Meteorologist Erin Christiansen A Force Of Nature for Animal Advocacy

Story by Rebecca West

Smart, warm, and funny. You’ve seen her at the weather desk or standing in front of a glowing map outlining heavy rains over the Catalinas or a dust storm barreling across town. As the most widely recognized meteorologist in Tucson, she’s likely been the face of weather in your home for years. She’s KOLD News 13’s Erin Christiansen, and she’s a force of nature in her own right.

If you’re new to the area and need a recap, Erin’s a long-standing member of the National Weather Association. Her career in Tucson began in 1997 with KOLD and ran to 2006 when she made the switch to Channel 9’s KGUN, which lasted until 2018. That year, Erin moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, where she worked with CBS affiliate WPEC’s news team. It wasn’t long before she missed the desert and everything about it, however, and decided to return to the place she calls home. In October 2020, she happily rejoined KOLD as its Chief Meteorologist.

Her bona fides include two Emmy Awards for weathercasting and an Arizona Press Award for news writing. She’s also a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist with the American Meteorological Society, one of only 27 women to earn the cert when she received it. While her lengthy career may have been written in the stars, she didn’t always have her eye on that particular prize. With her love of nature and the great outdoors, she knew that someday she wanted to get into public speaking. These early interests eventually led down the road to meteorology. When asked, Erin paused for a moment before admitting that she had fleetingly considered a career with animals at some point, but conceded she has the best of both worlds now.

It was actually her friend of 20 years, Bill Roemer, who suggested a feature on Erin and her work in animal rescue. Some long-time Tucson residents may recall Bill from his days as Channel 13’s sportscaster and sports director. He was inducted into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame in 2017. As it turns out, he and Erin were raised in the same small area and bonded over their shared backgrounds and love of dogs. Though Bill retired some years back, they keep in touch periodically and still have a lot in common.

Growing up in rural Illinois, where her family lived across from a forest preserve teeming with wildlife, Erin was surrounded by animals and points to this as the wellspring from which her advocacy partially sprung. Her parents were a major influence on her as well, recalling her dad’s love of birds as an example and the fact that her mom was a dog groomer working out of their basement. Living on 5 acres, the family regularly had various critters deposited on their property that they would care for. Once, they had a nest of rabbits whose mom had died, and Erin ended up nursing the litter with her dolls’ baby bottles.

“There were always animals coming into our lives, and it grew from there. We had dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, and even a rescue goat we took care of,” she explained.

These days, Erin has a Rhodesian-ridgeback mix named Roxy that she adopted from PACC. Her last dog, Murray, was also a PACC pup. A frequent collaborator with the shelter, her bio photo for KOLD was taken there in one of the play yards. The shot is typical of her enthusiasm and willingness to get down on the animals’ level, no matter what she might be wearing. She also does the voiceover for their Pet of the Week segment airing Friday nights on FOX.

At this point, she’s taken part in hundreds of animal events. Examples include Hug-a-Pug, painting new kennels at the Humane Society, Puttin’ on the Dog, Halloween parties, and even a kissing booth for Pima Paws for Life. From fancy dress to work clothes, she’s there.

“Some of the most rewarding moments for me are doing live shots showcasing animals to find them homes. I like to sit down on the ground with the dogs to get to know them a little bit before going on air because we have maybe 30 seconds to showcase them. And I’ve had dogs throw up on me, sneeze and pee on me, and other things during events, and I’m all good with it. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty for the love of animals and finding them good homes.”

A lot of her appeal and success in animal advocacy can be attributed to the fact she’s very personable and approachable. Take, for instance, her involvement with Pima Paws for Life. Days away from having to close its doors due to financial difficulties in early 2016, Erin came out to broadcast and raise awareness for their plight. The turnout was more than anyone could have imagined, and within a few hours, enough money was raised to keep the doors open and then some. On top of that, their AC died that day, and with Erin’s star power, they had a heating and air company step forward to not only donate but install a brand-new unit.

“I’m blown away at different events at how people come through when there’s a need. The generosity of southern Arizona is incredible, especially when it comes to animals,” she marveled.

