by Lisa Stanziano
“I go by Hernandez most of the time.” Michael H. told me when we sat down to talk on a sunny afternoon in front of SFACC. His enthusiasm is as warm as his smile as he told me how much he enjoys talking with people and helping them. He’s the first person folks see as they walk into the lobby and the first impression from (Michael) Hernandez is a friendly one. “I’ve been working at SFACC almost a year. I started last May. I love people. And I love to talk. So, as a Service Representative I get to do what I love all day. The team works together in an amazing way. Sometimes the situations are very difficult. But for every bad thing, are good things happen. The staff has a huge amount of collective knowledge. Mara has been my mentor and I’ve learned so much from her. …I literally wake up and cannot wait to go to work.”
Originally from Manteca, California, Hernandez graduated from Fresno State, and then joined the Army. He served 8 years and was able to travel widely, spending time in 14 countries, and 21 states, including a 6-month tour in Afghanistan. Settling in the Bay Area, he wanted a job that would engage with the public and his love of animals drew him to volunteering for 5 years with the SF SPCA’s Macy’s holiday windows adoptathon. This last December was like a dream for him—working at Macy’s windows again but this time as an SFACC staff member. He was on site at Macy’s Union Square site at least half of the program days (mid-Nov. 2019 to Jan. 1, 2020), helping with the adoptions of 60 SFACC animals.
Hernandez tells me that his favorite conversations are with veterans. “One of the special adoption programs at SFACC is that adoption fees are waived for veterans, and many folks don’t know that. And SFACC works with ARF (Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Organization), which has a special program, Pets and Vets, that places service dogs with veterans. …It makes me happy to share this information with veterans. They can relate to me because I’ve served.”
When he’s not on duty, Hernandez spends time outdoors and with family. He recently lost his beloved dog Simon, who was with him every day for many years. They went everywhere together and the adjustment has been hard. “He was a great dog who outlived all the predictions by the vet (he had a congenital heart condition).” Most of us know that loss, and how being at SFACC, surrounded by like-minded animal lovers, can help us grieve. For Hernandez, joining the SFACC community feels like his destiny. “I’m meant to be here and I hope to be at SFACC until I retire.” …We hope so too!