Congratulations to Paula Spencer, Rebecca Preis, and Heather Bowker!

Each was nominated for the Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership’s Heart of Marin  award; Paula for Volunteer of the Year, Rebecca for Student Volunteer of the Year, and Heather  for Excellence in Board Leadership. Please read on for their respective Heart of Marin nominations.

Paula Spencer: It’s a little known fact that rabbits are the third most frequently surrendered animal to shelters. They’re often misunderstood and overlooked as companion animals. So it takes a special person to dedicate herself to the care, well-being, and adoption of these sweet, small, furry friends. At Marin Humane, that special person is Paula Spencer.

Paula came to a volunteer orientation in January 2006 because of her interest in working with dogs. But when she heard that our greatest volunteer need was rabbit socializers she decided to give it a try. After nine months of working with rabbits, she was completely in love with them and has dedicated her every volunteer hour–on site and off–advocating on their behalf. Paula has proven that one person can make a difference and impact hundreds of lives, both animal and human.

One year after becoming our primary rabbit volunteer, Paula stepped up to assist our weekly “Rabbit Romper Room” socializing sessions (special playtime for bunnies where they can romp outside their cages). Since that time, Paula has taken the lead in training, scheduling, and supervising the volunteers at each weekly session. From set up at 11am to clean up at 5:30 pm, Paula is present to ensure the rabbits are comfortable and enjoying their play time. She also spends every session teaching the volunteers about the nuances of rabbit health and behavior. And Paula has a unique gift in connecting with the volunteers with special needs who also help in Rabbit Romper Room.

Prospective adopters come to visit the rabbits in Romper Room and Paula welcomes everyone with a warm smile and an invitation to come to spend time with the rabbits. This year, Paula oversaw over 400 bunny visits to Rabbit Romper Room, with many bunnies benefitting from multiple visits while awaiting adoption. Additionally, she has logged over 330 hours in the past year in this part of her volunteer job.

Every summer, Marin Humane hosts multiple camps for kids. Each week, Paula teaches the kids about the value and companionship of rabbits. They learn how to interact with them by helping set up Rabbit Romper Room, then taking time to sit with the bunnies. This year, with some weeks having double sessions, Paula’s talks reached more kids than ever; 300 campers had the opportunity to learn about rabbits and experience their individual personalities.

In addition to summer camp, Paula worked with another 100 students in our on-campus after school clubs, Kindness Club with Irene Hunt School, the Ross Valley parent/student club “Children for Change,” students from Marin Country Day, and interns at Marin Humane. Most of these kids had no experience with rabbits before meeting Paula. Paula’s patience and sensitive approach to both the rabbits and the students created the ideal environment for learning and connection.

For the third year in a row, Paula worked with staff to bring rabbits into the community so more people could learn about them and discover the enjoyment of bunny companionship. They designed “Hoppy Hour” – an evening event held once a month from June through August at our offsite adoption center, Kitty Corner. Paula set the bunnies up in comfortable quarters, then spent the evening promoting, educating and encouraging people to consider adopting a rabbit. On average, about 35 people visit with the rabbits each session. During the final session this summer, 50 people packed into Kitty Corner to enjoy rabbit time!

Always the rabbit advocate, Paula is eager to bring rabbits to offsite events that are a good showcase for them. At events as far south as Cavallo Point and north as downtown Novato, Paula’s outreach efforts on behalf of rabbits help get them adopted. This past summer, at the Sports Basement Grand Opening in Novato, Paula joined the Marin Humane booth where rabbits and a few other animals were onsite. She shared information with over 400 people that came by for a rabbit fix!

In addition to her work educating people on the benefits of rabbit companionship through adoption, she shows her strong commitment to Marin Humane by reinforcing the importance of spaying and neutering rabbits. Paula doesn’t hesitate to share a compelling statistic: if two rabbits are allowed to breed and their offspring breed, in seven years, they will have at least 184 billion rabbits. We can say with a smile that Paula is our own “energizer bunny” working day and night to lower that number!

