A Promising Start
“It’s crazy to think about the butterfly effect of it all.”
Jessica Zubizarreta (affectionately known as JZ to many), felt drawn to animals as early as childhood. Her passion would eventually lead to a higher purpose.
JZ’s draw to animals really began in 3rd grade, when a baby squirrel fell off the roof of her family’s house. She took in the baby squirrel, and bottle fed and raised it carefully for weeks until it could be safely released back into the wild. Incredibly, a few years later, the same thing happened again – but this time, with two baby squirrels. After those amazing experiences caring for tiny animals, JZ was hooked. She wanted to do it again.
The Journey Begins
By middle school, JZ had finally convinced her parents to let her foster, and she signed up for foster training at Humane Society Silicon Valley. Her family wasn’t as passionate about animals as she was, so they agreed to let her foster with a few rules in place: the kittens needed to stay in JZ’s room, and she would need to provide them with all the care they needed. “I took that and ran with it,” JZ says. She turned her bedroom into a foster paradise. She got a loft bed so the kittens would have more floor space to explore, and occasionally let the kittens come up into her bed for supervised play and snuggle time.
By the time JZ got to high school, kittens had become a respite from the stresses of a competitive, grueling high school experience. She would spend her evenings doing hours of homework, grateful to have kittens in her lap to ease the anxiety.
Along the way, JZ developed a ton of knowledge about caring for kittens and helping them thrive. She knew everything about her foster kittens and what they needed – on more than one occasion, she remembers her mom pulling her out of class to answer medical questions for the HSSV veterinarians.
“I specifically remember a wide-eyed, young JZ sitting in the foster exam room with her mother and tiny young kittens,” says Dr. Campbell, one of our amazing vets who met JZ when she was only 12 years old and now works alongside her. “It was clear from a very young age that JZ had a maturity and understanding of animal welfare work.”
JZ started an Instagram account all about her fostering experience. It was supposed to be a fun way to share photos of her kittens with family and friends, but it quickly gained steam and suddenly JZ had thousands of followers who were invested in the stories of her foster animals. She was featured in several media outlets, and she soon discovered how meaningful it was to connect with people from all over about her passion – saving animals.
Turning Passion into a Career
Soon after graduating, JZ wanted to find a way to make her passion into her career. So in 2017, she returned to HSSV, the shelter through which she had fostered hundreds of animals as a teen. She spent a year on the Adoptions team and then another year on the Medical Reception team. She loved aspects of both, especially connecting with people. But her heart lay with fostering.
When an opening came up on the Foster team, JZ jumped at the chance. She joined the Foster team as a Foster Care Associate and hit the ground running. She quickly found that there were aspects of working on the Foster team that reminded her so much of what she loved about fostering. One of her favorite parts had always been watching her fosters get adopted into loving homes. “I realized early on how fun it was to bestow these amazing animals on people,” she says. Working on the Foster team gave her that same joy. “I still get all the magic gifting these animals to great people. I feel like Santa Claus. I get so excited when fosters come to pick up their new animals.”
Continuing the Passion
Even as a staff member at HSSV, JZ has continued to foster animals whenever possible. Since officially joining the team, she’s expanded the types of foster animals she takes home. She has now fostered dogs (including pregnant ones!), neonatal puppies and kittens, guinea pigs, rabbits, senior animals, and adult cats. “I like to try everything once,” she says. “I have a lot of passion for the cases that aren’t easy.”
One of her most memorable foster animals was Billie. Billie came in a few years ago massively pregnant and in terrible shape. JZ took her home, and once there, Billie gave birth to 13 puppies with JZ by her side the whole time.
For the next two weeks, Billie and JZ worked together to keep the puppies fed and thriving. Eventually, Billie was placed up for adoption and some of the puppies were sent to new foster homes while they continued to grow big and healthy. JZ kept five of the puppies until the very end. She watched with joy when Billie was adopted by an incredible family who stayed in touch and are giving Billie the life she always deserved. The experience of helping Billie and her babies gave JZ so much knowledge that helped her when she was trying to help other foster families.
Finding Connection Through Community
Many who foster through HSSV adore JZ, and some have known her for years, watching her learn and grow into a confident, invaluable member of the team.
“When I think of JZ, I think how extremely lucky HSSV is to have her on staff,” says Jerie Campi, a foster mentor for HSSV who has known JZ for many years. “The number of animals she has helped all these years is uncountable. The number of volunteers she has guided through the first time they took a kitten, puppy, or dog home has got to be in the many thousands. JZ is a volunteer favorite; so many new mentees of mine have mentioned how helpful JZ was in getting them ready to go home.”
Working closely with our staff and fosters is the most rewarding parts of the job for JZ. She loves working at HSSV because “it feels like an ivy league of shelters.” She knows that the staff and volunteers will always go above and beyond for the foster animals she oversees. Every option is tried to provide vulnerable animals with the best possible chance of a healthy future, and she never worries that the foster animals in her program aren’t getting the absolute best care. She’s inspired by the way the medical team works with her team and the foster parents in her program. “There’s a sense of connection and community. Even the very hard moments are made better by the extent to which our staff and foster parents will go to save animals,” she says.
Staff who work closely with JZ feel the same sense of admiration toward her. “Her love of animals has always been undeniable,” says Dr. Campbell. “I am grateful to be the witness to JZ’s growth and greatness and to now work side by side with her is an honor.”
Dr. Dalmasso, HSSV’s Lead Veterinarian, is also grateful to have JZ as a colleague. “JZ helps to make all of our work possible,” she says. “Watching her learn and grow over my time here has been an honor. Seeing her transform into a skilled, accomplished foster professional, following her passion and making her place in the world, is a true joy. She is kind and generous with her time and her talents. She often jumps into complicated medical cases, acting as a devoted animal advocate as well as a foster advocate – she can speak for all sides – to balance the needs of the patient with the abilities of the foster family.”
We’re all incredibly grateful to have JZ on our team. HSSV is a better place because of her passion, dedication, and commitment to both animals and people.