CEO of The California Animal Welfare Association ("CalAnimals")
To save more lives, it truly takes a village. In her role as the CEO of CalAnimals, Jill Tucker has helped create a collaborative support network to empower animal welfare and sheltering organizations throughout California, championed legislation to support animal rights and provided continued education opportunities for animal welfare and veterinary professionals. In our Animal People interview, Jill tells us about the animals who have inspired her journey and fuel her to work harder.
Who was the first animal to make an impact on your life?
My family dog, Ginger, a scruffy terrier mix adopted in the early 80s from "the pound," was one of my very best friends growing up. We spent a lot of time together and I taught her to jump over a stick, through a hula hoop and around a jumping course set up in my living room. She even learned how to unlatch our sliding glass door to let me in the house when I forgot my key. I had Ginger my whole childhood until she became sick in her late teens, when I was in college.
What inspired you to pursue a career in animal welfare?
I adopted my first dog as an adult from the Humane Society of Silicon Valley when I finished school. Her name was Bridget and she was an amazing, yet challenging, bullmastiff mix who loved me with her whole heart through career changes, six moves (two cross-country!), a few relationships and more. She inspired me to start fostering, and that led me to see how many animals were losing their lives in shelters. I was working in the software industry at the time, joined the board of a rescue organization that needed help, and spring-boarded from there to my first paid position in animal welfare as the executive director of a humane society in Vermont.
What is your ultimate goal?
As soon as I transitioned to full-time work in the field of animal welfare back in 2003, I felt right at home. I see animals as these furry love machines who show up in our lives and give us all they've got. They help us feel grounded, loved and even forgiven, no matter what else is happening. Pursuing a career to make the world a safer place for them is truly an honor, as is working with the other amazing people who have followed this chosen career as well. My ultimate goal in this work, and in my current role with CalAnimals, is to help get our state to a place where we are saving all healthy and treatable pets, and ensuring that the people and organizations doing this work have the support they need to be successful.
What are some of the highlights from your career thus far?
The capital campaigns and construction projects I have been part of are pretty cool to reflect upon, as I can always look back to see the beautiful, tangible result. This includes the Santa Maria campus of what is now Santa Barbara Humane Society, the expanded facility of Woods Humane Society in San Luis Obispo and the Woods spay/neuter clinic in Atascadero, CA. However, the growth of the overall impact of those organizations, as well as what we are accomplishing at CalAnimals, probably means the most.
Do you have any special animals at home?
Becca is our blocky-headed bundle of love adopted from Woods Humane Society about 4 years ago. After losing my beloved shepherd, Ryder, to cancer last fall, we adopted Frank from CalPaws K9 Rescue. Frank had been found, very thin and presumably abandoned, in an orchard last September. After his stray hold with the Sacramento County Bradshaw Animal Shelter, the rescue placed him in a foster home with several other dogs and a cat. I was looking for a shepherd who showed soft body language with other dogs, and the rescue's video of him caught my eye. We brought him home in early October and he fit in beautifully.
My horse, Dharma, is an American Warmblood who I bought in 2010 to compete in dressage. She is truly my heart horse and while we are no longer showing, we have lots of fun trail riding and horse camping. She's huge at 16.3 hands high and nearly 1,500 pounds, and is always the biggest of the group when we're out with our trail buddies. Dharma needed a friend, so we got her Sage, a 15.1-hand-tall quarter horse, about 2 years ago. I searched extensively for a horse who could be a quiet and easy "guest horse" and Sage fit the bill. I'm grateful to be able to have friends ride who her so both horses get to go out together. When the horses are happy, I am happy!
And finally, our new (2020) home came with three ducks. We call them the McQuackertons, and while they are not super social with people, they have a very nice life here on our small ranch.
What impact do your animals have on your daily life?
Animals really are my life and my world revolves around them. The people who say that "owning horses and riding them are two entirely separate hobbies" are spot on. Between the stall cleaning, hauling and stacking hay, cleaning water troughs, and moving my horses from the barn to pasture and back each day, they are a lot of work. I truly love this lifestyle however, and wouldn't have it any other way. The dogs enjoy tagging along for all of it, running and playing on our acreage, and hanging out with me while I work. Frank particularly likes Zoom meetings! I fit in riding around my work schedule and also enjoy hiking with my horse, Sage. They are collectively my fun, exercise, and therapy, keeping me grounded and happy.
How can others get involved in making a difference for animals?
I'd like to see people do everything they can to support their local shelters. Adopt, foster, volunteer, donate and encourage their friends to do all of this as well. I also would like to see more kindness, compassion and support afforded to the people who work in animal welfare. The work is often hard, heartwarming, beautiful, and heartbreaking — all on a typical day — and the people who work in this field are truly extraordinary. This is why it is such an honor to lead CalAnimals and support these professionals each and every day as they do this incredibly important, lifesaving work.
Published: May 16, 2022