Tank, Tilly and Dakota were lying on comfortable beds as were Prince, Julio and PK, which stands for “Pretty Kitty,” of course. Ellis and Angelica, though, weren’t content to observe the conversation from afar and wanted to be right next to it.

During a Friday morning interview with Melissa Dobar, the new executive director of St. Helena’s We Care Animal Rescue, long-haired Angelica sat on Dobar’s lap, content to receive her attention … and leaving the front of Dobar’s blouse covered in white hair. Not that it mattered.

“By the end of the day, I wear my hair with pride,” Dobar said. “Somebody might look at me funny. I’m a professional and I’m covered in hair, because what I do is take care of animals and I’m proud of it. It means that I got to sit with a cat today.”

Ellis decided to curl up and lie down on the table used for a clipboard and tablet. The orange tabby was just within reach and appreciated the attention he received, even when another cat decided to walk on the clipboard and on the iPhone that was being used to record the interview. Later in the interview, another cat rubbed up against my legs, seeking petting. Another welcome interruption.

Cats are content

Within the confines of St. Helena’s cage-free, no-kill shelter are 220 cats, including 40 that have special needs and are kept in their own separate space. The cats generally get along with each other.

“I think that’s what is so amazing, what really appealed to me” about the St. Helena shelter, Dobar said. “What I noticed is how content the cats are here. They’re content and they can be who they want to be. If they want to be on a lap, we’ve got laps. If they want to be hidden in the rafters – as two were – or want to find a little corner where nobody bugs them, we’ve got the space.”

Dobar has spent the past 25 years in nonprofit agencies. For nearly the last five, she was director of development and part of the executive team at the Humane Society of Sonoma County. She worked on fundraising and developing the brand. “I also had the advantage of learning a lot about shelter protocols, so this has helped me a lot” in St. Helena, she said. Additionally, she has been executive director for a decade at two other small, emerging organizations.

“I’ve had a range of experience from program director to administrator to marketing to fundraising. When I heard about this opportunity, it just matched what I love to do, what I’ve had experience doing and what I want to do until I retire,” Dobar said.

For years We Care was led by Susan Wren, who was both a volunteer and board member for 25 years. Wren died at age 72 on Sept. 27, 2017. Before her death, she was board president.

First love is animals

Dobar has a hearty laugh, a good smile and freely admits her first love is animals. She and her husband, Dan, live in Santa Rosa and their 19-year-old son attends San Diego State. Dan Dobar is facilities manager at Mayacama Golf Club in Sonoma County. They have four dogs and two cats at home.

“I had four cats but my two seniors passed away within a couple of months of each other this past year, so there’s room for more, depending on who you ask, me or my husband. You ask me, there’s always more room,” Dobar said.

Recently with the fires in Lake County, the shelter has received more cats because they helped a Lower Lake shelter evacuate their 93 cats.

“They felt they needed to start the process of moving them to safety,” Dobar said. “We were very lucky to work with other community partners, like Wine Country Animal Lovers, to bring those cats to safety. Some of them are still with us, we are providing them with medical care and they will become a part of our family.” At least, like all the cats at We Care, until they are adopted and find a good, forever home.

Additionally, We Care is helping the Lower Lake rescue with their cats’ medical needs and vouchers for spay and neuters. “We work with the community to provide spay and neuter vouchers through Napa Humane, which does a majority of our spay and neuters. We are very lucky to have grant funding for that,” she said.

We Care can provide funds for food and medical needs, if needed, to keep cats happy and healthy and not reproducing, whether it be in homes or feral cat colonies — anything to keep animals out of shelters.

What is the rescue’s ultimate vision? Dobar answers the question: “Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to exist? Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was never a stray animal again? Spay and neuter is the beginning of that. That’s an important message.”

Amazing group of people

Dobar was quick with compliments for the animal care team and the rescue’s volunteers. “Our animals care team and our cleaning team are an amazing group of people. They work to keep this place clean and sanitary, which is quite a job. Our medical care team makes sure everybody has the medical attention they need.”

She added the 220 cats are content because they know they are safe in the rescue and know they are cared for. “This team goes above and beyond on a daily basis for these animals. It’s really quite impressive,” Dobar said.

Future goals

For her future tasks, Dobar has a lengthy list that’s comprehensive. “It’s really about making sure this space continues to progress,” she said. “I like to say we’re an emerging organization, even though we’ve been here for 36 years.”

She outlined the goals:

- Re-establish an executive office to help the public understand our mission and values;

- Promote our work in the community;

- Increase our adoptions;

- Grow our partnerships and community engagement;

- Update, refresh and expand each of the buildings in the facility;

- Expand and refine our services;

- Get our newsletter going again;

- Define our fundraising plan;

- Get to know and listen to our supporters and donors;

- Expand our donor base.

It sounds like a lot to do, but Dobar adds she is also “cleaning kitty litter and getting to know the cats.”

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star, The Weekly Calistogan and st