Since she started volunteering with Animal Friends Rescue Project (AFRP) 11 years ago, Michelle Starr has filled diverse roles. She helped with the nonprofit’s 25th anniversary celebration in September, about three months after joining the AFRP Board of Directors. She’s welcomed 115 dogs into her home as a foster volunteer, accommodating some for a few weeks and others for more than a year. Starr has taken on various weekend cat care projects and—through her dog boarding, grooming and day care business, All-Starr Pet Services—she also provides complimentary treatments for dogs leaving local shelters.
“A lot of times, they just need a spa day to look and feel their best,” Starr says.
More than 400 AFRP volunteers, like Starr, help abandoned, stray and abused companion animals, primarily in Monterey County. Four founders established the organization in 1998, launching with a small garage office and an adoption corner at a Pacific Grove pet store. Today, about 15 staff members guide foster, adoption, medical care, and spay and neuter programs for dogs and cats.
“We are a foster-based rescue. Our main goal is finding those animals at the local shelters that are at risk of being euthanized, often because they’re too sick or injured, or they’re too old or too young, or they’re shy or traumatized. They just need extra time and a home where they can decompress,” says Starr. “We pull those that are most at risk, put them in a loving foster home, and give them that second chance to find their new forever family.”
AFRP has assisted more than 25,000 animals over the past 25 years. In 2022, the organization took in 207 dogs and 223 cats through shelter selections and owner surrenders. Area households adopted 168 dogs and 165 cats from AFRP last year, and plenty more animals were served through wide-reaching initiatives.
Through its community cat program, for example, the organization and its partners served more than 1,000 feral cats and backyard strays in 2022. To minimize overpopulation and prevent disease, animals are humanely trapped, neutered or spayed, vaccinated, and returned to their familiar habitats. AFRP also works with local groups to prevent and address cases of parvo, a contagious virus that can strike unvaccinated dogs. Most shelters can’t house parvo dogs once they’re ill, since the disease is so transmittable, and the average treatment costs AFRP between $3,000 and $4,000.
The organization treats many ill and injured program animals at its Monterey clinic, which opened shortly before the pandemic and continued safely operating throughout. Area veterinary partners often donate time and services as well. AFRP also collaborates with animal welfare associations across several Western states to operate its Loads of Love transport program. When shelters are full or dogs and cats have a better chance of being adopted in another region, volunteers transfer them between facilities using the nonprofit’s cargo van. The vehicle traveled about 5,000 miles in 2022 alone.
“I’m really proud of our volunteer network. Some people have been with AFRP for 20 or 25 years, and they still volunteer their time,” Starr says, citing opportunities that range from vet clinic work to office assistance to fostering dogs and cats.
Approximately 200 households welcome AFRP foster animals, and the organization is always looking for additional foster support. Coordinators work hard to match volunteers with the right animals—some people only want small dogs, for example, or dogs that are hypoallergenic—and families can choose from short-term or long-term fostering timelines.
“AFRP covers all the expenses and all the supplies. All we ask is that volunteers provide these animals with a loving home and a routine,” Starr says. “A regular routine gets them started on the right paw, if you will, and makes it so much easier for them to transition once they’re adopted.”
Puppies tend to adapt to new situations more quickly, she adds, while older dogs might face more challenges.
“Especially if they come from an owner surrender situation, or they were dumped somewhere and picked up by a Good Samaritan, these dogs don’t know why they’re no longer with their family. They don’t know why they’re outside of their normal environment. They just know that they’re alone and scared,” Starr says.
Whether it’s a temporary foster situation or an adoption by a forever family, finding the right fit doesn’t just benefit animals.
“Dogs and cats, they make everything better. Especially dogs. They’re so therapeutic, and they’re therapeutic without even having to try,” Starr says. “You can just look at a dog and your day is better.”
For more information, call 831/333-0722 or visit animalfriendsrescue.org. The AFRP Treasure Shop, located at 221 Grand Avenue in Pacific Grove, sells gently used goods to support the nonprofit’s rescue, adoption and care efforts.