She’s become so deeply entrenched in animal welfare that a few years back, a viewer approached her about putting her down as an emergency contact for his pets. He knew that if something happened to him, she’d ensure they found a good home. While initially hesitant, she agreed to do it. “It’s so heartwarming,” she said, reflecting on the moment. And she’s regularly thanked by the public for the work she does because, as she noted, the topic resonates with people.

As Chief Meteorologist, animals aren’t really her beat in the weather room, but most of her managers know it’s a passion of hers and the station is pretty open to it. She does pitch story ideas about shelters, groups, and upcoming events to them. And management may come to her about a story or situation. Sometimes it’s local citizens. But most of the work is done on the anchor’s own time through her own contacts and efforts.

Which brings us to her legendary Halloween bashes. Trying to figure out a way to incorporate her love of Halloween, her passion for animals, and a career in television, Erin got the idea to ask people to make donations for a fundraiser. In 2015, she volunteered to help Pima Paws for Life locate a low-cost space to rent downtown at La Placita Village which was a huge hit. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available the following year, so she moved it to her home and raised twice the money with 400 people in attendance.

While a blessing, the snag is her home’s not set up for guests on a scale of that magnitude. Including a full-blown haunted house, as she put it, work on the massive undertaking commences after the 4th of July weekend, when they start pulling everything out of storage. Erin’s currently looking for another venue, either donated or low cost, where she can host it annually. If you or someone you know has or knows of a space that would be suitable, she’s all ears!

In an effort to share the love with different rescue and animal welfare facilities, Erin regularly works with places like the Tucson Wildlife Center and the creatures in their care. In fact, just weeks ago, she found herself emceeing their annual spring fundraiser gala, Born to be Wild. Before the evening was over, organizers of the event had already approached her about reprising the role in 2023. She also supports and promotes awareness for equine centers when she can, but she’s actually quite allergic to horses and understandably doesn’t do them as often.

Recently, Erin had the honor of being named the inaugural “human” grand marshal of Pima Pets on Parade running down historic 4th Ave. The emphasis on “human” is because her co-grand marshal is a canine known as Call of Duty Rex, a Belgian Malinois adopted from PACC by Tucson local Erin Switzer. Since his adoption, Rex has appeared in commercials, video games, magazines, and movies. In the hope that it becomes a long-standing tradition, the intent is to raise funds for PACC and celebrate animal families in the community. Excited to be a part of the first run, Erin called it a “fabulous way for the public to come out and support the charity and show off their pets,” adding she thinks the organizers are really “on to something.”

When asked what some of her favorite moments in animal advocacy were, the on-air personality stated, “Being a voice for the voiceless. They’re so defenseless. Giving them a voice, working in TV with access to a mic and camera, I can be an advocate more easily because of that.”

Other aspects stand out, too, like the fancy dress Puttin’ on the Dog event with its fascinating juxtaposition of people dressed in ball gowns and tuxes showing off dogs and cats. Live shots, as she noted before, are rewarding because of the immense response they receive. These shelters and rescues see a significant spike in adoptions and donations whenever Erin’s onboard.

Responding to a question on the topic of animal awareness and what she’d like to get out there given the opportunity, she said:

“No matter your interests, animals connect us all, and there are so many ways to help beyond the traditional ones. Some people believe that animal advocacy is primarily through adoption or donating. But not everyone can or wants to do that, and there are other ways. You might be surprised by how/where you can fit in.

“Whatever your strengths or passions are, you can use those to help. It isn’t always through money. Photographers can donate their time taking pictures. The social-media-savvy can help share stories. Community members can volunteer to walk shelter dogs or help out at rescues and adoption events. If you’re unsure, attend events. Find out what they do, and you might realize a skill you have could actually benefit the cause. Prep meals, get involved in any way you can.”

An insightful and practical bit of advice for anyone considering getting involved in animal welfare but unsure of where to begin. As the interview came to a close, Erin laughingly wondered aloud, “Who would have thought my love of public speaking would help animals in the community?!” Tucson inhabitants are, indeed, lucky and grateful for such a gift.



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