Darrell Berkheimer: Sammie’s Friends brings fame to Nevada County | TheUnion.com

Darrell Berkheimer: Sammie’s Friends brings fame to Nevada County

Darrell Berkheimer
Columnist

Sammie's Friends has brought world and nationwide acclaim to Nevada County as a result of its management of the county's animal shelter.

Reports on how well Sammie's Friends operates the shelter have made it to such far-away places as Australia, Germany and England — because Sammie's Friends has received surprise donations from those locations. And the one from Australia was for $100.

Other unexpected donations have come from Florida, New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington. Among the latest was a surprise check for $322 from Virginia, donated by the employees in Norfolk Southern Corporation's Labor Relations Department.

But I guess none of that information should be too surprising after Cheryl Wicks, the founder of Sammie's Friends, was a guest speaker at the 2012 Best Friends Animal Society's International Conference in Las Vegas. And before that, in 2005, a representative of Best Friends magazine came here to do a story on Sammie's Friends.

Public relations from such activities is worth millions of dollars to Nevada County. And it is the type of publicity that really can’t be bought, because it’s word-of-mouth resulting only from good deeds and a superior operating philosophy.

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In addition, Sammie's Friends has placed some of its animals in 12 other states plus Canada and Mexico. Many more, of course, have been placed in Reno, the Bay Area and throughout California.

Public relations from such activities is worth millions of dollars to Nevada County. And it is the type of publicity that really can't be bought, because it's word-of-mouth resulting only from good deeds and a superior operating philosophy.

Wicks reported she receives many unexpected calls from a variety of places asking about the shelter's no-kill operations and adoptions. She said, "I don't always write where the calls came from. I usually answer them and move on."

But she recalls receiving specific questions from Tennessee and Texas about shelter operations, plus others from Yuba, Merced and Stanislaus counties.

She said a few calls came "from people wanting to do this kind of work, including some students. A couple of them were from Sacramento."

Wicks also noted that she and partner Curt Romander have made several trips to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary outside Kanab in southern Utah, not far from the Arizona border. She said they built many of the pig houses there, and volunteered with the dogs, cats and horses.

I told Wicks that I also have visited the sanctuary, which is a nationwide rescue site based on 3,700 acres called Angel Canyon. An additional 33,000 acres are leased from the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The sanctuary has numerous sections called Dogtown, Cat World, Horse Haven, Piggy Paradise, Bunny House, Parrot Garden and Wild Friends — all open to tours. Visitors are advised that it takes a minimum of three days to see all of the sanctuary, which serves approximately 1,600 animals.

"We've driven eight dogs to the Best Friends Sanctuary to give them a new chance," Wicks said. "They were dogs that we were unable to get adopted here. One was a beautiful feral dog that a friend of one of our vets found under a bridge with eight puppies.

"We got all the puppies adopted but mama was unadoptable because she was somewhat unsociable. But after four years at Best Friends, she was adopted, too."

Wicks also reported that over the years about eight dogs were taken to a sanctuary for unadoptable dogs in Texas. "They can go there and live in peace until they die of old age," she said.

After my Sammie's Friends column of two weeks ago, which reported the financial costs of operating the Nevada County shelter, one reader wrote:

"Thanks for some real world numbers and information about the Nevada County shelter situation. So the directors are themselves ready to slow down a little and they have been essentially donating much of their labor to the cause. Time to hand the reins to someone else and pay real world wages."

Then the reader added:

"How about encouraging more of the local animal advocates to set up an endowment fund for the nonprofit, funded by contributions and willed assets from the public."

When I sent a copy of that response to Wicks, she reported that over the years, Sammie's Friends "has raised $3.2 million from events, grants, donations and our thrift store. This all takes an incredible amount of work. Ideas are appreciated, and action is revered," she said.

She also wondered if that reader would like to help arrange for such an endowment fund, "like Joanne Castles did to start the thrift store.

"I have reached out to all estate planning attorneys. Sammie's Friends has been placed in many wills and trusts," Wicks added.

With its growing reputation, for operating what appears to be the premier local animal shelter in the nation, no wonder many folks have voiced and written their support for Sammie's Friends. I'm sure readers have noticed the number of letters of support published by The Union. And I've been told that nearly 500 letters in support of Sammie's Friends have been received by county officials.

I have been advised, however, that my column of two weeks ago included a mistake. It reported the county has extended the contract with Sammie's Friends for one more year. That was incorrect. Actually, the county offered to extend the contract one more year, but Sammie's Friends rejected the offer because it was insufficient in both money and length of commitment.

"No one will uproot themselves from something else to accept a position that might end after only one year," Wicks explained. "And it will take nearly all of the first year just to recruit and train a new manager," she added.

So negotiations are continuing.

Maybe the county needs to hear even more on the issue from voters in the community.

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He is the author of five books available through Amazon. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.