Live Rescue – Ride Along with Officer Rebecca Fenson

By Rebecca Fenson,
Animal Control Officer, #22

Over the past several months I had the privilege of having the Live Rescue film crew, Alecc and Brandon, in the field with me. Several other officers were also filmed, and they did a wonderful job representing SFACC and our work. This is my experience.

Alecc would interact and liaise with the public, other city agencies such as SFPD and SFFD, and anyone on scene who might be involved with the call. He would explain what the filming was about and get permission forms signed.

Brandon was the cameraman. He handled the filming and facilitated our commentary, including the lead-in comments and the wrap-ups. All that talking we did–that was at Brandon’s prompting. We don’t generally wrap up our activities cheerily announcing to anyone within earshot, “I feel great about this one … this is why we do this.” Or, “This sweet pup is gonna have a wonderful life from here on out!” Or, “What a victory, rescuing a raccoon, then releasing him back to the wild!” (Officer Pone is always wildly enthusiastic and interactive, so this might not apply to her.)

For me, this was the biggest challenge: talking about the call before, during, and afterward so the audience had context for what transpired. Drama, suspense, excitement, and, especially, a build-up to a happy outcome are the ingredients for a good segment on Live Rescue. It was a bit too choreographed for me. After I loaded the dog into the van or released an animal to the wild, or when a relieved family came to redeem an exuberant dog, Brandon would ask, “So, what happened here? What’s the next step? And how do you feel, is this the great outcome you wanted?” Meanwhile, I’m thinking, what is my next call? Or, where is the nearest bathroom? Being a New Yorker, it was all I could do to not summarize a call with, “She’s safe, she’s back with her family, yada going to yada. Let’s roll.”

That is not to say the crew got in the way…they did not. The crew was very respectful of the work we were doing, and they went out of their way not to be a distraction or to impact the call or our work in any way. I really appreciated that. They also were incredibly nice, friendly, and easy to be with.

I was always sure to try and convey information about the animal that was accurate. And if I wasn’t sure about something, I would qualify what I was saying or be more vague. For example, I did not want to be filmed calling a Boston Terrier a Frenchie, or a vole a gopher. And because we often have to assess an animal’s condition out in the field, it can be tricky initially, knowing if a raccoon is sick or injured or is just napping; wildlife will do everything they can to avoid appearing weak or vulnerable. So I tried to not be too declarative about anything I wasn’t sure of.

We had to judge whether the film crew should accompany us on some calls. Most of the time, this was easy. For example, they would remain in the vehicle when I was responding to a report of abuse or welfare violations, when I was seizing an intact pit, or on calls for protective custody of a dog whose guardian was hospitalized, in jail, or had died. Those are some of the many calls we regularly respond to that would not be appropriate to film.

Occasionally, Brandon and Alecc decided to hang back on calls that would have been great on air. One example is a call I handled for a code 2 (priority) sick raccoon. I told Brandon that, based on his reported condition, the raccoon was likely to be euthanized. So, they did not accompany me. On scene, the person who called SFACC emergency dispatch showed me the raccoon in the backyard of their business … a brewery. I approached the raccoon, who was lying on his stomach, making a groaning sound. This was not a demeanor I had ever seen a raccoon in, nor were these typical sounds. All that was missing was a foam “number 1” finger and a plastic cup. Was my raccoon drunk? The staff admitted that it was possible that he had accessed some alcohol-in-the making. I scooped up the party boy with a catch pole. He did not put up a struggle, flopping into the cage like a furry jellyfish, still groaning. I left the brewery, saying I hope he’d paid his tab and, on the more serious side, confirming the place was secure and that this break-in was an anomaly. I brought the raccoon back to SFACC, and reported to the vet staff that I suspected this guy had a few too many and maybe we should let him sleep it off. After examining him, they agreed. Sure enough, after a few hours, the raccoon sobered up. Swing shift released him that night. The film crew was very disappointed that they had elected not to film this one. From then on, during calls for sick wildlife, Brandon would say, “If the animal is drunk, let us know immediately!”

One of my favorite and unanticipated aspects to having the film crew ride along was seeing San Francisco through their eyes. Brandon, from Salt Lake City, constantly pointed out unique architecture and art. He marveled at the steep hills and the famous SF views of the bay. Where I would drive around remembering suffering animals and challenging interactions I’d had in certain locations, he’d point out whimsical buildings and beautiful murals. He loved the classic cars cruising the city. Meanwhile, I’d wonder about the nearest good burrito place and complain about the traffic. His fresh perspective on San Francisco was a welcome change.

