Jefferson Award for Public ServiceBy Sharon Chin

SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) — When a pair of North Bay veterinarians volunteer, they save two lives: the life of the person and the life of that person’s pet.

Veterinarians Dr. Kate Kuzminski and Dr. Sarah Reidenbach retrofitted an ambulance into a free pet clinic on wheels.

Recently, it offered services outside The Living Room, a domestic violence shelter in Santa Rosa. Kuzminski says the mission is to break the cycle of abuse.

“We know that in homes that have domestic violence and child abuse, 80 percent also have animal abuse,” she said.

But Reidenbach adds that getting out isn’t easy.

“Domestic violence survivors – up to 50 percent – won’t leave danger if they can’t bring their pets with them,” she said.

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Pet-friendly shelters require pets to be fully vaccinated and healthy before they’re let in. So the pair founded Ruthless Kindness in 2017. The nonprofit partners with about a dozen shelters for abuse survivors and people experiencing homelessness.

Reidenbach and Kuzminski will get calls 24/7 to help with veterinary care and vaccines so a pet can accompany its owner seeking safety at a shelter.

“A woman leaving an abusive situation, or trying to, should not be dependent on whether their dog can get vaccines,” explained Kuzminski.

So far, Ruthless Kindness has served about 300 pets in Sonoma County, in part, through free monthly medical clinics such as Dogwood Animal Rescue, which provides volunteers who do everything from nail trims to distributing donations like pet food and beds.

Dogwood volunteer Beth Jackson marvels at what Kuzminski and Reidenbach have created.

“Not only are they saving lives, they are helping people with a need that they cannot afford,” said Jackson.

One recipient just adopted two kittens, and they got free vaccinations and pet food at the mobile clinic before they all returned to the shelter where she’s living.

“I’m just blown away that there are people so kind to give them time like that,” said Jen, who didn’t want to use her last name. “It’s a relief ’cause I didn’t know how I was going to get their shots.”

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Ruthless Kindness’ co-founders both have full-time jobs outside of the nonprofit. Reidenbach is executive director of Sonoma CART, an animal disaster response team. Kuzminski is the medical director of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Their nonprofit work is all-volunteer, supported by donations and a generous dose of compassion.

“I’m also a domestic violence survivor, so I’ve been in the position of needing help,” said Reidenbach. “Serving the community I’m a part of is beautiful. I love being able to do that.”

“It feels rewarding, but it feels like what we should be doing,” Kuzminski added,

So, for extending “Ruthless Kindness” to at-risk people and their pets, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Dr. Kate Kuzminski and Dr. Sarah Reidenbach.