Hello everyone and welcome to the Farm Brand Simply Human interview column- a place where creative individuals, forward thinkers, and evolutionary minds have a place to showcase and tell their incredible stories.
Today we have a very inspiring and heartwarming piece, as we were honored to sit down and chat with an incredible individual who has successfully started and is currently running a non-profit animal rescue.
We want to give a big welcome to Heather, the founder, owner, and operator of "Under One Sky Animal Rescue".
From balancing two business endeavors at the same time, including a tattoo parlor, to dealing with the hardships of pandemics, and of course, navigating the intricacies of a non-profit; Heather is a prime example of the positive effects we can single handily put back into the world.
She is a beacon of hope for the animals she so very much loves, and her dedication and hard work is deserving of the admiration and support of us all. Stick around to learn more about not only the individual behind the rescue and her business story, but more importantly to learn more about the adorable animals that she saves and how you can help be a part of this positive change.
Before learning more about Under One Sky Animal Rescue, I first wanted to begin by getting to know Heather a bit more to gain a better idea of who the person is behind her incredible rescue.
“We would love to learn more about you and some of your endeavors! What are some things that you would like to share with us, some context about yourself, and anything else you feel comfortable sharing?”.
"Well, I have been tattooing for... Oh my gosh, like 27 years. When I started 27 years ago it was not a friendly environment for women, let's just put it that way. I wanted to get an apprenticeship and I was turned away everywhere in Los Angeles, so I actually had to move to Florida to get an apprenticeship because every door was literally slammed in my face.
Unfortunately, Florida didn't really work out and I wasn't really taught anything, so I went to North Carolina where I learned how to tattoo at a really great shop and I was finally able to go back to San Diego to work at the shop I have always wanted to work at which is called “Avalon Tattoo”.
I made it through the trials of that and I have been tattooing for a long time. I've had some crazy weird things happen to me like I was on the first season of “Ink Master” which was quite the experience.
So that was kind of my tattoo journey, and I have always loved animals and I come from a family of animal lovers and I have just always wanted to do a rescue of some kind.
My first paraplegic kind of just happened and I became really good at taking care of paraplegic cats. Other rescues started to reach out to me and I began to take their paraplegic cats as well. And then I also teach people how to care for special needs cats."
“So Under One Sky just started while you were doing tattoos”
So I own a shop now called “The Tattoo Room” in Simi Valley and I have a business partner who has been tattooing a long time too and I've been at that shop for the last 8 years and it's been trials and tribulations. But I think this time is when I really wanted to get the rescue going so that's when I got the 501C3 happening which took 2 years and 2 grand to get that.
Having these two jobs definitely coincide. It's like having two full-time jobs but one is a total labor of love and I would absolutely do anything for my animals!
“Animals are just the best things ever, aren't they? So I would love to learn more about Under One Sky Rescue. You mentioned paraplegic cats earlier, so let’s get into some of the things you handle, where you are located, and anything else you'd like to share about this amazing rescue!”
Well, right now we are located in North Hollywood California but we are about to move across the country to Texas!
I am actually going to be quitting tattooing because like I said, this is a full-time job and there's only one of me! I am a one-woman show and I want to grow my rescue. Under one Sky is me all by myself. I have a couple of volunteers here and there but COVID of course halted that, so it's been difficult to do on my own.
I guess my main goal is to grow the rescue to the capacity where I can hire employees because if you saw the things I did in one day, you would probably be amazed."
"Oh gosh, I bet! So there are a lot of responsibilities that I probably can't even begin to imagine. Do you want to go into any of those responsibilities and some of the specific things that you have to do?"
Here Heather explains here incredible and inspiring disabled cats, including 3 paraplegics of which she takes care of, so let's hear about some of these responsibilities right from her and why adopting a special needs cat can be one of the absolute best things you can do for yourself and for the animal!
Hearing about special needs cats makes me realize just how ignorant I have been to the fact that there are so many disabled animals out there who can have such a wonderful life if we help to make it happen. It takes a little extra work, but it is easy to see how the reward on the other end of things is well worth it.
Heather proves that it really doesn't take much to provide to them such beautiful lives, as she has done so on clearly more than one occasion, and that jumping straight for euthanization is absolutely not necessary!
Paraplegic cats can do literally anything they want, and all it takes is just a little extra help on our end.