I’m pretty sure during the course of our conversations, Brandon and Alecc learned something about humans’ relationship to animals. They learned that while pigeons might not be as novel and as impossibly cute as baby raccoons, they matter just as much.

My favorite part of being with Alecc and Brandon was when they asked me if I wanted to help animals because they have no voice. I replied that all animals have a voice, we’re just not listening. That sparked a conversation about the rich and complex lives that animals have─which is the reason I do this job─and why I agreed to do the show.

SFACC ACAs Kathryn Jones and James Purcell Help with Butte County Wildfire Rescue Efforts

By Kathryn Jones
Animal Care Attendant

Last week I was given the opportunity to provide emergency assistance to the people and animals of Butte County as they experience another devastating sweep of fires in their region (the North Complex Fire). Previously, James Purcell (another Animal Care Attendant at SFACC) and I had deployed to Butte in 2018 to help during the Camp Fire. I was excited and grateful to be able to help this community that I had come to so deeply appreciate and care for, and apprehensive because I was once again reporting to a fire zone, and didn’t know what work lay ahead of me.

James arrived in Butte a few days before me and got to work on dropping off much needed supplies for folks and animals sheltering in place. He drove injured and burnt animals all the way from Oroville and Chico to UC Davis, transported animals from emergency shelters back home to their owners, and seemed to be all over the county. I anticipated similar work but was in for a pleasant surprise; the emergency shelters were critically low on people with large animal experience.

When I arrived at the command center, I offered to go anywhere I was needed. When they realized I had ranch experience, I was swiftly deployed to the emergency large animal shelter—an equestrian park in Oroville known as Camelot. The owner of Camelot, Mike, had generously offered to host evacuated farm animals and exotics on his land.

I spent the majority of the week caring for a variety of animals on the ranch. There were mini donkeys, pigs, chickens, dwarf goats, draft horses, wild mustangs from BLM land, peacocks, ducks, pheasants, sheep, all manner of chickens and roosters, cows, llamas, and even a zebra!

Ranch work is physically exhausting, starts at dawn, and often goes until the sun has set. It was a grueling week, but one that was filled with rewarding experiences. I was able to assist a vet in giving subcutaneous fluids to a goat that had been plucked from a burning field, help load up a 300lb pig named Fred (he went back home to his family!), apprehended and safely confined a loose hog, figured out how to relocate two feral llamas (don’t get spit on!), made new friends, and saw old ones from the Camp Fire. Any time I am deployed, I am always grateful to be a part of a community that can come together so magnificently in support of each other and the animals we love.

ACA James Purcell Assists Evacuated Animals in Solano County

SFACC Animal Care Attendant James Purcell, with a buddy.

First let me say what an August! For me personally and for the California fire season.

The month started out for me on a National Outdoor Leadership School alumni course. One of three they ran this summer under the new Covid-19 protocols. It was a well instructed leadership course, with fun classes added to the amazing class room setting in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. We wore masks the whole time and had daily detailed health checks.

As I returned to my usual work as an Animal Care Attendant at SFACC, I began thinking about how this summer’s NOLS course prepared me for so many possible futures. I have also taken a Wilderness First Responder course through NOLS in the Marin headlands that provided training in basic skills for several emergency situations. I believe in being prepared for unforeseen crises, and am constantly seeking to further my knowledge and experience in assisting during such events.

On Tuesday night I watched the news about the local fires and prepared for my next day at work. Still only half unpacked from my NOLS course four days earlier, I repacked instead. As I would find out the next afternoon, it was a good choice.

Around 1600 hour (4pm), as I was preparing to go home for the evening, I got a call from Ariana Luchsinger (SFACC operations manager) and John Skeel (SFACC deputy director) about a deployment to Solano County. They had requested an animal care person with large animal experience. Before I knew it, I was home loading my gear and getting my house affairs settled. Not long after, I was heading North to the Vallejo County Fairgrounds to work at the large animal shelter.

I started life as a rural farm-child in Southeastern Ohio, and began my animal career with the Cincinnati Zoo Academy. From there I spent thirteen years with the Denver Zoo as a part of their animal staff division and emergency response team. I have had previous emergency deployment experience helping Hurricane Katrina animals transfer into Colorado through the Denver Dumb Friends League. I have previously been activated three times in my role as a SFGOV Disaster Service Worker (DSW). Twice during the Camp Fires, where I acted in both assisting and leadership roles, and once during the St. Mary’s event to set up and manage operations at the emergency shelter-with-pet. With these experiences under my belt I was ready to help! …I met my contact at 1800 hours and it was on!

