.Nonprofits Participating in Santa Cruz Gives: Animal Welfare

The holiday season is marked with gathering friends and family—for many, the umbrella of family often includes beloved furry friends, the pets who sit beside us whatever the holidays bring.   

Below are a few nonprofits participating in Santa Cruz Gives that are finding creative ways to bring shelter animals and people together, and also helping owners keep their pets throughout financial difficulty. 

Organization: BirchBark

BirchBark has overspent its budget for the past year. 

The foundation, which works with lower-income people facing high bills for lifesaving veterinary visits, budgeted $120,000 in grants to provide assistance for people facing unexpected emergency costs. But, in response to a high demand of people needing financial assistance to save a pet’s life, the foundation made the decision to surpass its budget for grants. 

“We provide a service that a lot of people really need,” says Executive Director Donna Odryna.

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The organization was founded by local veterinarian Merrianne Burtch, who noticed a troubling trend in her line of work.  

“Her reason for organizing the Foundation was to address something that a lot of veterinarians deal with, which is they have a client that comes in and they’ve got an emergency situation with their family pet, dog or cat most of the time, and they can’t afford it,” Odryna says. “Suddenly, people find themselves with a big health care bill that they can’t afford. Miriam was seeing a lot of pets having to be euthanized, just due to financial hardship.” 

Under the BirchBark Foundation, if a client qualifies, all they have to contribute is 25% of their vet total bill. The vet partner will reduce the fee and make a contribution of 25%, and the foundation will pick up the remaining 50%. On average, the foundation gives out grants for about $1,500—that’s up from what it was just a few years ago, when the average grant size was $1,200.  

The past year alone, BirchBark has provided financial assistance to 90 individual families and provided a total of $133,000 in financial grants. 

The foundation also provides a free grief counseling group to support people who recently lost a pet. In the past year, the organization has supported 200 people dealing with grief over a lost pet. 

Donations to the organization through Santa Cruz Gives campaign will go directly to helping families cover veterinary expenses. 

“The human-animal bond is so important,” Odryna says. “It’s a foundation and a fabric in our community.”

Organization: Unchained

The nonprofit Unchained matches at-risk youth with shelter dogs together to teach positive communication and interaction skills to the youth while saving the lives of dogs.

The eight-week program has kids who are at juvenile detention centers or kids at alternative education high schools help train a shelter dog. 

What Marlo BotelloAepli, the Executive Director of Unchained, sees as she facilitates these kids training dogs is a building of confidence. 

“We find great dogs that are kind of untrained and maybe haven’t gotten a lot of attention themselves,” BotelloAepli says. “The minute you bring the dog, the kid’s shoulders relax. For these kids to have some restorative justice where no matter what happened to get them landed there, they’re not one dimensional, they can still do wonderful things. And for them to see their dog transform over those six weeks or eight weeks is just amazing.” 

Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost moods. BotelloAepli says that she sees kids relax first-hand throughout the course of the program, which makes it the ideal setting for introspection. 

What Unchained wants to explore, with the help of funds raised through Santa Cruz Gives, is connecting with therapists, so that the program might improve kids’ emotional and social well being. A professional facilitator will guide students through structured activities and discussions designed to encourage introspection and self-awareness

“Whatever kids have been put through, maybe have biases against them, and for them to be able to fit with those dogs who also had that rough start,” BotelloAepli says. “We get to have deeper conversations and they can really kind of better understand themselves to the world that they’re in.” 

Other Organizations Helping Animals: 

Below are additional animal welfare nonprofits participating in Santa Cruz Gives.

Santa Cruz SPCA welcomes all kinds of dogs and cats, including those that might be at risk in other shelters—the organization never euthanizes an animal due to long stays or crowding. With donation funds, the organization plans to: see over 500 homeless animals adopted; give away 75,000 pounds of pet food to locals in need; teach 2,672 school children about humane animal care practices; and, host 20,000 hours of soul-nourishing, animal-care volunteer hours.

Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter Foundation wants to expand access to veterinary care for the neediest animals in Santa Cruz County. This would include improved access to spay/neuter services, which improves quality of health, reduce homelessness and overpopulation, and saves lives.


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Aiyana Moya
News Editor
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