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!”

Rebecca Frank – Behavior & Training

Meet Rebecca Frank, a member of the Behavior & Training team at SFACC. She’s usually out in the yard with a dog but took a break to share a bit about herself…

Where were you born and raised, and how did you come to work at SFACC? Did you grow up with animals or did some experience draw you to working with them?

I was born and raised in both Lafayette, Louisiana and Sugar Land, Texas. I grew up with three rescue cats and two rescue dogs. I have been volunteering at various animal shelters since I was 10. I simply can’t remember a time before I felt the weight and importance of advocating for animals without homes. After college I worked at a non-profit for adults with developmental disabilities. I loved working with that demographic but simultaneously was falling in love with my new housemate’s pit bull mix. I fell in love so hard. I started to educate myself on the history of pit bulls and why they get such a bad reputation. This struck a chord with me and I began shifting my career plans. I felt certain my passion could carry me through the next 35 years that a career would require of me. I decided becoming a dog trainer would best equip me with the knowledge and skills to help as many dogs as possible. I graduated from The Dog Training Internship Academy while working at a puppy training school and while volunteering at SFACC. Luckily for me, a position opened up on the Behavior & Training team at SFACC! I applied and to my extreme delight, got the job!

What do you do as an employee of SFACC? For how long?

I have been working on the Behavior & Training team (B&T) here since January of 2019. B&T is responsible for evaluating all the dogs that come into the shelter. We check to see how comfortable they are with human interaction, what kind of toys or treats they prefer, and how sociable they are with other dogs. We gather information to see if the animals are ready for adoption directly from at ACC or better suited to go to a rescue that has more resources to help them become more adoptable. We also come up with individual plans to help animals that are here for a long stay remain as emotionally happy and stable as possible.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Doing this job requires making a lot of difficult decisions. If it weren’t for my fantastic co-workers, who are consistently a source of lightness and support, I’m not sure I would be able to show up for the animals in the way I am able to. So my co-workers certainly are a part of my job that I appreciate most! My favorite moments at work though are when I make a break through with a really scared or shutdown dog. It’s so wonderful to witness them starting to feel safe and watching their personalities come alive. I often find myself saying to them, “Oh there you are, baby! I knew you were in there somewhere!”

Although the SIP ordinance has had plenty of downsides, one of the silver linings has been a lower population here at the shelter. Because of this, there has been more opportunity to spend extra time working with the fearful animals. I have cherished this!

Do you have pets of your own? If so, how many and what are their names? What do you do when not at work (hobbies, interests)?

I have one cat and her name is Sybil Storm-Cloud. She is an eight-year-old sweet cream puff. She knows how to kiss on cue, high-five, sit, spin, wave, and comes running and meowing when I ring a certain bell (which always leads to sardines).

When I am not at work and when we are not in quarantine, I spent a lot of time with my friends. Our favorite activities are hiking, cooking together and doing crafts. I also have begun dabbling in a bit of swing dancing. While in quarantine my boyfriend and I have kept ourselves occupied by going on hikes, exploring various trails in our neighborhood in Marin, trying to build some kind of meditation practice (why is that so hard?!), Zooming with our families, and lots and lots of cooking.

Most memorable case/situation/adoption at ACC? 

A frightened white pit bull with a gray patch over one eye and the pinkest lips came in to the shelter as a stray. I got the pleasure of naming her and I chose Passion-Flower. (I like to give pit bulls silly or flowery names to help fight the stigma.) Like many scared dogs in the shelter environment do, Passion-Flower was growling at most people who passed by her kennel. She decided, for some reason though, that she was okay with some staff members. Lucky for me, I got to be one of them! The first time I took her out of her kennel, I completely and totally fell in love with her. She fit her whole 65-pound body into my small lap and stayed there the whole time. Even though I fall in love with so many of the dogs I get to spend time with at the shelter, she really got into my heart for some reason. I decided I couldn’t bare the idea of her not taking her home. So, I decided to foster her until we could find her the right home. She really blossomed at my house and was a joyful, cuddly, dream girl. She was adopted after being at my house for a month. It was so hard to let her go but now she lives the dream life. She lives in Santa Cruz with a retired couple who are home with her often and who go to the beach daily. They send me updates every so often and it was such a wonderful experience.

What has made an impression on you while at ACC?