As an SFGOV DSW employee, I did not have to be sworn in. So, Mark with Solano County Animal Control was able to put me right to work. There were animals arriving in trailers, animals wanting feed, and lots of volunteers in need of direction. Like a well-oiled machine Mark and I started getting all of our ducks in a row. Or goats in this case.

He had to step away once the Solano County Lieutenant showed up to swear in our volunteers. I set off to do feeding and the animal counts. Next thing I know it is 0300 hours (3am) and I got to nap. Ya!!

At 0500 hours it was on again! Morning rounds, volunteers showing up to help, and trucks unloading animals in need of care and shelter. We got goats, cows, llama, alpaca, chickens, ducks and horses. It was a fast, nonstop day lasting well into the night.

A little after 2100 hours (9pm) I was relieved and told to get some rest. I set up my cot in the barn and told my relief if anything comes in or up, just wake me; I am around corner. Five whole hours of sleep. It was so nice to wake to the sounds of the barn and the animals around me. Maybe not the two roosters. But they did tell me to get up and feed some of their neighbors. So that was just what I did.

At 0700 after morning rounds there was a debriefing. Then sending volunteers out to their daily husbandry assignments. So many goats to clean and feed…



A large-animal vet came to look at our animals. The personalized plates on the farm-ready truck he drove said: MOOVET. This guy was cool, if ever cool was. He checked out the horses and the cows.But the day before, we had a herd of alpaca come in. All of them had a cough from smoke inhalation and a few had started to self-isolate due to burns. So we knew that was the project at hand. After lots of amazing animal handling, top-notch triage care was given. We got them off to Davis for the veterinary care we could not provide at our emergency shelter.

As the day went on, more trucks arrived but we had figured out a much more effective way to transfer the animals from trailer to pen. Easier on the animals and the staff—who I have not mentioned as much as I should. In this sort of event, the best in humans is revealed. The way the communities of California come together in crises like this really shows why we are the Golden State. As a team of strangers, we worked together for each other, giving the best we had to those we came to help all we could.

The volunteers even more so. Many had hours of training for just this kind of event, so they could offer the best of themselves. They brought food, gifts and hearts full of giving as well as trailers, knowledge, and experience. All of which was so greatly needed.

I don’t know how else to describe it–a whirlwind of a little over two days. So much to do and so much done. So many hours in a day. All I saw for the few days I was activated as an SFGOV DSW in Solano County was the best of care in every aspect.

I recommend everyone have a Ready Plan. Practice it. Know in a real emergency event that things will probably not go as planned. But it is better to be prepared and improvise if needed, then not to be prepared at all.

So elbow bumps and stay safe.

Dr. Lani Weiman – SFACC Veterinarian

Getting to know SFACC’s newest veterinarian, Dr. Lani Weiman…

Where did you grow up and how did you come to work at SFACC?
I was born in Taiwan and lived there for 11 years before moving to California. Growing up in Taipei, I saw numerous stray cats and dogs who were mistreated, had nowhere to go, and had no one to care for them. So, at an early age I decided to become a veterinarian to help animals. After graduating from college and working in pharmaceutical research for a few years, I went back to school for my veterinary degree. I then worked in general practice in San Francisco for several years before transitioning to shelter medicine.

What do you do at SFACC and for how long?
I started working at SFACC at the end of February 2020. As a shelter veterinarian, I maintain the health of the animals in the shelter and in foster by performing physical exams, as well as diagnose and manage their medical conditions. I perform routine and some emergency surgeries, and occasionally assist the Animal Control Officers with investigations.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
I find working at SFACC highly rewarding. I enjoy making animals feel better, and I like seeing animals without a home move toward their forever home.

Do you have pets of your own?
What do you do when not at work (hobbies, interests)?
Right now, I have four pets. Kea, a 13 1/2-year-old Shiba Inu; Bristol, a 13-year-old cat; Kitten, a 6-year-old cat; and Romeo, an 8-year-old cat.

What do you do when you’re not at work?
I used to travel quite a bit but now I have two human children who keep me too busy for hobbies and interests.

What is the most memorable case you’ve encountered at the shelter?
Every animal who enters the ACC is special and memorable in his or her own way. The cases that are most memorable to me are difficult medical cases where we take a chance on an animal and they have a positive outcome; and there have been many such cases for me.

