louis Silva for animal neglect, due to the pro bono efforts of attorney Jill Tefler, Wicks said.

Of the three major animal welfare nonprofits in Nevada County, AnimalSave spends the most significant portion of its revenue on overhead and salaries.

According to tax forms, AnimalSave garnered $919,000 in 2011 and spent $231,000 (25 percent) of its reported $470,000 in expenses on salaries. Niehaus said the organization’s board believes it needs qualified people to run most of the organization’s programs, including its thrift store on East Main Street in Grass Valley.

The organization must have a full-time registered veterinarian tech to tend to animals undergoing spay and neuter surgeries.

Niehaus earns $50,000 a year to run the nonprofit, but said while she is not specifically sure what other leaders in the nonprofit sector earn, she said her salary is reasonable.

“The services we provide can’t all be done by volunteers,” Niehaus said.

AnimalSave also generates revenue in addition to the $535,000 it raised in 2011 through donations, grants or fundraising efforts.

A total of $117,000 was reportedly raised that same year by its spay/neuter clinic and adoption programs.

Smaller nonprofit pet organizations are also reliant on volunteers and community donations, making their impact on helping pets find homes through online efforts or public adoption events. Rescue for Pet Sake, for example, hosts frequent “adoptathons” at Petco on Freeman Lane in Grass Valley, such as Saturday’s “Be My Valentine Adoptathon” from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“Rescue For Pet Sake started in 2011 with an amazing dog in Georgia named Olive,” Rescue for Pet Sake’s website states. “Pam Gorman and Bev Albright, co-founders of Rescue For Pet Sake, saw a picture of this poor girl on Facebook, and they knew that without someone to help, Olive would die in a matter of days.

“Once they were committed to rescuing Olive, she was safe, and about three weeks and several dozen phone calls and emails later, Olive arrived in Grass Valley … and before the day was up, Olive was going to live with a new family that adored her.”

Other nonprofits have carved out a niche in helping to find homes for select breeds, such as Chow Chow Rescue of the Sierra Foothills and NorCal Aussie Rescue Inc.

In the end, many of the area’s nonprofit animal-based organizations work together to achieve the same goal.

“There is a lot of collaboration,” said Wicks of Sammie’s Friends. “We are not all doing the same thing. Really, we come together in an effort to help the animals.”

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or call 530-477-4239.

“We are not all doing the same thing. Really, we come together in an effort to help the animals.”
— Cheryl Wicks,
Sammie’s Friends founder

Stories you may be interested in

The Union Updated Feb 1, 2013 03:32PM Published Feb 8, 2013 05:38PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.