Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, fur and no fur, two-legged and four-legged. The BC SPCA honoured both human and animal heroes at the annual BC SPCA Awards ceremony, held at the society’s AGM luncheon on May 2.
From outstanding volunteers to incredible supporters, from tireless veterinarians who regularly donate their time and skills to a courageous dog who fought her way back from near-starvation, this year’s awards recognize human and furry recipients from communities throughout British Columbia.
“I am constantly amazed and humbled by the outstanding staff, volunteers, partners, supporters and others who help us help the province’s most vulnerable animals,” says BC SPCA chief executive officer Craig Daniell. “It’s extraordinary to have such impressive support and this year’s awards recipients lead by example and showcase all the reasons why our work is so rewarding.”
Volunteer of the Year – Kira Schabram (Vancouver)
Kira Schabram is an extraordinary volunteer who selflessly offers her skills and time to improve the lives of animals in her care and to create the best possible working environment for her fellow volunteers and staff members. At the Vancouver SPCA shelter Kira holds weekly adoption counselling sessions, acts as a buddy trainer to new volunteers, teaches volunteer adoption counselling workshops, presents workshops to staff about communicating with the public, interacts and counsels visitors on small animals and regularly fosters animals. In addition, she has helped to shape the volunteer experience within the organization by contributing valuable input to our cat welfare program and the cat adoption survey, by helping to design a customer service course for staff and volunteers and by serving as a member of the 2014 volunteer task force committee to audit the provincial volunteer program.
For the past four years, Kira has also donated several hundred hours of professional services to design and implement an annual staff engagement survey for BC SPCA staff throughout the province. The annual survey, conducted as part of Kira’s doctoral program at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, has provided valuable feedback to the society on ways to enhance staff satisfaction and engagement. Kira has presented the data to senior management staff, leadership conferences and to the BC SPCA Board of Directors, and has conducted follow-up focus groups with staff to ensure their ideas and concerns are heard and addressed.
Volunteer of the Year – Michelle Virdee (Kamloops)
For more than 20 years, Michelle Virdee has played an invaluable role in the success of the BC SPCA’s Kamloops & District Branch, with roles ranging from hands-on care and protection of animals to humane education and fundraising. Through her professional background with Thompson Rivers University’s animal welfare certificate program, Michelle brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in animal health and well-being and can always be counted upon to provide assistance and guidance to ensure that animals at the Kamloops shelter receive the highest level of care. In addition, Michelle is always willing to foster animals with special medical and behavior issues to give them the best possible chance for recovery and adoption.
When she is not helping animals in the shelter, Michelle is an extraordinary fundraiser and community ambassador for the BC SPCA. In 2014, as vice-chair of the branch’s Community Council, Michelle played a key role in organizing events such as the ScotiaBank & BC SPCA Paws for a Cause walk and the annual Fur Ball Gala, which together raised more than $50,000 for the animals. She also is heavily involved in volunteer recruitment, training and mentoring and takes a special interest in ensuring that the staff and volunteers who care for the animals feel supported and appreciated.
Michelle’s contributions includes expertise in disaster response – she has helped provide emergency care for animals displaced by local wildfires and other disasters and was part of a team that travelled to Louisiana in 2005 to rescue animals following Hurricane Katrina.
Veterinarian of the Year – Creekside Animal Clinic (Vernon)
Creekside Animal Clinic has been a strong supporter of the BC SPCA’s Vernon and District Branch for many years. The clinic consistently offers a high level of service for injured and sick animals in the SPCA’s care while providing significant discounts to ensure that as many animals as possible receive the life-saving care they need. Dr. Murray Flock, Dr. Brian McOnie and their team also generously assist the branch through support for local SPCA events, including gold-level sponsorship of the Scotiabank & BC SPCA Paws for a Cause walk in Vernon for the past four years.
Team members at Creekside Animal Clinic can always be counted upon to go above and beyond the call of duty, making themselves available around the clock when emergency medical cases arise and assisting the SPCA’s Cruelty Investigations Department during the execution of warrants to rescue animals from abuse and neglect. The clinic is also committed to promoting high levels of animal welfare in the community. In 2014, Creekside hosted the first-ever spay/neuter blitz days offered by the Vernon SPCA, reserving two days to spay and neuter animals belonging to low-income families. The program was so successful it was held again this year.
The dedication and support of Dr. McOnie, Dr. Flock and the staff at Creekside Animal Clinic has been instrumental in helping to save the lives of hundreds of abused and neglected animals in Vernon and in helping to reduce the suffering caused by pet overpopulation in the region.
Caring Company of the year – See Ya Later Ranch (Okanagan Falls)
Known for its love of dogs, See Ya Later Ranch winery in Okanagan Falls, B.C. has been a proud BC SPCA supporter since 2006, generously providing more than $150,000 in contributions and in-kind donations.
