Written & Photographed by Kristina Naderi
Amber Heidinger sits at the front counter of the North Bank Kennel when the doorbell rings. A muffled roar comes from outside. She opens the door, and lets in a customer who is there to pick up her dog.
“You’re Trudy’s mom? I’ll go get her,” Heidinger grabs a pair of sturdy, red headphones and goes to the back door. “Sometimes you need it,” she said.
Fifty dogs bark, play and scurry around in the backyard. Heidinger walks to the play area. Three dogs jump onto her as she makes her way through the maze of wagging tails to pull out a German Shepherd.
Heidinger is manager of the North Bank Kennel. As a part of her job, she lives in the apartment above the kennel to make sure someone is always there to take care of the dogs. Her job includes picking up poop, cleaning kennels, feeding dogs, giving the animals medicine and making sure they are safe and happy.
Heidinger, 24, grew up in McKinleyville and considers herself an animal person. She was the kind of girl that would bring home any stray she could carry. It runs in the family. Heidinger’s father, a truck driver, brought home turtles he would find on the side of the road. “I once brought home a pet snake, but that’s where my mom drew the line,” Heidinger said.
All of her brothers are hunters, but she said she cannot bring herself to hunt with them. “I find myself in the back [of the truck,] ‘Don’t kill that one! It has a personality!’” she said.
After high school, Heidinger began to volunteer and work at animal shelters. First at the Sequoia Humane Society in Eureka, and then at the Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation shelter in Oak Harbor, Wash.
Last summer, Heidinger returned to Humboldt County and started work at the North Bank Kennel. Genna Dove is the owner. “She loves animals so much,” Dove said. “I really can’t imagine anyone who cares more than her.”
In addition to the dogs she is responsible for at the kennel, Heidinger has five of her own. A dachshund named Addie with one blue eye and one brown eye, and four black labrador retriever mixed breeds named Autumn, Sequoia, Lugnut and Koda.
Heidinger also fosters dogs through an adoption program called “Little Dogs, Big Love” at The Companion Animal Foundation in Sunny Brae. The foundation’s executive director is Kim Class, who rescues dogs from as far away as Oakland Animal Services.
The program takes in dogs that would otherwise be euthanized and brings them to Humboldt County for adoption. “I can understand how people would not be happy about this,” Class said. But she said these dogs from Oakland do become adopted and are needed in the community. “Some residents want little dogs,” Class said.
It is not just dogs that get Heidinger’s affection. She joined Soldier’s Angels, an organization that connects Americans with soldiers and their families, and allows them to “adopt” a soldier. Heidinger supports a soldier in Afghanistan by writing him weekly.
Heidinger would eventually like to open her own kennel and says she would donate profits to rescue dogs. “God created these creatures,” she said. “They need to be taken care of. God did that for a reason.”
The days are long, loud, and sometimes a little messy — but Heidinger says that she has the best job. There is one way her job could be better: “If I could teach my dogs how to file paperwork,” she said. “That would make my day.”