Deanna Thompson

Avenue Calgary’s 2016 Top 40 Under 40.

Photograph by Erin Brooke Burns. Photographed at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary.

Age: 37

Job title: Executive Director, Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society

Why she’s a 2016 Top 40:

Over the last 10 years, Thompson has shepherded a newly formed non-profit into a respected animal-welfare agency that provides expertise in animal rescue during natural disasters.

Quitting your office job to work with rescued animals is something many people talk about doing, but Deanna Thompson actually did it.

In 2006, while working for Husky Energy, Thompson began volunteering with the newly formed non-profit Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS), earning the rank of board president. In 2010, when AARCS decided to hire its first full-time employee, Thompson stepped up. The move involved a huge salary cut, but six years on, she still says it was worth it. “I work way more hours for way less money, but it doesn’t even seem like work to me,” she says.

In the 10 years Thompson has been at the helm of AARCS, the organization has grown into a respected animal welfare agency with a $2-million annual budget and a staff of 16 (including Thompson as executive director), a shelter in northeast Calgary and a chapter in Edmonton. The organization has a corps of 1,000 volunteers and 500 foster families and rescued more than 2,300 dogs and cats in 2015, a marked increase from 50 dogs in 2006.

In 2013, Thompson mobilized the AARCS teams during the floods in southern Alberta, saving more than 600 animals and earning recognition from the Town of High River, the Siksika First Nation and the Alberta Government, which named her a “Hero of the Floods.” The experience led to AARCS being called in to assist with pet retrieval operations in the aftermath of this year’s Fort McMurray wildfire. Working with peace officers and professional locksmiths over 11 days, AARCS was able to assist in rescuing 1,100 animals.

Though much of what Thompson does these days is administrative, she still likes to get her hands dirty, going out on rescue missions or pitching in to clean kennels. She volunteers six to eight weekends per year with the Alberta Spay Neuter Task Force at clinics in First Nations communities, and she recently travelled to India to vaccinate dogs with Mission Rabies.

Working with abused and neglected animals is emotionally taxing, but Thompson says the key is not to dwell on the negatives. “Like the dogs do, we start at the now,” she says. “We say this is a new day, you’ve got a new chance at a great life and we’re going to make that happen.” – Shelley Arnusch

[Correction: This story has been updated from its original version to say that AARCS was able to assist in rescuing 1,100 animals in the aftermath of the fires in Fort McMurray.]

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