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Protectors of Tehachapi's smallest residents

Grassroots Tehachapi


Gina Christopher (left) Have a Heart CFO, and Carol Larimore, Have a Heart president, snuggle up to some pets at a recent adoption event.

Gina Christopher has fostered and found homes for nearly 700 cats during her 10 year career in animal rescue.

"I'm the original crazy cat lady," she said.

Have a Heart Humane Society works every day of the year fighting for the welfare of local animals, and spreading awareness about the overpopulation of pets in Kern County.

Their mission: "We just want to save as many homeless pets as possible. Reduce the number of pets, specifically here in Tehachapi, that would end up in the high kill shelters in Kern County," said Christopher, Have a Heart CFO and Treasurer.

The organization holds an adoption event every Saturday from their storefront location inside Rescued Treasures, a thrift store and pet central located at 1121 W Valley Blvd, Tehachapi. It offers two spay and neuter clinics a month, which are funded through grants and profits from the thrift shop. They take 25 pets per clinic and charge $25 for cats, $35 for dogs.

"We fill up our clinics 2-3 weeks in advance and we never have an empty spot. It's amazing. There are a lot of pets in Tehachapi," Christopher said.

Our family adopted a 4-month-old black kitty from Have a Heart last month. We initially thought we wanted a younger kitten, but volunteers asked the age of our kids and suggested a calmer and slightly older cat would be a better fit. We took the advice and it was a smooth and happy experience for us all. We couldn't be happier with our little Luna.

"All of our animals are in foster homes. We treat them like our own pets until they go to your home, so we try to give them that real world experience. We can't expose them to everything...but we try to make sure they are well-rounded," said Christopher.

When it comes to finding a good pet-to-human match, the fosters always get the final say because they know the animals best. And if a pet owner ever decides they can no longer properly care for the pet, Have a Heart wants to know.

"We always try our best to take our animals back if the people do not want them. If they cannot keep them, it doesn't matter what age they are, we will work with them. We want to be the first option for rehoming," said Carol Larimore, Have a Heart President.

Though adoption Saturdays are wall-to-wall smiles and animal snuggles, for Christopher and Larimore their work can be a frequent reminder of the neglect and inhumane treatment of animals.

"When you're in rescue and you want to take a break, it's not because of the animals. It's because of the people. There are so many wonderful people out there that are wonderful pet owners, but there are also those people that should have never had a pet. Animals are just so disposable to some and it's heartbreaking," Christopher said.

Christopher and Larimore have come to the store in the morning to find abandoned pets on their doorstep. Pregnant animals ready to give birth at any moment. Injured animals with broken bones. Sometimes these animals have been part of a family for years when it's suddenly decided they are no longer wanted.

Despite the pain of neglected and mistreated animals, those involved speak of rewarding work. Most of the strays come from the public, but the team also pulls dogs and cats from euthanasia rooms in Kern County shelters. They don't wander up and down the rows of hopeful animals looking for the cute ones. They look for the animals most in need of a second chance.

"It doesn't matter what they look like, we're not a boutique. We're a rescue," Christopher said.

I admire people who choose to be a voice for animals. Those who see their value and love them as members of the family – not merely accessories or entertainment. Have a Heart's founder, Chelley Kitzmiller, passed away late last year. It's hard for Larimore and Christopher (Kitzmiller's daughter) to talk about. As tough as it is, her memory drives them. They care about her mission, to see no more strays on the streets of Tehachapi.

Do you know an inspirational group, individual or program that should be featured in an upcoming Grassroots Tehachapi? Email me at

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