I bought my daughter a t-shirt a few years ago penned with the picture of a whimsically faced happy dog and the words, “I just want to drink wine and rescue dogs.” It made us both laugh because one, she had rescued her dog from sure death on the streets of Guatemala when she was working there for a non-profit and two, we love to share a glass of wine together after a particularly challenging day or a particularly great one.
We’re not alone in these pursuits, of course, given that some 4.1 million dogs and cats in the United States are adopted each year from the 10,000+ animal rescue organizations, not to mention the domesticated farm animals that are finding their way to greener pastures thanks to a growing network of animal sanctuaries. In fact, during the pandemic, more folks opened their homes to furry friends, attesting to the love people have for their pets.
As for our love of wine, the United States is heralded as among the most attractive wine markets in the world and the fourth-largest wine producing country in the world, after Italy, Spain, and France. California takes the lead in US wine production, with Napa Valley reigning as the American capital for wine. Dating back to the early nineteenth century, Napa has produced world-class wines that compete with the most elite wineries worldwide.
Napa is also home to one of the most progressive animal sanctuaries in the county, Jameson Humane, founded by a wine merchant duo, David and Monica Stevens, who know quite a lot about drinking wine and rescuing dogs. Jameson Humane is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, impact-driven rescue organization dedicated to inspire change in the way we treat animals, furred, feathered, two-and four-footed, hoofed, webbed, pawed and precious.
According to Monica, a critical component to the Jameson Humane story is the wine shop she and her husband opened in 2009, two years after she moved from Chicago to Napa with her beloved rescue dog, Jameson, one of many dogs she has adopted over the years. Branded 750 Wines by these astute marketers, because “most wines come in 750 ml bottles,” the shop became one of the most respected wine shops in the valley thanks to the loyal support of their clients and impressive industry connections. 750 Wines took off, gaining national recognition for curating collections that had connoisseurs popping corks and pouring vintages from smaller-scale artisan producers as well as the biggest names in domestic and international wines, while clamoring for more. The former co-owner of ACME Fine Wines, David had an industry-wide reputation for being one of the most influential wine insiders, making him the man to know for “turning up seemingly impossible-to-find bottles, and in slipping their clients behind the velvet ropes for private winery visits” as one Forbes reporter wrote.
“We would host tailored private tastings with wines from the top vintners in the world and our clients loved them. They would sit around the tasting table, sipping wine and talking about animals and the pets they loved,” explained Monica, an expert in PR, event planning and hospitality, talents she honed in Chicago, at the elite Poetry Inn in Napa Valley, and in her own concierge business. These tastings were such a hit that they inspired a new venture, Jameson Humane.
“I started to get really excited about what we were seeing and hearing at our tastings. The conversations about animals were a constant subject and we knew we had a captive audience for both our passions: wine and animals. That’s when Jameson Humane happened,” Monica explained.
“We wanted to give back and thought that we would just start a rescue and adopt the animals out. We rescued all kinds of domestic animals, including chickens, pigeons, cows, horses, bunnies, goats, sheep, dogs and cats. We had no idea what we were doing but we did have the strength and support of the wine industry behind us,” said Monica.
As astute business people, they knew they needed to raise money to sustain their rescue. They decided to host an annual wine auction event, cleverly called WineaPAWlooza, featuring an adorable and adoptable pet parade with all proceeds going to Jameson Humane. Their first event was in 2014 and they invited their 750 Wines clients and vendors, who opened their hearts, wallets and wine bottles for a cause they all cared about.
Success is part talent, part luck and all about timing. In 2015, the people and pets of Napa Valley were impacted by the first of many devastating wildfires. Homes and farms burned, animals were left behind, and lives and livelihoods went up in smoke.
“When our clients first heard about Jameson Humane, they thought it was such a nice thing that we were doing. We didn’t have an animal sanctuary in Napa Valley back then. But after the fires hit, our donors saw us jump into action. They saw that we were actually helping and their donations were important. They really believed in us after that.”
Fires and floods continued to take their toll as Jameson took in animals uprooted by the natural disasters, horses, cows and pigs among them, along with an ever-growing number of neglected, abused and homeless pets. “We had to jump into the fray and be resourceful, Monica shared. “We had to make magic happen, not once or twice, but each time we received the call!”
“It’s a community effort,” she told me, saying that Jameson is now run by a small but mighty dedicated group of people, including volunteers, who care about what they are doing. And it goes beyond simply rescuing and rehoming their charges. It’s about sustainability, maintaining a healthy planet, educating people about animal welfare and effecting change.
