Deanna Thompson had a comfortable job as a risk analyst in the oil and gas industry, but she still felt unfulfilled. After volunteering with a nonprofit animal rescue organization, she knew that saving animals every day was the job she wanted.
She is now the Executive Director of the Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society, realizing a lifelong love for animals.
Growing up in Trochu, Alta., Thompson didn’t have any pets, but she gained a lot of experience with animals when she worked as a ranch hand in her youth. His love for animals went hand in hand with a passion for helping others as Thompson began volunteering at a young age, cleaning highways, getting involved with his local 4H club and running the recycling from his secondary school.
Despite her love for animals and her passion for volunteerism, Thompson decided to study business in college. She worked for Husky Energy for five years and although it was a well paying job, she felt dissatisfied with her job and decided it was time for a change.
“I didn’t really like it. I liked the people around me and being downtown, but it wasn’t really fulfilling for me,” Thompson says.
Thompson’s husband, Jay Jokisch, agrees that the oil and gas career wasn’t for him.
“It didn’t take long for her to realize that the job at the downtown headquarters just wasn’t what she wanted,” he says.
During this time of uncertainty, Thompson founded 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 struck a chord with me,” Thompson says. “And I decided I wanted to foster dogs, too.”
Two days after contacting AARCS, Thompson took in a rescued pup. This sparked a passion for animal rescue 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 carefree puppies or dogs, just knowing you saved a life, means the world to me.”
As she became more involved with the organization, she went on her first rescue mission. And seeing the homeless puppies sparked a wake-up call.
“I think it just sparked something in me, that there were a lot more homeless animals that needed help and to do that we needed more support,” Thompson said.
Thompson decided to become more involved with AARCS, helping plan fundraisers and recruiting more volunteers. After joining the board, she ultimately decided to quit her job at Husky to take on her first paid position as executive director.
Soon after, they opened their first animal shelter and hospital. Thompson and AARCS volunteers went on to help rescue many animals that were lost, injured or trapped in their homes during the 2013 floods and 2016 Fort McMurray fires.
“We slept in our cars and beds for two straight weeks working with the emergency services there to help evacuate thousands of animals.”
Despite her job as general manager, Thompson still finds time to help other animals in need. She occasionally takes in animals, volunteers with the Canadian Animal Working Group, and has even traveled to India to vaccinate wild dogs against mission rabies.
Last year, AARCS, which has over 2,000 volunteers, rescued over 4,000 animals. They have big plans for the future, including expanding their reach into northern Alberta and possibly opening a veterinary clinic there.
Lisa Makinson, chair of the AARCS board of directors, credits much of the organization’s success to Thompson’s dedication to animal welfare.
“It doesn’t just stop when she walks through the door of AARCS. She really believes in the mission and in animal welfare, she lives it every day, and that’s what I like the most about her.
Although Thompson’s job as executive director means her job is mostly administrative at the moment, she says it’s worth it knowing she’s making a difference for the animals in the shelter under her desk.
“If I ever get to that point where I’m like ‘why am I doing this?’ then I just have to get down and walk around and see all those beautiful faces, and know that the work I’m doing is making a difference,” says Thompson.
Thompson feels she has truly found her calling working for AARCS and rescuing thousands of homeless animals.
“I already had a really good job that paid a lot more money than working in a nonprofit, but if that doesn’t pay your heart out, then it only lasts for a while.”