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Meet The Staff

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Kim Sturla, Executive Director, co-founded Animal Place in 1989. She earned her Master’s in Social Psychology, from Hayward State University, and a BA in Sociology/Psychology from UC Berkeley, and holds teaching credentials in Special Education. She has been a central figure in the animal rights movement for more than 35 years, and wrote two precedent-setting state laws: one protecting pre-university students unwilling to participate in animal dissections, another requiring shelters to sterilize adoptable animals. Before co-founding Animal Place, she served as director of the Peninsula Humane Society. Kim is our resident Pig Whisperer, able to communicate beautifully with even the wiliest of pigs! She shares her home and life with dogs Marty and Poppyseed.

Stevie Walsh, Membership Coordinator, studied Animal Science at CSU, Chico. Her passion for animals grew after witnessing the animal farming industry first hand and decided to go vegan. She enjoys getting to know the animals’ personalities and helping complete rescues. Her hobbies include photography, hiking, scary movies, sports and baking vegan treats! Most of these activities are usually done alongside her best friend, Charlie the lab.

Hannah Beins, Animal Care Director, is responsible for overseeing the care of hundreds of farmed animals in residence at our Grass Valley sanctuary and Petaluma Rescue & Adoption Center. She joined our staff after completing animal care internships with both an east coast sanctuary and Animal Place. She shares her home with two dogs, Squishy and Kody, two cats, Brian, and Mila, and ten tiny chickens.

Marji Beach, Director of Fund Development, has been with Animal Place since 2004. She earned her BS in Animal Science from the University of California, Davis. For more than a decade, she oversaw the education, social media, rescue & adoption programs, fundraising efforts, and onsite education programs. In 2019, she transitioned to Director of Fund Development to focus efforts on expanding, improving, and nurturing all areas of fundraising so that we can save even more lives! You can see her photography of the animals here. She loves the cows and chickens! Marji is owned by Mexi-mutt mop-dog Tobi, Podenco Canario Audrey, cat Shawn, and human Izzy – all adopted!

Estelle Barber, Accountant and Business Manager, oversees the processing of donations, bookkeeping, and other vital administrative tasks. She hold a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Appalachian State University, and an Associate’s degree in Accounting from Wilson Community College. Estelle has been doing non-profit bookkeeping for over 20 years. She enjoys the gratifying work at Animal Place, especially going on hen rescues. She shares five sons, one grandson, and two well-trained goldfish with her partner, Mark.

Michelle Miller, Animal Caregiver, shares her life with Levi-her husband of 15 years, their 13 year old son- Cash, 2 dogs (Howdy and Freya), 2 cats (Wednesday & Ygritte), 4 hens, and 1 rooster. Prior to Animal Place, Michelle worked with companion animals in various capacities. She is passionate about advocating for pitbulls and other dog breeds targeted by negative legislation and breed specific bans.

Blake Caraska, Animal Caregiver, helps provide care to the nearly 400 animals at the sanctuary. He studied Applied Art and Design and Computer Science at Sierra College in Rocklin, CA. He first joined Animal Place as an ambitious volunteer before accepting a staff position at our Vacaville Rescue Ranch facility. His hobbies include hiking, cycling, and cracking open a good book. Blake and his girlfriend share their lives with their two-year old daughter and three cats.

Crystal Kozlak, West Coast Coordinator for the Food for Thought Campaign, was inspired to go vegan after taking a philosophy course on animal ethics during her undergrad at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Crystal started as an Animal Place intern, and then worked for the Brave the Cage program before joining the Food for Thought program. She is helping build a vegan community where she resides! She also enjoys traveling for vegan food, running half marathons, and spending time with her husband, Clark, and rescued Chihuahua, Akayla.

Deva Holub, East Coast Coordinator for the Food for Thought Campaign, has been vegetarian since the age of seven and made the change to a vegan lifestyle in 2009 after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals.” She studied Theatre and Psychology at SUNY Oswego. Deva assisted The Humane League of Maryland in the development and planning of various fundraising events including the annual Baltimore Vegfest. She currently resides in Maryland with her husband, Matthew, and two cats, Alphie and Sophie. She has a deep affinity for garden gnomes and an unparalleled drive to perfect her vegan croissant recipe. She is also a part-time humane educator, speaking to middle and high school students about ethical food choices.

Liz Walch, Food for Thought Campaign Manager, received her B.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago and volunteered at an animal shelter. With her passion for animal advocacy and education, Liz earned a certificate in Animal Studies from Humane Society University, and her M.A. in Humane Education from Valparaiso University.  Liz also works as a humane educator for HEART (Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers) in Chicago, and combines her love of working with both kids and farmed animals by working as a summer camp counselor.

