Caring For Creatures’ Birkholz recognized as Hometown Hero

Caring For Creatures’ Birkholz recognized as Hometown Hero

By Page H. Gifford

Mary Birkholz, president of Caring For Creatures, had no idea she had been nominated for Allen & Allen’s annual Hometown Hero honor and was shocked when Allen & Allen called to give her the news.

“It was a huge surprise,” said Birkholz. “I am very honored to receive such an award. My biggest hope is that any recognition I receive will put more spotlight on homeless animals and how many are still at risk and in need of help.”

Allen & Allen has been honoring Hometown Heroes for 10 years.

“We are thrilled to have such a wonderful group of heroes to add to the almost 450 who have been honored over the past 10 years,” said Elizabeth Kerns, a publicist with Allen & Allen. “We want to celebrate those individuals, like Mary, who motivate positive change and acts of selflessness in Virginia to make our communities better places to live.”

Kerns explained that the criteria for Hometown Heroes are that honorees are members of their community in Virginia who represent the core values of Allen & Allen: service, care, compassion, community and family.

“These local heroes improve our communities with service and action,” Kerns said. “From her nomination, it was clear Mary has dedicated her life to caring for animals through Caring For Creatures. Not only does she care about the animals, but she is also passionate about the people and finding companionship for these cats and dogs. Through her work, Mary demonstrates the core values of Allen & Allen, and that is what makes her a Hometown Hero.”

Birkholz has managed the first no-kill sanctuary in Fluvanna for 30 years. Early in her life she was inspired by animals, particularly those that were abused and neglected.

“It was through the years of volunteering I did with shelters where I lived that I felt compelled to provide a safe refuge for dogs and cats – a place where they could heal from their physical, mental and emotional wounds in a natural and peaceful environment,” said Birkholz. “A place where time was not their enemy – meaning the animals were safe no matter how long it took to find a loving, responsible and compatible home.”

Though being nominated and recognized for her hard work is gratifying, Birkholz said that while she has seen some positive improvements over the past 30 years as it relates to the number of dogs and cats being euthanized in the U.S., there is still a long way to go.

“To a large degree, the issues of neglect and abuse relate to humans’ perception of animals as things rather than sentient beings,” she said. “When more humans can begin to shift how they perceive animals and, in turn, relate to them differently, there will be, in my opinion, a reduction of conscious neglect and abuse. Respect for the planet and all who reside on it is huge – and we humans are falling short in this area.”

There is good news in Virginia: The laws have changed somewhat to more appropriately punish those who harm an animal, Birkholz said.

Birkholz is proud of what she and others have created so far, but she still has many goals and improvements she wishes to accomplish. The issues affecting the animals coming through her door seem to have changed in the past five to 10 years, compared to 25 years ago. While some of the medical needs are the same, she has witnessed more anxiety, stress and behavior issues than she recalled dealing with in the past. As a result, she sees how Caring For Creatures needs to shift its care and assistance to match the current needs.

“I learn something new every day and seek to evolve and change as needed to help homeless animals,” she said.

Even though she is now a Hometown Hero and appreciates the honor, she credits the community for its support and generosity through all these years.

“Caring For Creatures is unable to help these animals without this assistance,” she said. “I hope folks will continue to help CFC and other responsible rescues. The need continues and it takes resources of all kinds to restore health and wellbeing to animals who have experienced neglect and abuse at the hands of a human. Those of us in rescue willingly subject ourselves to frustration, sadness, and long hours of work; our reward is seeing an animal transform to become the best dog or cat he or she can be and then find a great forever home. And, of course, the best gift is the love we receive from these animals – given freely and without judgment.”

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