Nothing has made more of an impression on me than discovering a group of people who do extremely hard work based on their motivation to do better for the animals.

Volunteers Shelter in Place with SFACC Animals

During the shelter-in-place order as a result of COVID-19, SFACC mobilized shelter volunteers to foster adoptable animals. As of April 3, there are 62 animals in foster care, which gives the staff a break and makes more space available if needed for people who become ill and cannot care for their pet. Our sincere and deep gratitude for all the volunteer fosters giving these animals the field trip of their dreams!

 “Smallz is 14yo and Bam Bam is 9 years old, acting like he’s 5 until he realizes he’s tired. Smallz has arthritis so his walks are short and sweet. Bam Bam has been exploring Russian Hill, Aquatic Park and the Palace of Fine arts. He’s enjoying the highlights of the area without the crowds.
Bam Bam has been getting in plenty of steps every day keeping his foster mom active an away from the fridge. (Lol). Mostly the fridge is barricaded by Smallz when he lays down in the kitchen. It works great for all of us. Brushing sessions are requested daily now by Smallz. One of his admirers on the street asked if he’d been to the salon as he looked so dapper and fresh! Bam Bam is just a constant head turner by other people and dogs so he’s feeling good about himself too. They love both the brushing and hanging outside to see people walk by. They’re really good at cuddling and letting you know when they are still in need of more lovin’…These two are a treat to have around.”

Good boy Dermot is enjoying his foster time! Looks like he’s perfected chilling indoors, as well as the one ear up and one ear down look.

We have our first foster win! Guinea pig cuties Pigglesworth and Pygmalion will be adopted by their foster as soon as we resume adoptions!

Playful Lady is loving foster life and her foster feels likewise! “Lady has been a dream to have. She is such a sweet cat with tons of love to give. Thank you again for allowing me to foster her, it’s been a pleasure.”

Foster dog Hans is clearly an expert at cuddling in place! Who wouldn’t mind staying indoors if you get to snuggle up with a big handsome German Shepherd?

Guinea pig foster update! “Here is our little foster girl, her name was piggy but we call her Gwendolyn! She is so pretty and sweet! Great eater and makes the loveliest sounds

Lop eared buns Nala and Bella are enjoying their foster home, with lots of tasty treats, a bun house and lots of love!

“Travis is loving his life and getting as many snuggles as possible. We love having this little man.”

Beautiful Miss Moey is making the most out of sheltering in place in her foster home. She looks pretty comfy cozy!

Fluffy foster gent Evante is doing great in his foster home. He was understandably nervous at first but now he’s out and about! “He loves being pet, makes muffins and purrs when I’m nearby.”

“Pecan Sandy loves garden views and dozing off in the sun after a long walk around the neighborhood.”

It’s a pigeon party! Foster birds Sabah, Marzipan and Fondant enjoy a sunny breakfast.

Foster cat Sammy has elegance and flair as well as a stellar view of the city.

Pretty girl Minna is thriving in her foster home, recovering from her spay surgery in loving surroundings.”Overall she’s doing great! So full of energy and cuddles. She’s such a sweet, good girl.”

“We just brought Louisa to her foster home today. She is super sweet and was exploring immediately. We let her have some time alone to settle in and she immediately found the bed we set up by the window. She played with a feather toy for a bit and then settled on my lap while I ate dinner. I think the only time she isn’t talking is when she’s settled on a lap”

Advice from cat behaviorist GoCatGo (SF)…”Louisa started off her first days home in a chatty mood. It was hard to leave her alone without her singing her favorite tune. We’ve redirected her attention to food puzzles, giving her a job to do each day while #shelterinplace . (Hey, you can repurpose those #toiletpaper rolls! ) She’s quieted down some, but she’s probably always going to be that quirky and chatty kind of cat. Big Thanks to resourceful and creative foster parents that want to make the best of these challenging times.”

“Prince Harry is an active, kittenish teen. …Cuddly too and likes head scratches and belly rubs. He’s sweet and very gentle. He figured out the lay of the land very quickly and is curious about whatever I’m doing. He’s super playful and loves chasing the fishing pole toy. Happy lounging by himself too, watching DogTV.”

Wee pup Pinnocchio is now with Grateful Dogs Rescue. Check out how cute he is with his foster siblings!