The challenge? To identify someone who, simply put, emulates who I want to be when I "grow up." The fact of the matter is, I'm in my twenties and have already kick-started a career I love in social media with a nonprofit organization. Everyone has a dream job though, and everyone has something they're passionate about. For me, that's animals, a passion that I share with Melissa Lisbon, the Co-Founder and President of Silicon Valley Pet Project. Not everyone gets the opportunity to follow their passion into a meaningful career, but Melissa has done just that. Who said work couldn't be fun?
Like many of us, Melissa started out in a very different career. Specifically, she worked in law. According to Melissa, she was entirely focused on her legal career before she got interested in rescuing animals full-time. But while working in corporate law firms, she adopted her first cat Newbie, who really sparked something in her.
"He had a notched ear, which I later learned was because he was thought to be a feral cat. What was a feral cat? That event started my curiosity about animal welfare and I started asking a lot of questions, and learned about our local municipal shelter."
Although the transition wasn't smooth, it was at this point that Melissa decided to make the career move to something that interested her more than corporate law - animal welfare.
Animals have always been a big part of Melissa's life, even before adopting Newbie and becoming interested in a career in animal welfare. Growing up, she had an array of furry friends, ranging from several hamsters and her sister's cat to a series of family dogs to her beloved dog Lucy, a lab mix who her family adopted as a puppy (pictured below).
Her parents let her pick Lucy out as they prepared to move out of state, as they knew at sixteen, she would need a friend. According to Melissa, "I was very lucky to have pets as a part of my upbringing - little did I know at the time the huge role they would play in my life later on."
Having pets growing up taught her a lot about life and about herself, leaving her with lifelong lessons in friendship and compassion. Now, as an "adult pet-lover," their meaning to her has "deepened and become more complex." According to Melissa, pets define innocence, optimism and unconditional love.
I do believe they bring the best out of most people, and remind us not to take ourselves too seriously.
Her first foster kitten, Button, embodied this for her. She took him in when she was undergoing cancer treatment for the second time. According to Melissa, nurturing Button gave her a much needed break from her own life.
"We often hear the phrase, who rescued who? I believe pets make us more human and better people."
All of this ultimately led Melissa to a life and career devoted to animals. After volunteering with another local animal rescue organization, who she felt was less focused on supporting local shelters than she felt was necessary, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Despite the challenges of operating a nonprofit rescue organization, Melissa founded Silicon Valley Pet Project (SVPP) in late 2014. Her goal? She wanted to create a "'for purpose' organization that pursued a mission, but structured itself to be sustainable for many years to come," and too have a larger impact on the pets that end up in local animal shelters, to celebrate rescue pets, and to educate the public on pet ownership.
"animal rescue is extremely difficult, and so many people work tirelessly in this area - from shelter workers to rescue volunteers. SVPP seeks to reinvent animal rescue to strengthen these efforts in our community."
As someone who also loves animals and who already has a career in the nonprofit sector, I was really interested in what the role of Co-Founder and President entailed.
In her role, she is responsible for overseeing every aspect of SVPP, including animal rescue operations, marketing, finance, and development. According to Melissa, "it's definitely more than a full time job, but the organization's mission is so rewarding that it makes the hard work all worth while!"
Her favorite part of the job, you ask? Educating volunteers about animal welfare and finding unique ways that they can contribute to different projects and areas of the organization. "We live in a very talented compassionate community which can accomplish great things!" She also loves fostering, asserting that "each pet that we can save and find a wonderful home motivates me to help another." Her least favorite? "I can't really think of any at this point - it's a lot of hard work, but it is so worth it!!"