Story by Rebecca West
If you had to take a wild guess, who would you imagine is behind the vast majority of rescue and shelter operations? We’re talking about from the founding of all the way down to the volunteers. The answer, of course, is women, and that’s because women get things done. Statistically, we also tend to be more compassionate, which is another part of the equation.
In fact, all across the world, women are better empathizers than men, and there are studies to back it up. No matter where they live, no matter what their cultural or family influences, in general, women are just better at empathizing than men, according to yet another study — this one published in the journal PNAS (2022). (Guys, we still love you!)
In speaking with our photographer, the very talented Candice Eaton of “Capturing EveryBuddy by C. Eaton Photography,” she agreed that, from her experience, women were the driving force in rescue. With that in mind, we wanted to take a look at all of the ladies behind southern Arizona’s immense animal welfare efforts. There are so many of these dedicated gals that we needed to break it up into a multi-part series in order to cover them all!
So, without further ado, here are just some of the female movers and shakers in our community getting things done.
The Ladies of Saddlebrook Pet Network Rescue
SaddleBrooke Pet Rescue Network (SBPRN) is a 501c3 nonprofit that supports shelters and rescues within their area. For nearly 20 years, the group of all volunteers has worked nonstop for the benefit of pets in SaddleBrooke, Arizona, and throughout Pinal and Pima Counties with remarkable success.
Their backstory began in 2005 when five SaddleBrooke volunteers met to discuss how they could help with the placement, fostering, and rescue of animals within the community. Those original founders were Leslie Rocco, Shirley Culliney, Jan Pede, Kay Erb, and Deanna Sides. The forward-thinking quintet were responsible for organizing the amazing volunteer group “Wags & Walkers” to socialize and walk the canine residents at Pima Animal Care Center (PACC).
Additionally, they’ve worked with area rescue groups to help SaddleBrooke residents find adoptable pets and volunteer their time at supply drives, microchip fairs, and local adoption events. In 2011, they went on to officially form the SaddleBrooke Pet Rescue Network. email@example.com
Amy & Cyndi Cubillas, Founders of The Sanctuary Project
Describing themselves as a pack of like-minded individuals who believe that dogs are sentient, intelligent beings, quite possibly angels on earth and not at all disposable, sisters Amy & Cyndi Cubillas founded the Sanctuary Project with the belief that every single life matters.
Since its founding, TSP has grown to multiple states with, as they put it, “a kick#@@ volunteer corps, rad youth division, and countless little hearts still beating out there that otherwise might not have seen tomorrow, who are now wrapped up in the love of some pretty spectacular families.”
Currently a foster-based program, they regularly help dogs in southern Arizona and Mexico to get off the streets and into furever homes. In fact, TSP helped artist Diana Madaras adopt the most recent love of her life, adorable Maxwell Smart, which we wrote about in the last issue. They believe in the power of love and anxiously look forward to the day when the dark history of killing shelter animals becomes a thing of the past. thesanctuaryprojectlove.org
, (800) 691-9168
Karen Pomroy, Founder of Equine Voices Horse Sanctuary
In 2003, Karen Pomroy began creating a safe haven for horses and wild burros in need of refuge. Now, 20 years later, she’s realized the whole of her dream with regard to the state of the sanctuary, but there’s still much to be done. The haven is Equine Voices Rescue and Sanctuary, “a place of healing” in Green Valley, Arizona.
Karen always had an adoration for horses, but it was a life-changing backpacking trip around the globe that convinced her she needed to get involved in animal welfare. The decision led her to California, where she volunteered at a wild horse sanctuary. The experience provided her with a wealth of knowledge and opened her eyes to the fates so many horses in the U.S. face. It was enough to convince her that someday she wanted to start her own sanctuary, and that’s exactly what she did.
While her focus is saving mares and foals on PMU farms (Pregnant Mare’s Urine) and raising awareness for their awful plight, the nonprofit’s goal is to rescue all equines from neglect, abuse, abandonment, and slaughter. EVRS rehabilitate, adopt, and/or provide a safe and loving sanctuary to those animals that need forever homes. Through education, Karen hopes to empower individuals to learn about Premarin and associated
horse slaughter. (520)-398-2814, firstname.lastname@example.org
Amber Allen, Director of Cody’s Friends & Cody’s Mom
Cody’s Friends was launched in 2011 after 10-year-old Cody Allen felt the need to make a difference. The 5th grader, with the help of his mother, Amber, began from scratch without infrastructure for storage or money to start. Instead, they relied on a handful of volunteers and used a garage to house donations until space ran out. They’ve come a long way since then, with a building for supplies and an announcement that GreaterGood.org made Cody’s Friends one of only 24 Rescue Bank affiliates in the United States.
