Native San Diegan Robin Cohen grew up near Mt. Helix in East County, where she was surrounded by lots of land and animals. “My mom drew the line with reptiles but everything else was welcomed into our home,” she recalled of her childhood.
Those early days laid the foundation for a life-long love of animals, which ultimately led her to the Helen Woodward Animal Center, a private nonprofit dedicated to saving the lives of animals and enriching the lives of people. Cohen started working there in 1992 after earning her degree in cultural anthropology at UCSD. Though Cohen went into the job thinking it’d be a temporary gig while she went to graduate school, she soon realized that she’d “basically hit the job lottery” and decided to stay. “Why would I leave when I get to work with great staff and volunteers, wonderful animals, make people smile all day and bring my dog to work,” she asked.
Cohen now helps to run the center’s Pet Encounter Therapy (PET) program, which brings animals to visit people in facilities such as abused children’s shelters, hospitals, psychiatric facilities, and senior centers. Though she’s been involved with PET for 17 years, Cohen said she’s continually “amazed by the healing that is offered by our volunteers and animals.”
When Cohen is not bringing the joy of animals to others, she loves spending time with her large extended family, and her own adopted animals, a parakeet and a 13-year-old sheltie, which once worked as a therapy dog though these days he’s “mostly retired and spoiled.”
What brought you to this neighborhood?
My work brought me to this area. I started working at the Helen Woodward Animal Center in 1992 and thought it would be a short-term position while I figured out what I wanted to do after college. I soon fell in love with every aspect of what we do for the animals and for our community and have never left. It has been an incredible 19 years.
What makes this town special to you?
It is a beautiful place to work. And there are animals everywhere you look.
If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in the area?
I think that there should be more affordable housing available throughout San Diego that allows pets. Too many animals are surrendered because their owners can’t find a place to live that will let them keep their companion. No person that cherishes animals should have to live without a loving pet — especially our seniors.
Who or what inspires you?
My parents inspire me every day with the love that they have for each other and for their family. They will be celebrating 50 years of marriage this June and I am still in awe of the life that they have built together. I am also inspired by the people that work in the nonprofit world — both paid and volunteer. There are so many un-sung heroes in our community that quietly go about saving the world.