Check out this beautiful video from Heather's YouTube (make sure to subscribe!!) to see a paraplegic cat living its best life thanks to Under One Sky and to gain a better understanding of just how ‘normal’ these amazing animals are, and how they inspire each and every day.
"So then really quick, for someone who might not know what a paraplegic is from a medical standpoint on a cat, would you mind giving us a quick explanation?"
So my paraplegics all have different spinal injuries and their back legs are paralyzed.
One of my kittens for example, Beluga, was shot by a BB gun in his spine and it cannot be taken out. So he is back-legged paralyzed, and all of the paraplegic cats' spinal cord injuries are different so their back legs all do different things.
Another cat, Alita, was just found running around the streets dragging her back legs when she was a tiny kitten. It was rough at first but she is amazing now. She is a lynx point siamese with beautiful blue eyes and she is a savage!
Even though her back legs drag her front is just absolutely ripped! She'll climb everything, she even uses the big cat wheel.
And Sammy was hit by a car, so his legs act differently than the others.
Basically, a paraplegic cat just means that they do not have use of their back legs due to paralyzation.
"You mentioned earlier how vets too often head straight towards euthanization which is unfortunately all too common of practice with paraplegic cats. What would you say to someone that is considering adopting a paraplegic or a special needs cat, as I can only imagine the life lessons and inspiration that come from owning one of these animals?"
If you're considering adopting a special needs pet or a special needs cat, in particular, I would say DO IT! It makes your heart huge, ginormous really. You see them and they are so resilient and they don't have the baggage that humans do and they just get on with it!
They just have so much fun and you get to share the entire experience with them and I am telling you, it just makes your heart grow larger you know? It's really amazing to watch them grow and get better in some cases, and also if their legs don't get back their function, they continue to have fun and live a really, really good life.
I would also tell people that it is a little daunting, to be honest. I was intimidated with my first paraplegic, and the vets did not offer any advice on how to take care of them so it was really trial by fire, no doubt, but once I learned it then it wasn't that hard at all.
And now I have helped people all over the world! On my YouTube Channel, I have tons of worldwide tutorials. I just recently helped this woman in the Middle East through my videos.
I couldn't be there in person with them, but they were so happy because there was nobody else to help them and nowhere to turn to. If you learn how to do it, it's not hard at all to take a little time out of your day to take care of their needs.
Because becoming paralyzed can happen to any kitten due to injury, you never know (unless you purposefully adopt one) if raising a paraplegic cat is in your stars.
If it does happen, or if it has already happened and you are looking for reliable sources to help teach you how to care for a disabled kitty, then Heather has you covered! Take a look at this excellent video as an example of some of the content you will find on the “Under One Sky Animal Rescue” YouTube Channel.
“So Heather, one thing that is unfortunately guaranteed to happen is that things go wrong in terms of your kitten's health. You obviously require certain surgeries and medical attention with such a high volume of kittens. How do you go about facilitating these surgeries, where does the funding come from, and anything else if you want to walk us through it?”
In terms of keeping her business going, donations and support from others (considering Under One Sky is a non-profit) is absolutely necessary! So please check out the video below to hear just how much you can be of a positive impact to these kittens and Heather's rescue by hearing out her answer below.
Not only can you write off your donation on taxes, but at the same time, you are simultaneously helping to save the life of a precious creature. Anything helps, and until volunteering is back to commonality, the best thing you can do for Under One Sky Animal Rescue and for Heather, the individual working so hard to make this happen, is to donate any comfortable amount.
"Would you mind explaining to us the idea behind TNR?"
"So TNR stands for ‘trap and release’.
Even if you can't take in a stray or feral cat, you want to get them fixed or spayed and neutered so they don't bring more babies into the world! Because you wouldn't believe the horrors I have seen on the streets.
I Can't even tell you what I have seen because it is horrible! Little kittens dying, parasites, malnutrition; all kinds of things that people don't realize or just don't think about. They just go on with their lives unaware that these poor animals are living out there with all of these perils.
They are instinctively breeding and reproducing but there's actually a small army of people in our area who go out and they trap and get them fixed and then put them back into their environment.
There's even this one woman I know who spends $1000/month on cat food to feed these local strays in her area, so luckily there are good people, but there's just not enough good people or enough money.
It seems like the poorest people always give the most and to me, that's just so tragic. It just makes me think how people need to be more aware of what's going on and not just stay in their bubble."