While Cody was the impetus behind the nonprofit, Amber, who drove him everywhere in those early days, has dedicated her time to the welfare of our most vulnerable residents. Over the last several years, they’ve expanded into human services with 48 donation stations located throughout Pima County, placing them in a position to distribute more than a million pounds of pet food and critical supplies to over 45 local human service agencies.
They include Meals on Wheels, Community Food Banks, the Tucson FD, Youth on their Own, as well as animal rescue groups such as PACC and the Humane Society of S. Arizona. (520) 329-0339, codysfriends.org
Lorna Aguilar, Founder of Street Angels Animal Rescue
Lorna Grant-Aguilar got her passion for animals from her mother, an ad exec, who rescued pets and instilled her love of them in Lorna at an early age. Born in Argentina, she eventually moved to Mexico City, where she began assisting the Mexican Humane Society. In 2014, she and animal activist Antemio Maya Pindter, the founder of Pro-Perro AC, successfully campaigned to change how euthanasia was performed there.
Fresh on the heels of that success, she moved to Tucson that year and started Angelitos Callejeros (Street Angels), focusing on rescuing dogs throughout Mexico and Latin America. Made up of thousands of members, it’s a place where anyone within the group can post dogs needing homes and/or medical treatment.
Cathy Bishop, Founder of Mesquite Valley Cat Sanctuary
Polarized by what she was seeing in 2013, Cathy Bishop was determined to do something about the issue of homeless and feral cats. She’d already been working on a modest scale to stop the breeding cycle but felt increased action was necessary. That’s when her and Tom Birt of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery got together and created a refuge for forgotten felines.
Located in a fantastic old home from the 1880s on Pantano Rd., the dwelling was initially adapted for 30 female cats. Many were trapped in central Tucson near assisted living facilities and local trailer parks. Six were pregnant when they were captured. The idea was to check for health problems, treat them if necessary, and get them spayed before releasing them or adopting them out.
The two were fortunate in that they were able to place all six litters and return many of the adults. Working tirelessly ever since, MVCS has been able to place hundreds of cats and kittens in good homes to date. Aside from providing a safe refuge, Mesquite Valley Cat Sanctuary also wants to get the word out and educate the public regarding how affordable it can be to adopt animals like these. (520) 721-8600
Donna & Margaux DeConcini, Founders of S. Arizona Animal Food Bank
In 2014, Donna DeConcini and her daughter Margaux wanted to help abandoned farm and ranch animals, so they decided to form the nonprofit Food for Horses. Margaux, as it happens, is the development director at TROT, Therapeutic Riding of Tucson. Food for Horses was designed to assist those in need with food and veterinarian care for 90 days in an effort to keep those animals with their owners — where they belonged.
To assist in raising money, the two coordinated the Tucson Food Truck Rally, where a portion of the proceeds were donated to the cause. During that time period, it became clear that additional resources were needed to help domestic pet owners as well.
So, in 2015, the Southern Arizona Animal Food Bank (SAAFB) was formed as a crucial donation and distribution center with the same goal of keeping beloved pets with their families. Since then, they’ve created an inspirational art gallery and distribution center on Speedway Blvd. to showcase local artists and businesses that support animal welfare, with a portion of the proceeds directly benefitting SAAFB. email@example.com
, (520) 268-7299
Sister Theresa Seraphim & The Hermitage No-Kill Cat Shelter & Sanctuary
Arizona’s first no-kill animal shelter, The Hermitage, has been a refuge for at-risk cats and kittens since the 1960s! Originally founded as the Arizona Animal Anti-Cruelty League by Sister Theresa Seraphim, a Russian Orthodox nun from England, the good Sister moved to Tucson in 1969 and lived here until her passing in 1990. During her more than 20-year tenure, Sister Seraphim rescued cats, chickens, guinea hens, peacocks, a handful of dogs, and a donkey. Today, her legacy lives on.
In 2013, through the American Sanctuary Association, the cage-free shelter became an accredited sanctuary and remains the only accredited cat sanctuary in Arizona today. By October 2017, they moved into a 9000 sq-ft space where they house 200+ cats at any given time and rescue about 700 more annually. With the addition of a medical suite, The Hermitage is able to provide state-of-the-art care for felines that include spay/neuter surgeries, dental procedures, laser treatments to assist in recovery, and more.
The care is especially essential to their special needs cats suffering from illnesses such as FIV, FeLV, diabetes, or other chronic issues. Their ability to provide this type of comprehensive in-house care significantly reduces the stress on the cats, reduces costs, and improves the felines’ overall well-being. (520) 571-7839, hermitagecatshelter.org
More Women in Rescue
And these are just 14 of the incredibly dynamic and ambitious women who have had a resounding impact on not only the welfare of homeless, abused, neglected, or stray animals here in southern Arizona but on how they and their situations are viewed by the public and local leaders, and how they respond to their dire situations today. Be sure to follow up with the next segment of the story in our September/October issue, where we’ll focus on more amazing women in rescue and all they’ve achieved in Part II.