ANTIOCH -- While Monika Helgemo might not think of herself as hero material, those around her know differently. A couple of months ago staff members of the Antioch Animal Shelter nominated her for a special Animal Rescue Hero award through the Bay Area Chapter of the Red Cross.

Helgemo was honored at a Heroes Breakfast on Oct. 6 at the Crow Canyon Country Club in Danville.

"I don't really think I deserve a special award for doing what everyone should do," Helgemo said.

For the past 24 years Helgemo has worked for the Antioch Animal Shelter and now she is the Animal Services manager for the shelter. Her service to the organization started as a volunteer some 25 years ago. Helgemo used to bring animals to visit with seniors in the areas.

"It was a great program where the dogs had a chance to get out of the cages and it gave the seniors in rest homes a chance to visit with the dogs."

Soon after, the shelter was asking if she would help to clean the dog stalls.

"It seems like yesterday," she said.

The facility was much different from the one of today. Times have changed, but one thing is for sure: Money is still needed to help the shelter and it is part of Helgemo's job to raise it. At the Antioch Animal Shelter, in one-month period, more than 150 cats, 130 dogs and about 20 other kinds of animals might be brought in. This doesn't even include the other animals that are still inside the shelter from the previous month.


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This kind of fundraising goes above and beyond her regular work schedule. They usually host rummage sales, doggy carwashes and accept regular donations. This year the shelter had to let go of its volunteer coordinator, but that didn't stop Helgemo from stepping in to continue the program.

"This month we are having an orientation day and bringing in another 30 volunteers. That will give us 50 to 60 volunteers," she said.

The shelter can always use more people to help.

On any given day, Helgemo will not only run the facility, taking care of the mounds of paperwork and budgets, but also will be checking on the animals a couple of times a day. If an animal needs to have overnight care, she brings them home and takes care of their needs, even if that means staying up all night to give out medications and bottle-feeding.

One time she was headed out for a trip across country, but a cat needed care, so she took the cat with her, nursed it back to health and then found a home for it.

Although she would always love to give more pets a place to live permanently at her house, she already has two dogs, a cat and a three-legged turtle.

The Bay Area chapter of the Red Cross says that the actions of Helgemo and the other six heroes celebrated at the Heroes Breakfast embody the principles and ideals of the Red Cross' humanitarian mission. Those chosen each year come from all six Bay Area communities. The Red Cross sponsors Heroes Breakfasts in various communities.

In our "Neighbors" series, we give you a personal look at the people who are serving your community. If you would like to nominate someone for this column, contact Judy Prieve at 925-779-7178 or e-mail jprieve@bayareanewsgroup.com.