City Lights: Community, animals owe her a lot

This week, Times Community News lost a longtime member of its family. It was a member whom, to my knowledge, I never met in person. Such is the nature of email.

Barbara Fischer, who for years contributed the Pet of the Week feature, died Wednesday after a long battle with cancer. Pet of the Week, which still runs in the Huntington Beach Independent, Daily Pilot and Coastline Pilot, spotlights an animal each week that is available for adoption.

For years, week after week, I got used to receiving those emails from Barbara or one of her colleagues. (The animals they featured, which reside at the Orange County Humane Society, appeared in the Independent and Daily Pilot; the Coastline Pilot features different ones.)

Like many weekly emails, those messages appeared so often, right on time, that I took them for granted. But more than a few times, I got follow-up emails enthusing that an animal we recently featured — with Barbara's help — had been adopted, and I remembered what a service she was providing to the community.

And that was far from the only service she provided. A few months ago, the Independent published a letter from Pat Bril, a volunteer for the Humane Society, about a plaque the shelter had recently installed on the wall in Barbara's honor. The plaque, one of just three on the premises, sports her name above the slogan, "It's all about the animals."

"Since 2001, Barb has contributed in myriad ways," Bril wrote in her appreciation. "She walked, socialized and fostered dogs. She also transported them to be groomed and paid for needed surgeries. As an experienced volunteer, she ably trained and mentored dozens of new volunteers.

"In addition, Barb purchased beds, blankets, sweaters, collars, leashes and special food for the animals to improve the quality of their kennel life. Her personal care even extended to regularly tucking dogs into their beds for a warm and cozy night."

Caring for animals is a time-consuming job, to be sure. But it can also be a physically — and aurally — demanding one. Thursday afternoon, I visited the Humane Society in southeast Huntington Beach and got a sense of the conditions where Barbara worked as often as seven days a week.

The Humane Society, which operates out of a small facility near the beach, houses up to 70 dogs and 40 cats and also takes in rabbits, birds, hamsters and even tortoises. (The latter animals are sometimes passed on to other care agencies that can better accommodate their needs.) The dogs reside in kennels behind chain-link gates, and the sound of dozens of them barking at once can exhaust the ear after a few seconds.

Still, as long as she stayed healthy enough to do it, Barbara showed up to work with the animals and train new volunteers. Jana Lucas, who started a year ago, told me about how Barbara trained her to walk a dog properly, attach a collar, transition from small to large dogs and other essentials.

According to Alexa Barnes, an adoption counselor at the shelter, Barbara's contributions slowed as she battled her illness. Still, she got a moment of levity during the plaque dedication ceremony, when the society held a celebratory lunch and hung her name for posterity on the wall.

"She was ecstatic," Barnes told me. "When we showed it to her, she was really emotional."

As for other emotional beings: The animals that got adopted thanks to Pet of the Week may have had no idea who helped them find a permanent home, but they no doubt got used to Barbara's face every day as she brought the laundry and opened the gates for another walk.

Thanks, Barbara. And every week in Times Community News, your mission lives on.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

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