In addition to raising funds for branches and donating a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of their “Jimmy My Pal” wine to the BC SPCA, this award-winning winery provides fantastic wines for the society’s fundraising events in communities across the province, allowing valuable resources to be directed to protecting and caring for animals in need.
The wines of See Ya Later Ranch celebrate the lively legacy of Major Hugh Fraser, a colourful character who purchased the property in 1919 and made his home at the ranch for more than 45 years. He is remembered for his kindness to his many four-legged friends who were ultimately laid to rest in a doggy cemetery that still exists on the property.
It’s important to note that three members of the See Ya Later winemaking team are of the canine variety. You’ll often find Goku, Hiro and the aptly named Pinot greeting and entertaining everyone who comes to visit.
Philanthropist of the Year – The Highbury Foundation
The Highbury Foundation has a long-standing commitment to improving the lives of those in need and has been a generous supporter of the BC SPCA for more than 23 years. Whether it is supplying equipment for the BC SPCA’s Animal Hospital in Vancouver, subsidizing veterinary programs for low-income pet guardians or supporting the work of cruelty investigators, members of The Highbury Foundation are passionate about helping some of the most vulnerable members of our society – animals at risk.
In 2014, with a generous grant from The Highbury Foundation, the BC SPCA was able to provide free and discounted surgeries through the veterinary assistance program for hundreds of people in need whose beloved pets required veterinary care. This is just one of the many examples of how the foundation’s generosity has made a difference in the lives of animals for more than two decades.
Peter Andrew Allard created the Highbury Foundation in 1993 in honour of his mother, Bettie Allard who was an avid volunteer in the Vancouver community. Mrs. Allard, a mother of four, instilled in her children the importance of giving back to the community.
Leadership Award – Leon Davis (Nanaimo)
BC SPCA Nanaimo & District Branch Manager Leon Davis is a role model and mentor, not only to his own staff but to his peers across his region and throughout the province. He approaches every situation with energy and ingenuity and is willing to take on any new challenge that will help animals in need in his community. At his branch, Leon fosters a collaborative and inclusive environment that has resulted in high staff morale, low turnover and increased engagement among both staff and volunteers.
Leon’s exceptional leadership has led to an increased level of welfare for shelter animals, shorter lengths of stay before adoption, excellent customer service and a commitment to community outreach. The Nanaimo Branch’s efforts to support a humane community include links with the John Howard Youth Justice Program, the Restorative Justice Program, the Haven House Violence Link Partnership, volunteer opportunities for individuals recovering from addiction, pet food donations for homeless pet guardians and a spay/neuter fund to assist low-income pet guardians.
As an ambassador for the BC SPCA, Leon works tirelessly to foster strong partnerships with local businesses, media, supporters and municipal stakeholders. His efforts have resulted in increased public awareness and understanding about animal issues and unprecedented support for the branch. In all areas of his work, Leon is an exemplary leader, advocate and friend to the animals.
Animal Courage – Willow (Maple Ridge)
In January of this year, a severely emaciated Siberian husky was found wandering alone in Maple Ridge and was brought to the SPCA by a Good Samaritan. The young dog weighed only 15 kilograms, compared to the normal 24 kg for a dog of her age and breed. She was assessed with a score of one on the canine body conditioning scale of one to nine, making it one of the worst cases of starvation ever witnessed by SPCA officers.
The dog, now named Willow, was too weak to stand without support but was unable to lie down due to extreme pain in her abdominal area. Upon further examination it was discovered that she had been eating gravel and soil in order to stay alive. Thankfully, with around-the-clock veterinary treatment and ongoing care in a loving SPCA foster home, Willow made a miraculous recovery and gradually gained more than 9 kg. In March, Willow was adopted to new guardians, Dawn and Mark Whittacker, who report that Willow is a happy-go-lucky, high-energy pup whose favourite activities include car rides, long walks and swimming.
The BC SPCA’s cruelty investigations department has identified Willow’s former owner and has recommended animal cruelty charges in the case.
Branch of the Year – East Kootenay Branch (Cranbrook)
Under the exceptional leadership of manager Brenna Baker, the dynamic team of staff and volunteers at the East Kootenay Branch in Cranbrook has worked tirelessly to increase public awareness and support for the branch through media and community events; they’ve increased opportunities for youth education, including enhanced summer camps; and they have successfully secured funding to complete shelter renovations to improve the health and welfare of animals in their care. Brenna and her team eagerly embrace any opportunity for animal welfare training and education and have dedicated themselves to finding creative ways to address community issues such as pet overpopulation.
In 2014, Brenna and her team managed to transfer an astounding 111 cats and kittens to areas of the province where they would have a better chance of adoption. While the branch used to have one of the lowest live release rates in the province due to massive pet overpopulation in the region, the East Kootenay branch now boasts a 94 per cent live release rate – a truly incredible achievement.
The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a not-for-profit organization reliant on public donations. Our mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.