Farm to stable: SLO County animal lovers have more than dog- and cat-focused organizations to volunteer for | News | San Luis Obispo

Samantha Herrera


After bringing an injured box turtle to Turtle and Tortoise Rescue, Jeff and Tammy Dobbs learned that then owner Bob Thomas wanted to retire and that the Arroyo Grande ranch was just too much work for him. The Dobbs felt the rescue ranch was important and took it over to continue caring for specialized animals.

“We’ve been doing things dramatically different from the past owner,” Jeff told New Times. “We are rescuing all kinds of animals including turtles, tortoises, ducks, chickens, and alpacas, and we’re utilizing them to reach out and help people.”

Along with educating the community’s youth by hosting weekly field trips at the rescue, Tammy is a child psychologist who encourages parents and occupational therapists to come to the ranch, as it’s a very soothing environment and can provide sensory care.

The Turtle and Tortoise Rescue receives its residents from local organizations, and Jeff said they currently house hundreds of animals.

“Animal Services brings us animals once a week, Fish and Game once a month, and other agencies come whenever they have something,” he said. “Sometimes people bring animals to us as well, especially if someone passed away or they’re moving to colder climates and can’t take care of their animals anymore. Sometimes we let certain animals go back up for adoption if someone really wants one.”

While many of the rescue’s volunteers are students, Jeff said he accepts volunteer applications from other community members and encourages people to reach out if they feel like lending a hand.

“Volunteering is typically just watering, picking up food, and feeding animals, but we do have other volunteers who can take photos for us, do website design and do other projects,” he said. “So we accept any kind of volunteer work whether it’s psychology, herpetology, or architecture because we need all hands on deck.”

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  • Photo Courtesy By Sherstin Rosenberg
  • HEALTH CHECK Happy Hen Sanctuary volunteer and veterinary student Rhiannon Ferriday does an annual checkup on one of the ranch’s turkeys.

If turtles and reptiles don’t quite speak to your volunteering heart, the Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary in San Luis Obispo might be the perfect place if you want to work with less traditional shelter animals.

Veterinarian and Executive Director Sherstin Rosenberg told New Times that the nonprofit dedicated to helping farm animals was founded by her daughter and President Zoe Rosenberg, who fights for farm animals’ rights.

“We want to stop the suffering of farm animals like chickens, turkeys, ducks, goats, cows, and all other species that live on a farm,” Sherstin Rosenberg said. “They all experience the same feelings as dogs or cats and want to live free, so we basically rescue animals that are sick, dying, and really have no other place to go.”

Animals are often brought in by other local animal rights activists, Rosenberg said, adding that those animals live the rest of their lives out on the ranch, and they rarely approve any of their animals for adoptions.

“We basically have three categories of volunteers at the ranch,” she said. “Animal care, such as cleaning up coops and changing food and water, is the part that we really need help with because, as you can imagine, we have more than 100 animals and it takes hours and hours to clean everything.”

Rosenberg said they are also looking for volunteers to help pick up produce, bring it back to the ranch, and feed the animals.

“We also would enjoy having folks come out and maybe brush the cows or goats and spend time with the turkeys who are really friendly and really enjoy attention,” she said. “This would be the third category, which I like to call socialization volunteering to get the animals more human attention.”

Those interested in volunteering can apply online via, and Rosenberg said almost everyone in the community is welcomed.

“Nobody under 10 years old is allowed, and those between 10 and 14 need to be supervised by a parent,” she said. “Other than that, everyone is motivated to come out and help on their own.”

Looking to connect with dogs and cats? SLO County Animal Services also needs volunteers.

Animal Services Manager Eric Anderson told New Times that the county is facing a significant increase in shelter animals compared to last year.

“We’re probably 25 percent higher in terms of shelter capacity and the number of animals that we’ve been housing over that period of time,” he said. “But I should clarify that it’s not necessarily the raw number of animals in the shelter, but it’s actually the amount of time they spend there.”

Anderson said the shelter has been seeing an increase in puppies and younger dogs, almost for the first time.

“Historically, what we’ve seen for impacted shelters is it happens when the economy’s not doing well and when people are struggling from an economic standpoint, and I think even though economic indicators are very good right now and the economy is good, the way people are perceiving the economy and how it’s being felt in their personal life isn’t reflected as strongly,” he said. “So, in that case, people are finding what they are struggling with and what they have to give up. Also, people are less likely to come in and adopt animals, take on the responsibilities, and so forth.”

Anderson also said when the economy is bad, people who may have a runaway or missing pet are less inclined to retrieve it due to impound and ongoing care fees.

“We’ve actually got a large impact on the shelter with animals that are associated with folks that are homeless, and we wind up with those animals one way or another,” he said. “So I think in the last couple of years, we’ve had a significant increase in those animals.”

The shelter also houses bunnies, birds, pet rats, and other smaller animals. Anderson said due to the large number of animals in the shelter, the county set up an easy volunteer form.

“Visit the county Animal Services page and there should be a link about volunteering where people can submit an online application,” he said. “Once that application is submitted, someone will contact them to set up an initial orientation and training forum and then they can schedule some times that work for them alongside our seasoned volunteers.”

Volunteers can do a variety of jobs around the shelter, including working to socialize cats, doing the laundry or dishes, or working the lobby and providing information to people, Anderson said.

“What I’ve found over time is that it’s not always the number of volunteers, it’s more of a quality issue. We have lots and lots of volunteers, but they don’t come in very frequently and aren’t particularly attentive, developed, or interested,” he said. “But those efforts that volunteers make have meaningful impacts to both the organization and our community.

“I personally found it to be highly rewarding and something that enriches myself as well.” Δ

Reach Staff Writer Samantha Herrera at [email protected].

Samantha Herrera News/News

2024-01-11 12:00:00 , News, New Times San Luis Obispo –

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