See for yourself just how amazing these kittens are and hear the story of Alita in the video above, one of Heather’s paraplegic kittens with quite the inspiring journey. A story that, unfortunately so, most other kittens are not blessed to live out…
Again the topic of the donation came about, as with the current state and time donations are genuinely the best way to have a positive impact on the lives of these animals without having to lift a finger! As a means to become more aware of this massive situation in Los Angeles, your donations not only help with medical expenses but can also help with trap and release to save lives before they are harmed.
It's literally so easy!! Just click the image below and it will take you directly to the donation page. And check it out, you can even set up recurring donations! Even a dollar a month will directly save some of these kitten's lives.
On top of donating, for a more engaging and direct influence for you to take on these kittens, there is also a linktree on Under One Sky Animal Rescue’s Instagram page that will take you right to their amazon wish list. You can browse all sorts of products that Heather needs to take care of her animals, and things like toys to make their lives that much brighter!
"Do you make a salary off of your Rescue?"
Hear it from Heather herself on how every cent she makes or that is donated goes right back into the rescue, as she does not pay herself and does all of this literally out of the genuine good of her heart! Even more so of a reason to set up a Patreon monthly donation.
"How do you think COVID has affected some of the challenges you usually face and what has it done in terms of how you have been managing and dealing with your rescue?"
"COVID is challenging in a lot of ways. I think more than anything else COVID has created a universal feeling of stress. So in terms of COVID affecting the rescue, I always say I am “all go no slow!” so it really didn't change how I run the rescue as I am always just so busy.
Taking care of the kittens, filing all sorts of paperwork, keeping up with social media. Each part is like a small full-time job and I am never, ever bored. So even without being able to go to my tattoo shop, I haven't been bored at all and if anything it really helped me to focus only on my rescue!
I honestly think if I wasn't doing this rescue I would be so much more bored, so much more depressed. I am so thankful for these kittens. I think universally we are supposed to be helping others, and it doesn't matter what species, not just humans!
Don't just watch others help, get off your butt and go out there and do something! And guess what, when you do that you will immediately feel better inside. Whenever you help a person or an animal, it changes you, even if just for a day."
Here's a few more words from Heather on why there is never a better time than right now to adopt an animal!
"Is your rescue limited to just kittens?"
"No, it's actually not! I am really big on wildlife rescue as well and I would love to raise awareness about opossums. I do rescue opossums and people maintain such a bad image around these special little creatures.
People think they are gross and have rabies when I think I like all of existence there have only been something like 5 cases of rabies. Don't quote me on that! But their blood is so warm that it helps to prevent rabies.
People think they are scary because they consider them to be ugly, but they're really docile, they are marsupials, they have a pouch. They are so cute!
I actually don't really know how they came to be in the US because they really aren't supposed to be here, and they have it really really hard, especially in the midwest.
It's way too cold for them, they get frostbite and people just kill them.
I just want people to be nice to opossums and to leave them alone! Don't mess with them and they literally won’t mess with you. They really don't bite, they do have a defense mechanism where they do get a little scary looking and hiss and open their mouths, but they are so timid!
I mean, if any animal gets cornered they are going to whip out the claws, right?
I want people to know that opossums are so important for our environment, they are nature's clean up crew. They go around and eat the debris and the decaying vegetable and fruit matter, and even animals that have died!
You know, people always say ‘oh opossums are always in the trash” but that's only because they can't find real food. That's not what they want to eat. It's the same as raccoons.
My big thing is to always put water out! In the summer or winter or whatever, just put a bowl of water out. It takes literally a minute and all of these animals, kittens, opossums and anything in between, struggle every day to find water and this helps them so much."
"Any closing words or final thoughts for us Heather before we sign off?"
For such powerful words, let's hear it come from the hero herself!
"People Helping People Help Animals"
Heather, once again we want to thank you for taking the time to speak with us, but more importantly, we want to thank you for all the hard work and dedication you have selfishly put into saving so many lives.
Your story is not only amazing, inspiring, and everything in between; but you have taught us so much and have shed light on an issue that can only be fully addressed by the power of the people as a whole.
For those of you out there reading and watching, remember to follow Heather on Instagram, follow her Facebook page, subscribe to the YouTube channel, and share this interview! If you can donate anything, your actions will be highly appreciated, and will directly help to feed the mouth of a wonderful creature out there in this world.
That, and if anything at all, remember to give your pet a little extra love tonight, as their purpose will always be to fulfill our own lives with as much love as possible.