ASPCA Field Investigations and Response (FIR) workers travel across the country to animal fights, puppy mills, disaster zones and other locations where animals are in immediate danger, often working 20-hour days, typically outside in extreme weather with few breaks. But one of the most amazing parts of FIR work isn’t the job—it’s the people who do it: Nearly 25% of these 1,700 emergency responders are over the age of 50.
These responders don’t measure their job satisfaction in terms of money, workplace or the nature of their position. The true rewards are the smiles, the wags, the licks and the purrs of the animals they save. In this special post, we’re shining a spotlight on ASPCA FIR responders who prove it’s never too late to do what you love—and to make a difference while doing it.
“It’s a lot of hard work, from the minute you hit the ground until you go to sleep,” says Jason Oneail, 52, a former sergeant major and Iraq war veteran who lives with his wife and two teenage daughters in New Hampshire. Jason considers his 30-year career in the army the best training for deploying as a volunteer ASPCA responder. Although he suffered a hip injury in Bosnia in 1995 during an explosion and a mini-stroke upon his return from Iraq in 2010, Jason deploys up to two weeks at a time— he spent last year’s Fourth of July helping care for 70 former fighting dogs in western Virginia. But Jason says this work with the ASPCA brings him closer to the career he wanted while growing up: a veterinarian. Jason’s also volunteered for ASPCA cases in New York, Indiana, and Florida, among other states, and was named “Volunteer of the Year” in 2014 by the Animal Rescue League of Bedford, New Hampshire.
Joanne Smith, 52, also grew up wanting to be a veterinarian. The sixth of eight kids who also shared their home with two foster children, she started working right after high school, getting a job in the insurance business before starting a home day care center when her daughter was born. But when the opportunity arose to work with animals as a veterinarian’s assistant, and later as an animal cruelty officer, for the Elk County Humane Society in Pennsylvania, she jumped at the chance. In 2008, Joanne became its Executive Director, even enlisting ASPCA’s help in a 2010 hoarding case that resulted in the seizure of nearly 400 cats. She joined the ASPCA team in 2012.
Now as an animal control officer for the town of Ridgway, Pennsylvania, Joanne finds each ASPCA deployment a valuable learning opportunity. Last May, she organized a search party for a missing Great Dane after the town experienced major flooding. “I used every skill I learned from the ASPCA’s behavior team—patience, proper body language, no eye contact—to catch that dog,” she recalls of finding “Ozzy” and reuniting her with her family.
Nebraska native Barb Davis, 66, traveled to New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina with another humane group, working in the Lower Ninth Ward to trap and rescue dogs who were running in packs. She rotated in and out every two weeks while working for her husband, a land surveyor, when she was home. After her husband died in 2008, Barb began deploying full-time. Her first experience with the ASPCA was a cat hoarding case in Jacksonville, Florida. “It was extremely rewarding. One lady fell in love with a double positive [FIV and leukemia] cat and adopted him. That was a highlight for me,” Barb recalls.
Since then, she has worked in a wide range of crises, from hoarding and animal fighting cases to disasters like the tornados in Joplin, Missouri, and Moore, Oklahoma. “After seeing what the ASPCA could do, I said, ‘I want to be part of that organization,’” Barb says of joining the ASPCA. “I’m where I should have been many years ago.”
We are so thankful to FIR Responders like Jason, Joanne and Barb for inspiring us all—and for their unwavering dedication to animals in need.To learn more about the ASPCA’s Field and Response Team and the rescue work they’re doing on the ground, please visit www.aspca.org/FIR.