What impression has SFACC made so far?
I am most impressed by the dedication of the entire shelter staff, volunteers, and our hard-working foster parents. It takes a village to bring even one animal from admission to the shelter to adoption into their forever homes or transfer to a rescue/partner organization. The wonder team at SFACC makes these small miracles happen every day.

Any other comments about your experience at the shelter?
The wildlife, exotic animals, and pocket pets have been a learning experience for me! Prior to working at the SFACC, I worked exclusively in small animal (dog and cat) medicine, so being around the many animal species at the shelter has been both fun and educational.

Transport Volunteers – Cindy Dughi, Chris Johnson, and Jessica McEntee

Last month we shared a transport story (Curbside Pickup) about ACA Kathryn Jones, bringing an ACC dog to Idaho rescue for a second chance at adoption. This month, we pay tribute to three volunteer transporters: Cindy Dughi, Chris Johnson, and Jessica McEntee.

Transporting Is Transformative
By Cindy Dughi

I’ve been a volunteer at SFACC for about 18 months. I had just left a very difficult work environment and I needed to give back. My love for cats is known by everyone. When friends go away, their cats come and stay at “The Kitty Spa.” I did not have a cat of my own so I shared one with my friend. I would tell him that little Oreo called and needed a spa week and she would come stay for a visit.

I began as a cat volunteer at the shelter. I am not sure if I really heard this or if I made it up, but I was glad we were not supposed to adopt any animals for 6 months. In the first 3 months I wanted them all. But an opportunity came up to foster a 13-year-old cat (an ACC alumni) belonging to a U.S. veteran who was in the hospital and subsequently rehab. I took in Miss Paige. She was amazing and we grew to love each other. We even went to see her daddy in rehab. It was hard but after 6 months, she went back home. I thought I might be a foster fail but actually the gentleman adopted ME! I get to see them at least once a week to this day.

While doing my cat work, I heard about a need for drivers to take animals to other rescues for specific needs that they had. Since I was unemployed, I wanted to give as much as I could. Working with Tim, Maria, and Allen is such a joy. Our group is amazing. We are all so responsive and caring, knowing that the time we take to get an animal to a rescue could save its life. During our current SIP with the pandemic, it has saved my sanity, and I know it is the same for other drivers, in that we became essential workers and were able to go out to complete our necessary jobs to save the animals.

I have transported cats, kittens, dogs, puppies, racoon babies, birds of all kinds, bunnies, guinea pigs, rats, turtles, and dragons (yes!). I have traveled mainly to The PHS in Millbrae and Wild Care Center in San Rafael but have also been to Menlo Park for Ratzy Rat Rescue, Ohlone Rescue for wild animals, Fairfield and Mill Valley for rabbit rescues, Morgan Hill for sled dog rescue, Marin HS for cat adoptions, Vallejo for a reptile rescue, and Sacramento for a puppy adoption. But my favorite and most life changing is SnapCats in Santa Rosa. I had the opportunity to transport an elderly cat, age 16, to a forever home. This was a rescue org unlike any I’d seen before. I pulled into the yard and got my old man out and walked up to the house. The sliding door said “Come in but look down please.” I opened up the door to a large room filled with 20-30 cats, toys, food bowls, and an outdoor enclosed patio with hammocks. At closer look, I realized that each cat had a disability. Blind kitties, and kitties with neurologic disabilities but all of them coming over to greet me. It was so beautiful. But that was just the beginning. We went up into the house and there was a whole area dedicated to elderly cats. I opened up the carrier and my old man came out and walked over to another old man laying by a water fountain; they sniffed and he laid down with a restful sigh. He was home. On the same level is a dedicated area solely for cats with cancer. As each cat is welcomed, they go on the website and are “adopted” for a pittance a month to cover their needs at the rescue. One man lives there but many volunteers help during the day. My takeaway was how happy and adjusted each one of the cats were. They had a safe and loving home.  Just a little different. But aren’t we all?!!

The transport team can always use more drivers. While there is no compensation for gas or tolls, if you itemize your taxes, you can get 14 cents/mile reimbursement. I have a regular car, nothing special. The animals are in carriers, except one funny puppy (9-month-old husky) that I drove to the south bay. We secured him but somehow he ended up with his paws on my shoulders as we drove down 101…yes we got some looks and photos taken but I have learned now to test my knots and carabiners!

