Animal Friends of the Valleys named Nonprofit of the Year

Dignitaries and supporters joined Animal Friends of the Valleys staff to celebrate the shelter being named 2021 California Nonprofit of the Year. Valley News/Diane A. Rhodes photo

Animal Friends of the Valleys has been selected as the 2021 California Nonprofit of the Year by Assemblymember Kelly Seyarto (R-Murrieta) for the 67th Assembly District. Each year, in honor of California Nonprofits Day, legislators from across the state highlight a nonprofit from their district that has provided exemplary service to their community.

“The employees and volunteers at Animal Friends of the Valleys are dedicated to promoting the humane and compassionate care of animals through education and proactive animal services programs,” Seyarto said. “Animal companions bring joy and comfort to so many individuals and families, and Animal Friends of the Valleys provides an invaluable service by helping them find their forever home.”

To celebrate being honored by the California Association of Nonprofits for its tremendous contributions, staff hosted a reception on July 1 at the Wildomar shelter. Guests included many elected officials from the communities it serves.

Seyarto presented a proclamation that read in part, “the relationship between a community and nonprofit organization is a vital and interdependent one, deriving strength from the civic involvement and dedication of those who engage with such organizations, the many positive outcomes these organizations make possible, and the spirit of cooperation and respect they foster within the communities to which they contribute, and Animal Friends of the Valleys is one such stellar nonprofit organization.”

Furthermore, Seyarto’s proclamation noted “Animal Friends of the Valleys evidences a true commitment to its core values, which include compassion for animals; employee excellence; outstanding community and customer service; the building of strong networks, partnerships, and alliances; educational advocacy; and fiscal responsibility.”

An avid animal lover, Seyarto has a chihuahua mix named Allie and two grand-fur babies that belong to his daughter, who are rescues. He has been involved with the organization since its inception. He said choosing it as nonprofit of the year was an easy pick and he was happy to applaud their efforts with this recognition. He said this past year has been tough and that faithful pets have helped many people get through the challenges of the pandemic.

“What sometimes gets lost is that our furry friends who have been home with us while we are stuck there, they don’t know it, but they turn into therapy dogs – they’re there for everything,” Seyarto said.

Originally formed in 1987 under the name Lake Elsinore Animal Friends (LEAF), Animal Friends of

the Valleys (AFV) is a nonprofit animal shelter that serves the cities of Canyon Lake, Lake Elsinore, Menifee, Murrieta, Temecula, Wildomar and surrounding rural county areas.

Last year, AFV opened its doors to more than 8,500 animals and reported its highest adoption rate in its 30-year history. When it first moved to the Wildomar facility in 2010, the organization had a 20% live release rate meaning only one out of five animals left the facility alive. The current rate is 90% live release for dogs and about 75% for cats. In 1996, AFV took in about 16,000 animals but this past year, it was halved thanks to cities’ mandatory spay and neuter requirements as well as increased micro-chipping.

Murrieta Councilmember Jonathan Ingram has been involved with the nonprofit for many years and said, “This is a great organization that really serves Southwest Riverside County well.”

Micki Taylor, representing Senator Melissa Melendez’s office, thanked AFV for what they have done for the community, adding “we are lucky to have you in our district.”

Taylor volunteered at the shelter when she was younger, alongside her dad when he retired from the Marine Corps. The Murrieta resident said the experience was helpful to both of them and as a result she holds a special place in her heart for AFV and the great work they continue to do.

Corey Uhden, on behalf of Assemblymember Marie Waldron’s office, thanked AFV for its “continued contribution to our community” as he congratulated them on their latest honor. Courtney Fletcher, with the City of Temecula, represented the city council and thanked AFV for “helping our furry friends grow stronger” and adding that “we look forward to a continued partnership.”

AFV also took the opportunity of this public reception to share the news that it will be converting the old Wildomar Chamber of Commerce building into an onsite spay and neuter clinic.

Alexis Rascon, AFV’s media and marketing coordinator and an animal care specialist, said the shelter currently has about 300 animals in its care, although some are in the process of being adopted.

“We get a ton more cats than dogs,” she said during a tour of the facility she guided with Event and Media Manager Carolina Calderon. “The cats don’t take up as much space, but they make up for it in numbers.”

Calderon pointed out that the large outdoor caged area is used to take the dogs out twice a day to get fresh air and exercise. “It’s healthy for them to get out of their rooms. We also have a great dog-walking program for volunteers.”

Earlier, she stated in a news release that Animal Friends of the Valleys “is dedicated to promoting humane care of animals through education, and proactive animal service programs. AFV’s vision is to be recognized as the leading shelter by providing a safe haven for all small animals while becoming a full-service animal care facility that offers quality and affordable care. Through community involvement and education, AFV will reach our vision to help end pet overpopulation and find a loving home for every adoptable pet in our shelter.”

Director of Development Beth Soltysiak said, “Animal Friends of the Valleys’ Board of Directors, staff and animal control officers are thrilled with this outstanding award, nominated by Assemblyman Kelly Seyarto of District 67. This past year has been difficult, AFV remained open throughout the pandemic. Our focus was on the animals and those struggling through this period. Animals bring comfort and laughter, which has been so important this past year. Thank you to all of our cities, chambers and community members that help support Animal Friends of the Valleys and especially Assemblymember Kelly Seyarto for this award.”

Soltysiak reminded everyone at the event that along with housing and caring for cats, dogs and a few other types of animals, the nonprofit offers many community service opportunities such as a pet pantry for those that find it challenging to feed their pets, spay and neuter vouchers, a weekly reading program and more.

California Association of Nonprofits’ CEO Jan Masaoka said the pandemic of the past year and a half put nonprofits in the spotlight.

“California Nonprofit of the Year is an opportunity for our elected officials to celebrate the good work they see nonprofits doing in their districts, and for everyone to appreciate the collective impact of nonprofits in our communities,” she said.

For more information, (951) 674-0618 or and