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for the dogs

Dr. Merrianne Burtch and Bunny Tavares
BirchBark Foundation

by Carie Broecker


Dr. Merrianne Burtch can’t remember a time when she did not have a dog or a cat. When she was in kindergarten she wrote in her school notebook, “When I grow up, I want to be a veterinarian.”

When Merrianne was 14 years old, her mother encouraged her to volunteer at the local veterinary clinic to test the waters and see if being a vet was really her calling. And it was. She stuck with the vet clinic, working weekends and summers all through high school and college, and eventually achieved diplomate status in the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. 

Over the years, Dr. Burtch has seen too many people who have had to euthanize  their pets. They dearly loved their furry family members with a curable condition, but could not afford treatment because of financial difficulties.

The idea for a solution to this problem had been percolating in her mind for years. Inspired by the success of local rescue groups, Dr. Burtch felt the community would rally around and support an organization whose purpose was to provide medical care for dogs and cats whose guardians who could not afford major medical intervention for their pets. In 2012 she decided the time was right to start such an organization, and the BirchBark Foundation founded.

Dr. Burtch asked longtime client and friend, Bunny Tavares, who had a background in nonprofits, fundraising, and public relations, to head the organization as its executive director. Bunny was an animal lover who knew firsthand the difficulties of providing medical care for a pet when finances are stretched. Bunny volunteered her time to take Dr. Burtch’s dream and apply her own nonprofit knowledge and expertise. Together they have created a much-needed organization that now serves Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

The BirchBark Foundation has already helped their first five clients and have more applications for help coming in daily. Chloe, an exuberant, lively, healthy four-year-old Golden Retriever-Lab mix fell off a cliff while hiking and severely injured her front legs and required a surgery her guardians could not afford. Lacie, an adorable two-and-a-half-year old Shih Tzu, ran into the street to greet a family member and was struck by a fast-moving truck. Lacie sustained several pelvic fractures and needed extensive surgery that her guardians could not afford. Gus, an eight-year-old Pit Bull Katrina survivor, is in training to be a service dog. Gus developed a heart condition and needed expensive diagnostics and heart medication that his guardian could not afford. The BirchBark Foundation was able to arrange for medical care all of these needy cases.

The BirchBark Foundation’s goal is to take the financial equation out of life-and-death decisions and provide educational tools so pet guardians can make well-informed decisions about the health and well-being of their pets—from the heart, not the pocketbook.



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