The rescues we visit are all so different but they share one goal: to help those who have no voice to help themselves. So, if you have a car and want to help, come join the Transport Team.

Singing with Pigs
By Chris Johnson

I’ve been volunteering at SFACC for approximately three and half years, primarily as a dog-walker, but I’ve also transported animals for much of that time. With sheltering-in-place, it has, necessarily, been my only activity at ACC, and I couldn’t be happier for this opportunity to participate in the shelter activities and to spend some quality time with the animals. Plus it doesn’t hurt that traffic has been so light, one bright side to the SIP.

Transporting is easy. I’m retired, so I have plenty of time. I drive a 2007 Honda Fit, a boxy hatchback which, while barely suitable for transporting humans, is actually quite good for transporting animals. I’ve managed to transport goats, pigs, baby raccoons, baby skunks, coyote pups, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, many birds, including raptors, pigeons, gulls, crows, hummingbirds, and songbirds, and, of course, plenty of cats and dogs. For the most part, no special gear is required. Most animals ride in cardboard or plastic carriers, though I have used metal crates for some of the larger animals. But, occasionally, you have to be creative. The goat was fairly particular, and ultimately was transported on a bed of hay, with a folded metal crate serving as a barrier between the back of the car and the driver’s seat.

We cover a lot of ground, the animals and I. For the most part, I take them from ACC to various rescue organizations, humane societies, foster homes, and adopters across the greater Bay Area. Occasionally, when the rescue group is located further afield, a convenient midway point is chosen, and a handoff is made with another volunteer who takes the animal on to its destination  (Some ACC transporters have taken their charges all the way to destinations as far away as Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, and Southern California!)

I’ve had many great experiences transporting animals, and it’s challenging to pick one favorite. It could have been Pepper Ann, the pig I took to Flat Broke Farm in Cotati (very chatty), or the goat, also brought to Flat Broke Farm (very willful!). But I think my favorite had to be the seven beautiful husky pups I took to the Humane Society of Silicon Valley in Milpitas. Somehow, they all fit in my car. And while they could be quite raucous at times, they would, in unison, snap to attention when addressed directly. It was a sight to behold and very satisfying.

I get a lot out of transporting these animals; experiences that would be challenging to get elsewhere. I get to converse and sing with pigs (with nobody else looking on), and marvel at the strange, otherworldly sounds that baby raccoons somehow generate. And there is real drama traveling with a magnificent raptor in one carrier, an upset gull in another, and in the third, a baby hummingbird which can’t miss a meal and needs to get to Peninsula Humane Society’s Wildlife Center as soon as possible. I get to meet the many great, devoted, and passionate people that work at or, in some cases, single-handedly run the various rescue groups, and I get to visit the homes of the many wonderful foster families as I deliver their new charges. But, ultimately, I transport because it is another way that I get to participate in the process of delivering these beautiful animals to their new and better lives. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Six husky pups

Driving Miss Daisy
By Jessica McEntee

I set out with Daisy, a large Rottweiler, on Saturday morning (May 30th) to meet a transporter in Yreka who would then take her to Portland, Oregon to a rescue where she would start her new life. In April I had done the same type of handoff with a pittie who had been accepted by the same rescue, called The Heart of Rescue (THOR). They accepted Daisy after incredible staff person, ACC Katy Jones, contacted them. There are limited rescue options for Rottweilers in California so Katy has reached out farther and established a partnership with THOR in Oregon (and with another rescue I transported to in Arizona in March!).

Daisy was the perfect copilot and made the 5-hour ride to Yreka very enjoyable. When we arrived in rainy Yreka, I found out that the transporter I was supposed to be meeting had an unfortunate emergency with his own dog. After hearing more about the situation, I was concerned that even if I could deliver Daisy to the transporter, it would be a challenge for him to drive her the rest of the way to Portland given his current circumstances. After discussing the plan with Katy Jones and THOR’s founder, Daisy and I decided to finish off the trip ourselves!

It would have been a shame to come that far and have to turn back around to SF without completing our mission. Daisy helped me stay nice and alert for the next 5 hours of the drive and even sang with me! It was so gratifying and very much worth 1300-mile drive to be able to drop her off at her foster’s house and know that Daisy had officially started her new chapter. (The founder of the rescue was also immensely grateful.)

Transports are not only incredibly rewarding, but you might also get a chance to be serenaded on your drive!

Foster update (below): “Daisy is doing amazing and her foster family absolutely loves her. She has learned to play with toys – her favorite is her monkey!”