Pleasanton Weekly

Column - July 16, 2010

Kids to pets, Lori Rice finds a new interest

by Jeb Bing

Lori Rice, a well-known school volunteer whose fundraising talents have brought more than $1.5 million to various organizations, has taken the helm of the Valley Humane Society just in time to lead its $750,000 building campaign. Rice recently stepped down as head of the Athletic Boosters at Amador Valley High School where her son Kevin will graduate next year. A daughter, Catie, who will be a junior at Chico State University, is also an Amador graduate. It was Rice's volunteer efforts through their school years that helped meet the funding and supply needs of, first, Kinder Kirk Pre-school when it was part of the Pleasanton Presbyterian Church, later Vintage Hills Elementary School, which both children attended and where she was president of the PTA, and most recently at Amador. Her other interests -- lifelong, she says -- are small animals, which is why she's now moving from kids to pets in her volunteer efforts.

She has two dogs and three cats at home. Her husband Mike, a vice president at Allied Materials in San Jose, like pets, too, but five's enough. He supports his wife in her work at the Humane Society, especially in her goal of finding other suitable homes for wayward cats and dogs as well as the organization's educational outreach and collaborative programs that enrich the bond between people and companion animals to eliminate unnecessary euthanasia.

Although Rice is best known in the school communities of Pleasanton (her father is Bill James, former superintendent of the Pleasanton school district), she decided against a career in teaching, preferring to work outside the classroom on helping schools meet their needs. She joined the Humane Society in 2006 when it shuffled its board, phased out its paid executive director position, and asked her to help its new leadership team expand its community services. VHS was incorporated in 1987, and in 1991 rented a small 900-square-foot building on Spring Street in downtown Pleasanton. In 2006, with a new board in charge, VHS moved into a 2,100-square-foot modular building on land that the organization had purchased on Nevada Street, near the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department headquarters. The expansion was party financed by a major contribution of $1.4 million from the estate of Joyce Keeler, a Livermore resident and former teacher who had adopted a cat from VHS.

For Rice, the VHS mission of advocating responsible pet ownership meshes with her lifetime of caring for animals and contributing to their welfare. She's continuing her close connection to education by promoting programs that show youngsters what a big responsibility it is to own a pet. She often goes with other volunteers into second-grade classrooms for hands-on demonstrations on proper care and feeding, lessons on what vaccinations they need and even a tutorial on how much good pets and pet care costs. Another program she's advocating is to "loan" pets to the elderly in nursing homes and at the Veterans Administration medical facility in Livermore where permanent ownership is discouraged. VHS provides the food and veterinary care.

VHS also partners with food pantries such as Open Heart Kitchen and Meals on Wheels to provide food for family pets. Rice said Meals on Wheels delivery volunteers sometimes find the plates that held the evening meal are on the floor with the needy sharing their meager daily fare with a pet. Rice says these needs have multiplied as the economy has soured with individuals determined to keep their pet even if it means doing without. VHS also accepts "surrendered" pets. These are generally dogs that can't be kept because of a divorce or downsized housing since many apartments don't allow pets. Dogs, though, can usually find a new caregiver. It's harder with cats, especially with cats 5 years old or older. Cats are more independent and aren't high on the public's adoption interests, so she's working on placing them with seniors who can find comfort in having a small pet and whose housing allows them.

The $750,000 fundraising campaign Rice is leading will help furnish the proposed 5,200-square-foot building that's proposed for the Nevada Street site. That will include meeting rooms, a multi-purpose room and more space for taking in "surrenders" while new owners are found. The building also is planned with clever pathways, such as Kitty City, Doggie Drive and Canine Court. A medical suite will include four isolation rooms to allow animals to heal from disease or injury and rooms will have glass fronts so visitors -- "who hopefully are also potential adopters," Rice says -- can see the work going on at the Valley Humane Society.

Rice remembers that her work at preschool, Vintage Hills Elementary and Amador Valley High's Boosters depended on the enthusiasm and hard work of many other volunteers. She's hoping to find the same spirit in her new role. Volunteers can obtain more information and sign up at www.valleyhumanesociety.org.

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