Rachel Hardy, Animal Caregiver, spent over two years working in a veterinary office and then went on to attend Humboldt State University. After graduating she spent a year living in South Korea and traveling.  She loves being an animal caregiver because it allows her to be around animals all day and spend time outdoors.

Allison Hooson, Animal Caregiver, was vegetarian for 8 years, but once she learned about the egg and dairy industry, being vegan was a clear choice. She enjoys hiking, running, painting, and working with the animals. She has two wonderful rescue dogs– border collie/mcnab mix Theodore, and mini Schnauzer Finnagan. She loves her job, her life, and all the animals she is fortunate enough to look after.

Kelcie Leach, Program Director has been with Animal Place since 2016. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a focus on Marketing from California State University, Sacramento. Prior to working at Animal Place, Kelcie worked in veterinary medicine as a vet assistant. She enjoys spending her off time training her rambunctious pup, Milo, cuddling her cat named Pig, and spending time with her human family members.

Conor Beins, Animal Care Supervisor at our Grass Valley location, has been vegan since 2012. He went vegan for animal rights, and has recently developed an interest in plant-based nutrition and fitness. He loves working at Animal Place because it allows him to spend my time outdoors, be active, and care for so many wonderful animals.

Liz, Animal Caregiver at our Grass Valley location, has always wanted to work with animals and worked at another animal sanctuary for 1.5 years before coming to Animal Place. She loves all animals, but she especially loves llamas because of how sweet and kind they can be.  In her free time she likes to explore, travel, and craft.

Jessica Janson, Central US & Canada Food for Thought Coordinator, received her degree in Theater She has worked in animal advocacy, legislation and rescue for animal welfare organizations, such as Big Cat Rescue and The Humane Society of the United States. In 2016 Jessica was a field organizer for the Massachusetts initiative to end cruel confinement for chickens and pigs. She also co-founded Animal Friends Yoga Retreats. She spends a large portion of her time advocating for prairie dogs, one of her most beloved wildlife species.

Lee Gitter, Animal Caregiver, relocated to California from Nashville in February of 2020. While in Nashville he volunteered at various sanctuaries. He purchased a van to provide animal transport for sanctuaries and individuals. He then decided to turn his passion of helping animals into a career by working at Animal Place. He spends his free time working out, reading, and watching hockey (go Bruins!).

Jennifer Leach, Intern & Outreach Coordinator, previously worked in the veterinary field for 7 years until joining the team at Animal Place. She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology at CSU, Chico, and is passionate about helping people, as well as animals. In her free time, Jennifer likes to bake vegan treats, spend time outdoors, be with her family, and cuddle her two cats Toby and Beetle.

Lauren Heitke, Rescue & Adoption Center Manager, originally worked as an animal caregiver from 2016-2018, but left to pursue an associate degree in veterinary technology and an RVT license–all to eventually come back and become a better caregiver for the animals! She went vegan in 2015, which led to finding out about Animal Place. Most of her previous animal care experience came through horses from a very young age, and she has since worked at both general practice and equine veterinary hospitals while in school. Lauren shares her home with her partner, Matt, and their sassy, rambunctious tortoiseshell cat Rosemary (who was found in a tree at the Grass Valley sanctuary as a tiny kitten!). When not working with the animals, she enjoys a good Netflix binge, live music, and spending time with her horse, Cortez.

Kristin Rodriguez, Membership and Administrative Assistant, has been with Animal Place since 2010. She is responsible for updating our database and keeping in touch with our lovely supporters. She not only advocates for animals at her work, but rescues corgis and cares for dozens of chickens, pheasants and other birds. She’s taken in displaced and disabled birds for over 20 years now! In her spare time, she travels, attends anime cons, and spends quality time with her animals.

Peter Katz, Social Media Coordinator, holds a Ph.D. in English from Syracuse University, and undergraduate degrees in English, History, and Music. He has authored several scholarly articles and book chapters, as well as a book on reading and emotions. Peter came to veganism like most of us: by becoming disillusioned with the Lockean definition of human language as rational and somehow separate from animality. He has practiced martial arts since he was very young, and enjoys training in housecat kung-fu with his furry babies and martial arts instructors, Jabberwocky and Bandersnatch.

Melanie Gettler, Animal Caregiver, is a longtime animal-lover and activist. She made the choice to adopt a vegan lifestyle after learning about the abuse of animals in the food, entertainment, science, and clothing industries. She enjoys yoga, making and listening to music, watching movies, and swimming. In her free time, she works with a restorative justice coalition to help curate equitable and safe spaces for artists of all media.

Board Members

Diane Allevato

JP Novic

Joyce Tischler

Kim Sturla

Jessica Miller

Debbie Malenke

Conflict of Interest Policy