It takes a true animal lover to describe a tarantula as "sweet." But Aubrey Eastman, executive director of Dream Power Animal Rescue, actually talks at greater length about two-legged creatures — because she knows that helping people is an effective way to help their pets.
"That's how we're different from most other rescues — we're not just here for the animals, we're here for the people that love them, too," Eastman says. "That's why, every day, we're coming up with new ideas: 'How can we create a program that will help someone do this?'"
The nonprofit's latest programming idea is making a mobile veterinary clinic out of a 30-something-year-old motor home — a bequest from longtime donor Bill Robinson.
"We decided it would be great if we had something that was a low-cost spay and neuter unit and would also go to low-income neighborhoods where people may not have cars to get to a spay and neuter clinic," says Eastman, 33, who's been with Dream Power for a total of six years. "And also for the people in senior citizen centers and nursing homes that have animals. They can get shots, spay and neuter, and microchipping [insertion of tiny integrated circuits under the skin, used to help identify lost pets].
"No one else does that. We're looking for funding from big corporations and for individuals to step up and say, 'Hey, this is a great cause and we want to support it.'"
Eastman estimates it will take approximately $28,000 to transform the motor home, with renovations, equipment and supplies, into a medical clinic. Dream Power is working out details with Pima Medical Institute, which will supply veterinary and vet tech interns to staff it. And the nonprofit will recruit four or five veterinarians to donate time once a month to get the program off the ground; two local vets have volunteered already.
"The vets are very, very sweet around here," Eastman says. "They donate quite a bit of their time, and they help us with surgery costs."
She has talked with groups running similar programs in other cities and knows that, eventually, she'll need a full-time vet to supervise the program. Even then, though, Eastman envisions Dream Power's program as a helping hand, not competition, for veterinary offices and other facilities that are inundated with requests.
Since its founding in 1990, Dream Power has found homes for more than 14,000 companion animals, everything from rats and frogs to pot-bellied pigs and horses. That track record is a testament to the dedication of volunteers who help with day-to-day pet care and events such as weekend adoption fairs. At this time, Eastman says, the nonprofit has approximately 150 active volunteers, comprising 98 percent of its workforce.
Some of those volunteers are participating in the work-for-food program, which gives low-income pet owners two bags of pet food for every hour they volunteer. The food comes from area groceries, which have supported Dream Power for years.
After two years as executive director, Eastman teems with gratitude for all those who help Dream Power run, and still fizzes with enthusiasm for her cause. On a recent day, Eastman leaves her officemate — the aforementioned tarantula — and beams as she sits down to play with kittens who aren't quite ready for new homes; they climb on her, nuzzle her neck and nod off on her shoulder.
But as in most nonprofits, the joys and successes are tempered by the knowledge that she, her staff and volunteers can't always do it all.
"The hardest part of the job is not having enough resources to help enough people," she says. "We were just returning a call from a woman who's trying to give up a dog, and we don't have a foster home. We have a network of volunteers who take in dogs, but they can only take as many as their space allows. And we have to start turning them away. It's terrible having to turn people away who really need the help."
Dream Power receives no funding from the city or state; the nonprofit relies on donations and grants to keep the doors open at its headquarters in a ranch-style house near Memorial Park.
"If someone donates $2, it actually does make a difference," Eastman says. "We make every little bit go as far as we can."