Interview: Working With Homeless Animals Feeds Peggy Hartig's Soul
Lisa Duncan Photography
Americans love their pets, but Peggie Hartig’s devotion to animals runs deeper than most.
She retired from a marketing job to volunteer full-time at a Vallejo animal shelter. She spent vacations helping at an animal sanctuary in Utah. Her husband, also an animal-lover, proposed to her at a wolf sanctuary in Washington.
Working with homeless animals feeds her soul, she explains. “I just feel like they need somebody to be their voice, somebody to be their protector,” she says, choking up a bit.
She is particularly passionate about changing people’s perceptions of pit bulls.
“There’s so much misinformation out there about the breed. They need to be judged individually. The majority are amazing animals and great pets,” she says while Ernie, one of her pit bulls, is curled up at her feet.
Peggie’s work to help animals dates back to 2001, when four wolves were found in a backyard in Vallejo. She helped find a sanctuary to take them in Oregon. She started volunteering with local animal groups in 2006, initially with Solano County Animal Rescue Foundation. She worked with the Spay & Neuter Initiative Program and began donating her time at the Humane Society of the North Bay in 2008.
Peggie retired from NorthBay Healthcare in 2015 to devote full-time to the animals at the Vallejo shelter. She was the event coordinator at the Humane Society until she decided to change direction last summer and left the organization.
When she spoke with Benicia Magazine in March, Peggie was taking time to figure out the next way she will help animals. Other changes are on the horizon as well: The younger of her two sons will graduate from high school this year and she just started a new job at Mt. Beautiful Wines.
Peggie, 51, grew up in Plainfield, Ill., and moved to Benicia in 1981. She graduated from Benicia High School and attended Diablo Valley College. She and her husband, Frank, have three dogs and a foster dog.
Have you always loved animals? I have always had pets and loved them. We had dogs, cats, snakes, even ducks when I was growing up. Plainfield was rural then. It was so different then. Our dogs would be outside, even in the snow. I used to love tornadoes because our dog could come inside and go in the basement.
I’ve always been protective of animals. I remember I got really mad at a neighbor who hurt their cat when I was 5.
What do you love about pit bulls? Pits are amazing family pets. They are loyal, they are gentle with people, they are fun and they are funny.
Our very first pit bull was a six-week-old puppy that Frank (a retired lieutenant from the Benicia Police Department) found in a gutter when he was on patrol. I love that my animals are ambassadors for pit bulls.
When did you become an advocate for pit bulls? Probably at the (Humane Society of the North Bay) shelter. There was a pit bull I fell in love with, Chipper. He was my first love at the shelter, and I started lobbying for the breed. There are so many of them because they are irresponsibly bred, and they are pre-judged because of the media. People think they’re all that way because of just a few. The majority are amazing animals and great pets.
What should people consider before adopting a pet? Consider your lifestyle and research which breed will be the best fit.
Don’t get a puppy if you like to sit at home. There are a lot of older dogs available at the shelter who would love to come into a home and be a lap dog. If you like to hike, look for a more active breed.
Don’t think a new pet will change your lifestyle. Don’t say, “I’m want to exercise and lose weight so I’m going to get a dog so I have to walk it.”
Also consider your living situation. Don’t get a husky if you live in an apartment. …
I just really encourage people to adopt from a shelter or rescue group. You can find any breed at Petfinder.com or Adoptapet.com.
Remember, you can save your best friend’s life. I have that saying on my business card.
What steps can people take to increase the success of pet adoption? It’s complicated because there are a lot of different steps that depend on your individual situation. If you have pets, if you have children, introduce the new pet very slowly and cautiously. Always supervise young children with pets.
Are you volunteering with local animal groups now? If any rescue group needs help with graphic design, I’ll do it. I’ve done some of that work this year.
What animal sanctuary do you vacation at? I love going to Best Friends sanctuary in Utah. I go there for vacation and to volunteer.
When I go, I just don’t want to leave. I’m bawling when it comes time to leave. I feel like my soul belongs there.
What do you do when you’re not working? Drink wine (laughing). We like to go wine tasting. There’s a sign in my kitchen that says, “Dogs and wine make everything fine.” That’s my motto.
We also like to go on walks and take hikes. We like to go out to Point Pinole.
How will you spend Mother’s Day this year? As long as I’m looking at my children’s faces and I get to spend the day with my mom, I’m happy. Skype doesn’t count for seeing your children on Mother’s Day.
I don’t like going out on Mother’s Day because everyplace is so busy. Usually my husband barbecues for us.
What’s next for you? I don’t know. I guess the future is unknown. We have some traveling coming up.
I heard a woman at a winery say, “I’m like a dog, I live in the moment,” and I thought, “I’m just like that.” I figure it out and do it if it feels right.