Things were bad at the Nevada County Animal Shelter in 2001, when Cheryl Wicks first arrived as a volunteer wanting to help out. The resource-strapped facility was swamped with homeless animals, and adopters were scarce. There was no money to treat sick or injured animals at the shelter. Staff was often uncaring, and there were no volunteers to walk the dogs, cuddle the cats, or make the animals happier and more presentable. The net result was that 68 percent of the animals who went in the door never made it out alive.
Wicks thought it was possible to do better. Inspired by her beloved Shar-Pei Sammie, she and partner Curt Romander started networking, rounding up foster homes, paying for medical care, and otherwise helping shelter animals who wouldn't stand a chance without them. Within months 100 volunteers had responded to her call for help. In 2004 Curt and Cheryl launched a non-profit called Sammie's Friends in Sammie's honor, to raise more funds to help more animals. In 2010, Sammie's Friends took over shelter operations from the county—and today, Wicks says proudly, fostering thrives, adoptions are many, and the euthanasia rate is now less than 1 percent, limited to truly suffering animals with terminal conditions. Along with the usual dogs and cats, the shelter is temporary home to more unusual critters including horses and emus.
Much of the work of Sammie's Friends involves innovative ways to keep pets from ending up in the shelter in the first place, on the principle that the home where they're happy is the best one for them, fancy or not. "Our philosophy is, if people are attentive to their dogs and love them, we help them," says Wicks. Sammie's Friends bring 2,500 pounds of pet food monthly to residents of economically strapped neighborhoods; each year they provide 2,000 free or subsidized spay/neuter surgeries for local residents' pets, and medical care for 800 animals in the community.
Currently awaiting a forever home is little Petra, a cute pit bull puppy whose mom Nala arrived pregnant at the shelter. Petra and her siblings were born in a foster home, where they grew up with other dogs, cats, and even miniature horses. Petra's winning personality and happy nature have made a big hit with all who know her, and she's going to be a great family companion.