Rebecca Preis: Rebecca is a junior at Tamalpais High School and an active student volunteer at Marin Humane. Rebecca’s volunteer work has made significant and positive impacts on people as well as animals at Marin Humane, particularly on those with special needs or who need special attention.

In January 2017, Rebecca joined Marin Humane’s student advocacy club, Roots & Shoots. This club is a semester long and members choose a particular issue for which to advocate. This spring’s club chose “bully breed” dogs which are frequently found in shelters in California and nationwide. Rebecca took on extra projects outside of club meeting times to create a flyer with details about the breed, the discrimination history, and misconceptions about dogs such as Pit Bulls, Bulldogs, and Bull Terriers. The colorful, informative Pitbull Flyer was handed out by the group at a bake sale/ fundraiserthey coordinated at Marin Humane in May 2017. Rebecca herself baked delicious treats to sell, helping the group raise enough money to sponsor the adoption fee for one of the “bully breed” dogs who was available for adoption. With the help of the sponsorship, the dog was adopted into a loving home!

Rebecca did not stop there. She created a website to educate people on bully breeds and emailed her flyer to 50 animal shelters across California!

Immediately following her service with Roots & Shoots, Rebecca began volunteering for Jumping for Joy, a program that matches animal assisted therapy dogs with children on the autism spectrum. Usually this placement is for students who have completed their internship with Marin Humane (which she had yet to do), but Rebecca was perfect for the assignment. She had heard about the program and wanted to assist with a canine agility course. She was great with the students and once again went above and beyond.  One student, Claire, was non-verbal most of the time. Her teacher was working with her to help her speak so she had written cues for the dogs on post-it notes. Rebecca worked one-on-one with Claire and helped her articulate the words. The next week when Rebecca returned to help with the six-week class, she had created laminated cue cards with the words on them for Claire. She did this on her own at home and we were thrilled when she brought the cards the next week. The Jumping for Joy graduation was especially exciting because we all witnessed Rebecca lead Claire through the course, showing her the flashcards and then Claire spoke each cue to the dog.

She brings a positive, composed, and committed attitude to all her volunteer work at Marin Humane. Rebecca is a model to others of what can be achieved by a compassionate and focused young adult volunteer!

Heather Bowker: As Chair of the Marin Humane Board of Directors this past year, Heather Bowker served as a strong leader who guided the board through a series of challenges to the organization: turning the Novato shelter into an animal evacuation center during the North Bay Fires, revamping the strategic plan, conducting an in-depth review of 50-year-old facilities, and developing a plan for their modernization.

Heather has served on the board for seven years and her tenure this past year has been particularly invaluable, as we’ve navigated community issues such as the proposed (inhumane) sterilization of deer in Belvedere and coexistence with coyotes. She has attracted donors as well as new board members, and as part of succession planning, she has mentored new members. Heather has served as a strong liaison with staff and volunteers by speaking at All Staff Meetings, having a regular presence on campus and volunteering her time at almost every Marin Humane event.

Here are more specific examples:

  • Heather shares her expertise in organizational development at every meeting in the organization, helping board and staff members actively engage in productive discussions and achieve the best solutions. Her philosophy is to ask the tough questions to achieve better outcomes, but always with collaboration as the goal.  She brings wisdom, humor, and clear thinking to every discussion.
  • Heather has played a key role in helping us craft our new five year strategic plan, which is being launched this year. The focus of our new strategic plan is ending pet homelessness across the Bay Area by 2030.
  • Heather has been an active member of our facilities committee. This committee worked with an architectural firm to update our master plan, thereby ensuring that our facilities can respond to the changing needs of shelter animals and the community.
  • Heather is tireless in supporting the organization, attending every staff and volunteer event. She has presented the new strategic plan to staff and helped build an understanding of the strategic goals.
  • Heather hit the road and gathered signatures in the community to ensure Prop 12, the Animal Cruelty initiative for farm animals, was included on the ballot in the Nov 2018 election. Marin Humane is one of a coalition of organizations supporting this initiative.