Congressman Kiley recognizes local animal rescue team

Marianne Boll-See / The Union

Congressman Kevin Kiley awarded a certificate of Congressional Recognition to the Nevada County Sheriff’s Humane Emergency Animal Rescue Team (HEART) this week at a large gathering of volunteers and leaders from around Nevada County.

The Nevada County Sheriff’s HEART are a highly skilled, well trained team of volunteers who conduct animal rescues and evacuations during catastrophic events such as wildfires or extreme weather events.

Simple Truth Church North Point on Sutton Way donated their space in Grass Valley for this event and monthly training for the volunteers.

“We’re trained to go behind the fire lines,” Ted Melden, a retired CHP Sergeant and board member for HEART said.

When evacuated and unable to return to a home for a pet or livestock, the volunteers from HEART are trained to rescue those animals and bring them to a care facility, usually the Nevada County fairgrounds, according to Melden.

“The animals will be cared for until other arrangements are made,” Melden said.

Congressman Kevin Kiley awards a certificate of Congressional Recognition to Stefanie Geckler, founder and president of Nevada County Humane Emergency Animal Rescue Team (HEART) during a large celebration of volunteers and county officials. Geckler is the Animal Control Supervisor for Nevada County and experienced first hand animals in distress during accidents, wildfire, and extreme snow events over the past year.
Provided / Marianne Boll-See

Congressman Kiley addressed the volunteers and local leaders of the sheriff’s office and board of supervisors that were in attendance applauding the work and collaboration that went into making the program possible.

“I think this tells you what this county is all about,” Kiley said after the meeting. “It also will give everyone a peace of mind. Knowing that if something were to happen, there would be folks there to help their animals and that’s important to people evacuating.”

The many positives coming out of the organization is a model for other areas as well, according to Kiley.

“Maybe this is something that could happen state-wide,” Kiley said.

The team of volunteers started in January of 2023 when founder and president of HEART Stefanie Geckler, recognized the need for animal emergency rescue when she experienced an emergency herself.

Geckler is the Animal Control Supervisor for Nevada County and experienced first hand animals in distress during accidents, wildfire, and extreme snow events over the past year.

Geckler described heart wrenching situations when her own horse trailer tipped over and kind people passing by who tried to help were injured.

Another instance when a cow whose legs were stuck and slowly breaking in a cattle guard along the road, with her calf circling around her, needing rescuing by skilled individuals, inspired Geckler to approach Nevada County Sheriff Moon to help support this nonprofit animal rescue group.

The stories continued.

“During Snowmageddon we had some horses that were stuck in the snow. More specifically, a mini horse that couldn’t move,” Geckler said.

The intention of Nevada County HEART is to do all kinds of rescue — dogs, cats, llamas, goats, pigs, chickens, sheep, birds, anything that is domestic, according to Melden.

“Now we’re going to branch off into another area which is a large animal technical rescue which we have not had in years,” Geckler said.

Geckler brought together a board of directors and her idea was well received by the public and other official offices, according to Melden.

“Stefanie Geckler has put together a rock-solid board of directors,” Melden said. “Two retired fire captains, myself a retired CHP Sergeant, Mitch Booth, retired ATT communications. If you look at a disaster and how to manage a disaster, those are your three major elements — fire, law and communications.”

HEART is now joining Nevada County Consolidated Fire District led by Patrick Sullivan, Division Chief of Operations who have graciously offered up their technical rescue equipment, according to Geckler.

“We’re going to be training side-by-side with Consolidated to create what I hope and know will be a phenomenal rescue team,” Geckler said. “They have all the equipment that we need except for a horse manikin.”

Sheriff Moon has been generous with the start up of this group.

“This year [Sherriff Moon] has pledged us $30,000 to purchase a specialized horse trailer for rescue as well as a cargo trailer. And an additional $35,000 to purchase an incident command trailer plus some more money about $10,000 to outfit things,” Geckler said.

A few weeks ago the board members and Geckler met with Nevada County Law Enforcement Fire Protection Council and they gifted $1,000 toward a realistic horse manikin for training purposes.

“We’ll call him Chief for now,” Geckler said. “Our goal is to raise another $7,800 for the horse manikin.”

During an evacuation or an extreme weather disaster, knowing animals and pets are safe allows people to focus on where they are going to live and take care of their families, according to Melden.

“We want people to know about the Nevada County HEART Team. We’re going out there to make the county proud. I think we already have,” Melden said.

During Geckler’s presentation some statistics were shared regarding the work done to rescue animals over the past few years.

“In 2022 during the Rice’s Fire, 156 animals were rescued; in 2021 during the River Fire, 654 animals were rescued; in 2020 during the Jones Fire, 600 animals were rescued; during the Camp Fire in 2018, members located and transported over 100 animals and assisted with shelter in place feeding hundreds more for months on end.”

Congressman Kiley was made an honorary member of the Nevada County Sheriff’s HEART team during the celebration.

“What an inspiration. Talk about a community rising to the occasion,” Kiley said. “This project… lies at the intersection of the qualities of Nevada County.”

Kiley described how Nevada County is unique when considering the threats of fire and snow that we respond to. The speech is included here in part:

“There is a tremendous spirit of volunteerism I’ve noticed…this is probably the county with the highest per capita of nonprofits.

“After the storms hit… I visited some of the volunteer sites with groups like Project Rubicon who were basically shoveling snow off the homes of people who were basically trapped in with trees across their properties.

“The way people went out and sometimes in conditions when it was still snowing, and lent a hand to help their neighbors.

“The idea that we can look out for one another, we can all take part in this great American experiment of self government.

“It’s that distinctly Nevada County spirit of volunteerism — rising to the occasion in a very powerful way.

“With everything that goes on when you have those catastrophic wildfires and other extreme weather events…There is so much chaos released when you have to worry about stopping the spread of the fire, about evacuation routes, about the power lines and giving people the basic necessities that they need — so the pets and the animals can be forgotten in all that.

“Stefanie [Geckler] has been doing a heroic job with limited resources when we’ve had past wildfires… now she has an army to help her.

“I see it right in front of me. I see preparation and I see folks that are willing to help their part to help their neighbors and to help the vulnerable.”

Kiley also mentioned a number of bills he is sponsoring to help make Nevada County better prepared for wildfires.

“By increasing pay for firefighters, by improving access to new firefighting technologies, by allowing the use of the materials that are needed, by providing victims with a tax exemption from the recovery that they get, and of course by prioritizing forest management and proper mitigation measures,” Kiley said of the assistance his congressional bills will bring if made into law.

“I know your local leaders on the board of supervisors and the sheriff’s office echo this at the county level and are focused on it as well.”

To contact Union Staff Writer Marianne Boll-See, email

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.