As a little girl, Cassie Kowalchuk ran a lemonade stand to raise money for animals. Today at 23, she is the founder and director of One Step Closer Animal Rescue (O.S.C.A.R.) in Sparta. “As soon as I turned 18, I started volunteering at the Sparta Pound by taking pictures of animals on weekends, and I knew I wanted to do more,” said Kowalchuk. She continued to volunteer at many shelters throughout New Jersey. Although her vision and passion towards rescuing animals was clear to her at a young age, Kowalchuk focused on her education and earned a master’s degree in accounting at Kean University in Union. She has managed to successfully balance her professional role as accountant for Mills & DeFillipis in Randolph while creating and leading O.S.C.A.R. “O.S.C.A.R is a foster-based group where everyone volunteers. I started the rescue about two years ago and just received 501-C3 non-profit status this past January,” she said. Her accounting expertise has played a major role in developing her rescue and adoption mission: “With the donations, it can be tricky. There are lots of rules and regulations with managing a non-profit. There is a lot of paperwork required by the I.R.S., and it can be time-consuming.” Rescue is a complicated and emotional task. Kowalchuk does all the “pulling” of the animals by getting the lists from shelters and deciding who to say yes to. They focus on dogs, because they have not had as much success with cat adoptions. “We are contacted by shelters from New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. They give us a list and photos of the animals that are going to be euthanized that week,” she said. “When I get a list of dogs I know we can place it’s easy. But sometimes, we don’t have space. Golden retrievers, yellow and chocolate labs are all popular family dogs.” She immediately arranges medical care and all vaccinations to ensure that the animal is completely vetted before it goes to the foster home. “All animals have to be temperament tested to make sure they are not a danger to our foster parents,” explained Kowalchuk. There are about 20 volunteers who foster the dogs in their homes for three weeks before they get adopted. “We rescue all breeds and normally between five and 10 a week. We also place five to 10 a week with people who adopt them,” she said. Through Web sites like adoptapet.com and petfinder.com, they can post photos of their rescues for those interested in adopting. The costs range from $100 to $200 for adoption fees. Applications and home visits are required before all adoptions are finalized. Last year, O.S.C.A.R. rescued and placed 221 animals. It’s a seven-day a week operation. Before work, on her lunch break and after work, Kowalchuk is managing the process: “During the week, we do adoption. On the weekends, we drive to shelters and vets for rescue work. We shuffle dogs around to get the lowest vetting cost.” Thanks to her 40-plus volunteers, numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and parents who she considers her partners donating their time to the organization, the job gets done. She is also most grateful to community support from local businesses like Mohawk Gardens in Sparta. “Once a month in the fall and winter, we hold an adoption drive at Mohawk Gardens. They promote the event, and we do amazing adoptions there. In March, we had about 15 dogs and every single dog got an application,” she said. There are also local fundraising events, private donations and supply drives. After a busy tax season where Kowalchuk opted for vacation time versus overtime pay so she can spend more time with the animals -there is no rest for the weary. She is planning to take her CPA exam this summer and take veterinarian technical classes to increase her understanding of her rescues. “I dedicate my life to the rescue this is my life. I love it more than anything. I work so I can support this. The more I can do, the more I can benefit the animals.” For O.S.C.A.R. adoption, volunteer or donation information, call 973-652-3969 or www.oscar.petfinder.com.
PEANUT BUTTER DOG COOKIES 2 C Whole Wheat Flour 1 C Oats 1 C Peanut Butter 1 Egg 1/4 C Vegetable oil 1/2 C Water Combine all ingredients. Roll dough into 1/2” balls. Place dough balls on an ungreased cookie sheet and press your thumb in the middle of ball to semi-flatten. Bake at 350°F for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Do not overbake.