Humane Society of Sonoma County’s secret weapon: pet bios

Signe Ross-Villemaire ‘interviews’ shelter animals to craft irresistible stories.|

“Blue-Eyed Mountain Man Seeks Civilized Adventurer for True Love. My quest for companionship has led me from the desolate wilderness of bachelorhood to the bountiful wine country. I’m eager to put down stakes, but living off the grid has left me with little in the way of manners. My ideal soul mate will be adventurous enough to keep me from getting bored, yet patient enough to help me navigate the uncharted waters of modern society… you know, like when to shake hands and when to lift a leg. I’m Yukon, a 2-year-old Siberian husky.”

Signe Ross-Villemaire,?adoption description for a Siberian husky

Much like people, every animal has a story, and no one believes this more than Signe Ross-Villemaire, whose job as content and grant writer at the Humane Society of Sonoma County includes writing adoptable pet descriptions.

“In the ads, I might touch on some back story for context, but I try to get to the essence of what makes each pet unique,” Ross-Villemaire, 53, said. “Every pet has certain qualities that blossom when you spend some time with them, so I like to draw on these relationships to illustrate how easily and joyfully a pet could fit into the potential adopter’s heart and home.”

Prior to accepting her position at the Humane Society, the Sonoma County native had worked as a goldsmith for 13 years.

Midway through her jewelry career, Ross-Villemaire went back to school to get her art degree. She credits the art history classes with helping develop her descriptive writing skills.

While she enjoyed jewelry making, she dreamed of one day transitioning to the nonprofit sector.

“I’d done some volunteer work, but wasn’t sure how it could translate to a career,” she said. “I began branching out and trying to hone in on what I wanted to do. Animals have always occupied a giant part of my heart, and when I examined what made me feel most impassioned in life, the answer was working for their welfare.”

Pets played a major role in her family’s life during her childhood. There were always an assortment of dogs, cats and, for several years, even goats, all of which were usually “hand-me-downs” from family friends. Even the classroom guinea pigs found a home with her family during school breaks.

After taking grant writing and nonprofit management classes through both Santa Rosa Junior College and the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, Ross-Villemaire put her newly acquired skills to use volunteering at a local art therapy nonprofit.

Knowing how much she loved animals, a friend encouraged her to do an interview with the Humane Society, and she met Cindy Roach, who is now the executive director.

“I remember asking her if it was hard to deal with sad situations, such as seeing the suffering, abandonment and neglect,” Ross-Villemaire said. “She told me there were definitely some tears involved, but the positive outcomes keep you moving forward and striving to do even more. I knew I wanted to work with this compassionate team who was literally saving animals’ lives, and replacing the uncertainty and hardship in those lives with stability and love.”

Until meeting with Roach, Ross-Villemaire had never set foot inside a shelter before because she was afraid they would be sad, depressing places to visit. Instead, she discovered they’re full of kind, caring people working hard to help animals, a realization, she said, inspires her daily.

Hired five years ago on a part-time basis, her position quickly went full-time and has grown over the years. As the shelter’s intake of animals increases and its programs evolve, so do the writing duties and funding needs.

When she first took the job, her husband made her “pinkie swear” she would not bring any more pets home, but after a month or so of fostering a scruffy little Chihuahua, even he was smitten.

Their ragtag brood now includes two Chihuahua mutts, a stray parrot and a semi-feral cat they adopted from her parents’ property.

Ross-Villemaire edits the quarterly North Bay Pets magazine and creates the monthly e-newsletter, the “eAnimail,” as well as content for ads, radio spots, some social media, articles for outside publications and direct mail pieces. She has also helped raise over $300,000 in grants.

She is instrumental in helping with the shelter’s major fundraising event, “Wags, Whiskers and Wine,” where they tell the stories of animals (and sometimes their people) whose lives have been changed by shelter programs.

This year’s event is Aug. 10 at Trentadue Winery in Geyserville.

While most adoptable pets are dogs and cats, the shelter also has helped rabbits, guinea pigs, roosters and rats find new homes.

Occasionally, one of the adoption counselors will tell her that someone saw one of Ross-Villemaire’s ads or stories about a pet and just had to come meet them, or even ended up adopting them. She estimates she’s written about 700 animal profiles.

“The Humane Society helps so many homeless pets with special medical needs or behavior considerations, and it feels great to know my words can inspire someone to provide a loving home to one of these incredible beings,” she said. “It fills my heart to know that I’m part of an organization that is doing good work, and that I’m helping pets know safety and love.”

Mary Jo Winter can be reached at

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