Deanna Thompson had a comfortable job working as a risk analyst in the oil and gas industry but she still felt unfulfilled. After volunteering with a non-profit animal rescue organization, she knew that saving animals every day was the job she wanted.
Now she is executive director at the Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society, fulfilling a lifelong love for animals.
Growing up in Trochu, Alta., Thompson didn’t have any pets, but she got plenty of experience with animals when she worked as a ranch hand in her youth. Her love for animals went hand-in-hand with a passion for helping others as Thompson started volunteering at a young age, doing highway cleanup, being involved in her local 4H club, and running her high school’s recycling program.
Despite her love for animals and passion for volunteering, Thompson decided to study business in university. She worked for Husky Energy for five years and although it was a well-paying job, she felt unsatisfied in her work and decided it was time for a change.
“I didn’t really love it. I liked the people that I was around and being downtown but it wasn’t really fulfilling for me,” Thompson says.
Thompson’s husband, Jay Jokisch, agrees the career in oil and gas wasn’t a good fit for her.
“It didn’t take very long for her to realize that the downtown corporate office job was just not what she wanted,” he says.
In her time of uncertainty, Thompson found the Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS). After seeing an article online about a woman rescuing a dog, she felt inspired to do the same.
“It just pulled at my heartstrings,” Thompson says. “And I decided that I wanted to foster dogs as well.”
Two days after contacting AARCS, Thompson was fostering a rescued puppy. This ignited a passion for rescuing animals and inspired her to provide a safe home for many animals over the years. She says the best part of fostering is watching the animals recover and come out of their shells.
“A lot of these guys are scared and sick, and just seeing them turn into happy-go-lucky puppies or dogs, just knowing that you saved a life, that means the world to me.”
As she got more involved with the organization, she went out on her first rescue mission. And seeing the homeless puppies sparked a realization.
“I think that just spurred something in me, that there were a lot more homeless animals out there that needed help and in order to do that, we needed more support,” Thompson says.
Thompson decided to get more involved with AARCS, helping to plan fundraisers and recruit more volunteers. After joining the board of directors, she eventually decided to leave her job at Husky to take their first paid position as executive director.
Soon after, they opened their first shelter and animal hospital. Thompson and the volunteers at AARCS went on to help rescue many animals who were lost, hurt, or trapped in their homes during the 2013 floods and the Fort McMurray fires in 2016.
“We were sleeping in our cars and cots for two straight weeks working with the emergency departments there to help evacuate thousands of animals.”
Despite her work as executive director, Thompson still finds time to help other animals in need. She fosters animals on occasion, volunteers with the Canadian Animal Task Force, and even traveled to India to vaccinate wild dogs with Mission Rabies.
Last year, AARCS—which has over 2,000 volunteers—saved over 4,000 animals. They have big plans for the future, including expanding their reach in northern Alberta and possibly opening a vet clinic there, too.
Lisa Makinson, the president of the board of directors at AARCS, attributes much of the organization’s success to Thompson’s dedication to animal welfare.
“It doesn’t just stop when she walks out the door of AARCS. She really does truly believe in the mission and in animal welfare, she just lives it daily, and that’s what I love about her most.”
While Thompson’s job as executive director means her work is mostly administrative at the moment, she says it’s well worth it knowing she’s making a difference to the animals in the shelter below her office.
“If I ever get to that point where I’m like ‘why am I doing this?’ then I just have to go downstairs and walk around and see all those beautiful faces, and know that the work I’m doing is making a difference,” Thompson says.
Thompson feels she has truly found her calling working for AARCS and saving thousands of homeless animals.
“I already had a very good job that paid a lot more money than working in non-profit, but if it doesn’t pay your heart, then it only lasts so long.”