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.
- If you hosted a dinner party for 8, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?
There are so many people that I would like to meet from history. Michelangelo, Moses, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King to name a few. I would also invite my mother’s grandparents so I could meet the people that were brave enough to leave the only home that they ever knew to find a better life in America for their family. It would also be fun to meet Helen Woodward to see what she thinks of how we have grown. And my bonus guest would be my sheltie that just passed from cancer. She would enjoy getting some tasty tidbits from the table.
- Tell us about what you are currently reading.
I am in the middle of “The Lost Hero” by Rick Riordan, which was recommended by my 13-year-old niece. And the next book on my nightstand is “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein.
- What is your most prized possession?
Possessions have never been that important to me. I feel really lucky that I have a home, a safe car and a fulfilling job. But I do have a few prized treasures in my life — my family, my friends and my sweet sheltie.
- What do you do for fun?
I enjoy hiking, gardening, reading, painting, dinning out and going to the movies.
- Please describe your greatest accomplishment.
Managing the Pet Encounter Therapy (PET) program for the last 17 years. Our mission is to bring the unconditional love and tactile benefits of animals to people in need. I have worked with some pretty incredible volunteers and animals and over the years we have made over 7,000 visits in our community. The people that we visit light up when our animals come in the room, they smile, laugh and sometimes cry because of what they are dealing with – and our animals and volunteers are there to simply hear them and to love them.
- What is your motto or philosophy of life?
“Please let me be the person that my dog thinks I am.”