Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 27th
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Helping Pets 
In Need

blog dogsBirchBark Foundation announces its launch this spring

When pets and their owners grow together over the years, they become more than just human and animal—they become companions and friends. And like all good friends that stick around, pets can become an indispensable part of the family. So what happens if an unexpected illness or injury threatens a pet’s life, but the treatment they need to survive is beyond the owner’s means?

When faced with circumstances like these, pet owners of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties had few options other than payment plans, adoption, or euthanasia—until now.

The recently launched nonprofit the BirchBark Foundation was formed for “people that have the heart, the house, and all the resources to care for their pet, but suddenly face a catastrophic medical problem they can’t afford to pay for,” says Dr. Merrianne Burtch, founder and president of the BirchBark Foundation.

Throughout her 14 years of treating animals at Pacific Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Service, which she founded in 1999 and co-owns, Burtch says she ran into these sorts of financial crises all too often. In March of last year, she decided to do something about it. 

“There are a lot of wonderful organizations in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties that help place animals in loving homes, but none that keep those pets in their homes, and healthy,” Burtch says. “My goal with BirchBark is to complement the existing animal-related organizations, and add to what is available.”

Faced with constant time constraints (averaging 60 hours a week at the vet hospital), Burtch turned to her client and friend, Bunny Tavares. At the BirchBark launch event on Wednesday Feb. 6, Burtch called Tavares, “the hand that shaped the clay” of the BirchBark Foundation. Tavares has worked in marketing and communications at places including Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) and BBC Worldwide, but now works as an independent consultant and the executive director of BirchBark.

“We have known each other for 10 years,” Tavares says, “so Dr. Burtch was aware of my background. She came to me last March and said ‘I have this dream, and I think you can help me.’”

Their vision for the BirchBark Foundation goes beyond helping pets with fixable problems, but also encompasses educating pet owners through the foundation’s website, building a community of local veterinarians, and providing hospice, respite care, and grief counseling for owners.

“We are hoping that other veterinarians in the community will join us as guest bloggers on our website, and contribute to our ‘ask-a-vet’ forum for non-emergency questions,” Burtch says. 

The BirchBark Foundation hopes to start giving financial assistance grants to pet owners in need this coming April, but is still  more than 50 percent short of its $200,000 first year budget goal. The foundation runs solely on donations, which they began collecting in May 2012.
To date, they have garnered $75,000. When they reach $100,000, they will begin accepting grant applications. 

“We are always looking for new donors, volunteers, and anybody that can help us out in any way,” Tavares says. 

For more information about donating or volunteering at the BirchBark Foundation, visit their website,

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