When Eric Stevens joined Kitsap Humane Society, the nonprofit agency devoted to caring for animals in need, in 2012, it was struggling to keep its doors open. Its dire financial situation had impacted the agency’s ability to provide services to homeless pets and their adoptive owners.
“The organization was pretty close to going under,” Stevens said in a Kitsap Humane Society video. “We’d had some financial challenges, but had lost a lot of credibility in the community.”
Fortunately for Stevens and KHS, Dr. Jen Stonequist, DVM, had recently come on board and quickly became a partner in the effort to re-establish the organization. Necessary but painful reductions to the agency’s budget required that Stonequist — KHS’s director of shelter medicine — and staff work doubly hard over three years until it could regain its financial footing.
Even while weathering the effects of the cutbacks, Stevens said Stonequist — known affectionately by staff members as “Dr. Jen — also worked to improve KHS’s services for animals.
“That was always her vision,” he said. “Better services for animals — she always lived that vision. Dr. Jen is a role model for excellent care for animals.”
Slowly but surely, Stevens said the organization’s financial standing strengthened and its and image improved in the community. Dr. Jen was at the center of that twin effort, he said. The executive director said her passion for the care of animals was demonstrated by her leadership in getting laws changed in Washington state that prevented nonprofit organizations, particularly humane societies, from providing veterinary care beyond spay and neuter services to low-income families.
Changing state laws for animals
When Stonequist moved to this state after graduating with a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Western University Health Sciences in Pomona, California, she was shocked to learn that state laws prevented KHS from providing low-cost care for animals.
“Dr. Jen felt this was unfair and was really determined,” Stevens said, noting that the passionate veterinarian was relentless, but positively, to get the laws changed.
“Each week when we had people come to us with their pets, whether they had experienced an emergency or had chronic medication they weren’t able to afford, the only thing that we could offer these families was relinquishment to the shelter,” Stonequist said.
“That was one of the hardest things for me to do, to tear families apart to save lives. It was then that I knew that this antiquated law really needed to be challenged.”
Shannon Orr, a KHS board member, said Dr. Jen’s passion for animals and compassion for pet owners is on display each day at the animal welfare organization. And that passion doesn’t take a break when the veterinarian isn’t at work. Stonequist volunteers on her days off by helping out at other clinics and mentoring young veterinarians entering the field.
Helping south of the border
The “rock star” vet, as Orr calls Dr. Jen, is well-known for her volunteer work in Baja Sur, Mexico, to help sick and homeless animals. Dr. David Rose, MD, who founded Patrons of Animal Welfare (PAW) there, said the Kitsap vet volunteers on her own dime there, taking vacation time from the humane society and paying her own travel expenses. She also travels to Mexico with suitcases stuffed to the brim with animal toys, dog collars, and leashes.
Rose said the local community his organization serves in Baja Sur has gotten to know and trust Dr. Jen for her volunteer work. He said when PAW first opened its doors 25 years ago, animals were not considered pets. But with a collar and leash attached to a dog, attitudes change and their care becomes important. And the visiting vet takes advantage of that change in attitude by interacting with pet owners in the community as she walks on the street, approaches their pets, and often offers to vaccinate them.
“She accomplishes so much and is a leader in her field regionally and nationally, yet she’s extremely humble,” Rose said of Stonequist. “You’d never know all the things that she does and all the positive impacts that she makes. [Dr. Jen] keeps it all low-key but does amazing work every day. Her dedication is amazing.”
Perisho said Dr. Jen also took it upon herself to become educated about the subject of mindfulness and has created a “Mindfulness in Veterinary Medicine” mental-health support consultation program that she offers free of charge to veterinarians who wish to learn more about dealing with death and illness.
“She’s a resource for other veterinary professionals out there,” she said. “She cares about the pet and the family that’s behind the pet. That’s huge.”
Stonequist’s “doggedness” in her devotion to animals will be greater visualized in the community when KHS’s new Veterinary Lifesaving Center and Community Clinic opens in 2023, which will give people access to affordable veterinary care. And just last week, Dr. Jen was honored by the nonprofit Petco Love organization with a $10,000 grant for KHS and nomination as a finalist for its “Unsung Hero” award.
But in Kitsap County and within the confines of Kitsap Humane Society, that’s common knowledge. Dr. Jen has always been an unsung hero.
Board member Orr said it best: “She’s a hero to me and she’s a hero to our community.”