‘Something to love’

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Bernie Sanchez and one of her doggy visitors at Paw Springs Resort, aka her home in Orland.

For two decades, Bernie Sanchez worked as a perinatal technician at the Birth Day Place in Paradise. Her main duties: bathing newborn babies and issuing birth certificates. She is, by nature, a nurturer. But, when Adventist Health decided not to reopen Feather River Hospital, Sanchez was suddenly unemployed.

“I found a couple of jobs, but just couldn’t find myself,” she said while relaxing on a large sofa in her living room in Orland. “I loved my job—I did that for 20-something years. I used to run into people in Paradise and they’d say, ‘You’re the one who washed my baby,’ and ‘You did my birth certificate.’ Nothing measured up to that.”

After the Camp Fire, which claimed the home she and her husband, Martin, owned, they relocated to a large property in Orland with an expansive backyard and tranquil swimming pool. One of their two dogs died from cancer shortly after the fire, and they ended up adopting another. But there was yet another void: family.

“My grandchildren are just in Chico, but in Paradise, they were always with me,” Sanchez lamented. “I get lonely. I thought, I need new babies. I needed to help myself and I needed to love something, to take care of something.”

Without family nearby, or longtime neighbors to count on, Sanchez quickly saw a niche she might fill as a dog sitter. She started out offering to watch the pets of a few former co-workers who also had relocated to Orland, and immediately fell in love with the concept. And so Paw Springs Resort was born.

“There it was—that same happiness that I had nurturing something. They’re like little babies,” she said, three dogs running around, outside and in.

Right now, the operation is small. Sanchez will take in a few dogs at a time, just enough so she can give each of them personal attention. She views her doggy daycare as a home away from home for the animals, as well as peace of mind for their owners.

“What I want for these dogs is not a typical kennel,” she said. “Because they’ve been through a lot, just like we’ve been through a lot. They live in a trailer, a lot of them.”

Holly Fisher has seen the love Sanchez provides first-hand. As a registered nurse formerly at the Birth Day Place, the two used to be colleagues. While she was able to find a position at Enloe Medical Center’s antepartum clinic and a home in Chico, she’s taken her two beagles out to Orland on two occasions to stay with Sanchez.

“I think everybody is in a really hard spot right now,” Fisher said by phone. “You’re living with a home and a yard, and you have neighbors or family close by. When you lose all of that—you don’t have a yard or a dog door or neighbors [you know]—I think that’s really hard. With Bernie, I know her, I trust her. And I was willing to travel an extra hour on my vacation to make sure my doggies were somewhere where I knew they were well taken care of.

“Bernie is very nurturing and caring and has a really big heart,” she continued. “She’s perfect—she loves animals and she’s taking care of them just like she would a patient.”

The additional benefit that Sanchez has found is a connection to Paradise that’s been missing since the fire.

“My location, I thought, might keep people away. But people want to connect with other Paradise people,” Sanchez said. Many of her clients have been former Paradise residents, as she’s advertised on Camp Fire-related sites. Some of them, like Fisher, were friends and former colleagues.

“I worked with some wonderful people, and I miss them terribly,” she said. “Some of the doctors, I watch their dogs. It’s one way to connect with them. I’m helping them, and they’re helping me—it’s a win-win.”