Jenna Trisko Opens Up About What It’s Like To Run An Animal Welfare Program

Posted by Mikayla Toffler
(@Mikayla Toffler)

Plan3000 was lucky enough to get in touch with Jenna Trisko, the Development Director at Ruff Start Rescue (RSR). With 8 years of experience working with non-profits, and 3 years under her belt at RSR, Jenna knows a thing or two about the rollercoaster that is gaining public and monetary support for animal welfare programs. Check out what she has to say about her professional and personal relationship with the program, practicing tolerance, and that time she attended a speech given by Jane Goodall.

Q: What role does Ruff Start Rescue currently play in the social innovation space? 

A: From a public health perspective, animal welfare is important to ensure the safety of our citizens. When animals are healthy, vaccinated, and not free-roaming, we will see less disease. Additionally, many research studies have been conducted on the health benefits of pet ownership and even the simple act of being around animals. Studies have indicated that pet owners may experience lower blood pressure, less stress, better pain management, get more exercise, etc. It is important to remember that the world is not just made up of human beings. It is composed of many many species of animals that allow us as humans to be more efficient, healthier, and happier. An understanding of this symbiotic relationship should encourage us to find ways to end the needless suffering of animals.

Ruff Start Rescue focuses on companion animal welfare. We serve as a resource for community members during times when they are no longer able to care for their pets. We provide temporary refuge and veterinary care to ensure they are healthy and able to live happily in a family environment.

Nacho, one of Ruff Start Rescue’s dogs

We also promote education. We want to raise awareness about the benefits animals bring to humans, and how humans in turn can help them. Education is the key to breaking down social issues. If we can offer a voice for some of our most precious creatures, then we as a society will continue to grow and flourish.

As with many animal advocates, we also support more aggressive laws in relation to animal abuse, animal breeding facilities and meat production services.

Q: What role will RSR play in the future?

A: The future of companion animal welfare will likely transition somewhat from saving and rehoming animals to ensuring that animals remain in their homes. We want to see less animals in shelter environments, and more animals in loving homes. Animals are surrendered for a multitude of legitimate reasons, and not just the stereotypical “the dog did not match my new rug.” Many animals are surrendered due to financial concerns or medical/behavioral issues that Ruff Start Rescue is prepared to address. We offer low-cost veterinary or behavioral training resources, pet supplies and food, and even financial support to families undergoing difficult times. Most people do not want to surrender a beloved pet. Thus, our goal is to find alternative solutions to surrendering animals and to ultimately keep animals with their families indefinitely.

Ruff Start Rescue volunteers

Q: What is your current position at Ruff Start Rescue? 

A: Currently, I serve as the Development Director for Ruff Start Rescue. My husband and I also open our home to foster cats and kittens. The most rewarding part of being in development is the partnerships that are formed with community members and businesses. These partnerships allow us to expand our capacity, further our mission, and stretch beyond that which we thought we were capable. It is a pleasure to work with those who share a passion for animal welfare.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of this job?

A: It is difficult to choose the most rewarding part of this process. The opportunity to open our home to animals in need is very humbling. The gift of working with the animal(s) to either bring them back to health, enhance their confidence and trust in humans, or simply to give them a safe place to crash until they find their forever home are sure ways to fill my heart with joy. Lastly, seeing them go off to adoptive homes is an extremely pleasurable moment, although in many cases it can be tough to watch the animals leave our nest.

Bandit, a kitten up for adoption on Ruff Start Rescue’s website

Q: What sets Ruff Start Rescue apart from other animal rescue organizations?

A: We have been blessed with beautiful, talented, and passionate people who believe in working together for a common goal. We have 600 volunteers and fosters who are so incredibly motivated and willing to get involved in the pursuit of helping animals and their people.

We also continually seek out ways to better meet the needs of the community. We offer a children’s education program that helps children learn about animal welfare and rescue.

When funding is available, we also offer free spay/neuter services for community owned and feral/barn cats.

Ruff Start Rescue team presenting to children

Q: What is the hardest part of your job? 

A: One of the most difficult parts of my job is finding adequate resources to support a program or service I see value in. But we have seen miracles happen in our efforts. There are always businesses or individuals that either share innovative fundraising ideas or contribute themselves to the continuation of the program. These efforts move us forward.

Q: How do you cope with these setbacks or frustrations?

A: I always remind myself of the amazing supporters we’ve seen stand up for what they are passionate about. We must continue to think outside the box to sustain our programs and ensure that new ones will someday be available.

Q: Which companies or organizations do you want to emulate?

A: There are many incredible organizations that we admire, but I think Best Friends Animal Society is doing something really special. They not only practice the no-kill movement, but also encourage camaraderie and partnership amongst animal welfare organizations. They believe in working together to “save them all.” Best Friends also has a beautiful sanctuary set up in Kanab, Utah that not only provides refuge to a variety of animals, but also serves as a site of education and community outreach.

Q: What advice do you have for young animal rights activists?

A: Animal welfare is incredibly tough work. It is passion-driven with lots of highs and lows.

I encourage you always to look for support in this endeavor. Join a team of animal lovers who believe in change and want to focus on the same mission as you. Compassion fatigue in this field is very real, so remember to take time for yourself when you need it.

Lastly, embrace those special moments that you are sure to have in your interactions with animals. Many of my brightest days have been shared with animals, and those memories continue to fuel my passion for this work.

Charlie Brown, a puppy up for adoption on Ruff Start Rescue’s website

Q: Who are your role models?

A: Jane Goodall is an amazing, top notch animal activist. She has spent most of her life creating a voice for animals and promoting the ways we can improve our planet. Even though she is in her eighties now, she still manages to spend most of her time spreading the value of our planet and all its creatures across the world.

I attended a speech she conducted once in Minnesota. Her powerful words resonated throughout the room; many around me were brought to tears simply by her presence. She exudes love, passion and respect, and these qualities encourage people to continue her good work.

Q: What world issues matter most to you? How do you fight against those issues in your work, and in your everyday life?

A: We all need to learn to be more tolerant, kind, and respectful to one another.

Life passes quickly, and many of us continually focus on the past or future, and we forget to take in what is all around us now…We miss the present moment.

Ruff Start Rescue mission statement

We can learn so much about tolerance and respect from animals. Animals are often far more forgiving and loving than humans. At Ruff Start Rescue, we see some incredibly abused or neglected animals that don’t show signs of their misfortune with their foster families. For example, we are housing a foster a cat named Kitty right now. She is 13 years old, front and back declawed and was severely matted when we found her living outside. Kitty was also painfully thin. But from the moment Kitty arrived in our home, she exuded love and gratitude. She purrs at the slightest of attention or touch from anyone she meets.

We see this time and time again from many of our rescued animals. Animals do not care about the color of our skin, our political beliefs, or how much we weigh. These animals do not dwell on events in the past or focus on what is to come, they enjoy the present moment. And their love is unconditional.

The more time we spend with animals, the better off humanity will be.

(You can view our original article on the amazing work Ruff Start Rescue does here.)