“What we figured out is that we can’t rescue our way out of the problem. We knew we had to change people’s mindset. We needed programs to help keep pets with their people so they’re not going to a shelter. So we started creating educational programs and that’s what we’re known for today. It’s not just about adopting dogs or cats. It’s about keeping you and your pet together. We try to keep pets out of the shelter in the first place. It’s also about about rescuing horses and farm animals and telling the public why we’re doing this when they come to visit Jameson. After seeing the animals and learning more about them, people start to connect the dots and view all animals as sentient beings. People are listening and now we’ve started a plant-based, environmental movement.”
Monica’s dream for Jameson Humane is to educate the public, encouraging vegan options for a healthier and cruelty-free lifestyle, explaining the importance of spaying and neutering animals and stressing how critical health care is for their pets. Her efforts have secured a donated mobile veterinary unit that not only spays, neuters and vaccinates animals, but is also equipped to handle emergency surgeries for a fraction of the costs charged by other veterinarians. Medical expenses are a big factor in people’s decision to surrender their pets so they try to offer them affordable alternatives to the extent possible.
It’s a tall order to try to change people’s perspectives but Monica’s dedication to her pet cause only gets stronger with time. Her annual wine fundraiser has become one of the most sought-after events in Napa Valley, with a coveted invitation-only guest list that brings together some of the most influential names in wine with people who, dare I say it, like to drink wine and rescue dogs – along with many other animals of all kinds.
To date, Jameson Humane provides shelter to some 90+ animals in nine different species, many of them cats that are often relegated to the bottom of the barrel in terms of animal control priorities. Most of their animal charges are available for rehoming if adoptees meet certain criteria, including an in-person home check and an enforceable adoption contract.
“We are serious about securing permanent and suitable homes for our residents but some of the animals we rescue will live out their lives with us,” Monica told me. They include Fabio and Cher, a mini horse and pony, ages 17 and 18 respectively, both victims of the Kincade/Sonoma fire. The pair now serves as ambassadors for Jameson’s equine program, which costs Jameson a staggering $10,000 per month for their horse herd’s care and feeding – their nine buddies include five seniors, four adult horses and a young gelding. Sponsors are welcome to help in their support as well as the care of their other fostered friends.
It’s not easy to place pigs who like to wallow in the mud in a new home, but Monica told me that Jameson’s protected piggies each have a winning personality and a big appetite for being loved. Their sheep love human attention too as do their “lawn puppies,” Duke and Delilah, who were raised on a beef farm before boarding at Jameson when their owners went vegan! While they are looking for a forever home in a large pasture, it’s no secret that the Jameson staff would be sad to see them go.
“The high school kids who participate in California’s 4H-type programs feel the same,” Monica explained. “Traditionally, school-based agricultural programs like 4H and FFA attract generational participants who are well-versed about their family’s age-old farming practices involving animals. But today’s students are different. They’re passionate about the environment and sustainability, and they are not hesitant to tell you what their thoughts are. Many are reluctant to send the animals they raised to the auction house and on to the slaughter house in return for a monetary reward. Leaders in Ethics, Animals and the Planet (LEAP) was formed as an alternative program for these kids, which ensures a humane win-win for everyone.”
Individual sanctuaries in California believe in Jameson’s LEAP initiative so much that they commit to five to six scholarship students a year. Rescuing farm animals originally raised for meat and rehoming them in safe sanctuaries are mushrooming around the country, with many small family ranchers seeking new, plant-based produce alternatives to make a living.
“We are thrilled that our LEAP program now has six participating sanctuaries with the addition of Herd and Flock, Goatlandia, and Charlie’s Acres! Founded by three non-profit animal sanctuaries in Northern California – Jameson Humane, Blackberry Creek, and Rancho Compasión – we are transforming LEAP into its own non-profit in 2023 to begin a movement to reach youth across the country. This new education program offers students hands-on farmed and domestic animal care experience, humane education, and the opportunity to earn $1,000 by volunteering at participating animal sanctuaries.”
Their ideas for saving the planet, people and pets are endless, gaining momentum with every rescue they undertake. Due to all the work involved in their efforts, Monica and David sold their wine shop in 2021 to devote more of their time and attention to Jameson, but to this day people in California still talk about it. That’s another one of the secrets to the unabashed success of their annual fundraiser, WineaPAWlooza.
“Our clients, donors and vintners understand commitment. We grew our business on our dedication to showcasing the world’s finest wines, fostering trust and community along the way. The vintners trust us and our 750 Wines clients who are now donors trust us. We built our rescue movement on their shoulders. They all love the pizzazz of WineaPAWalooza. They love to have a good time but they also know that they are there to support an organization that thinks globally. This isn’t just about Napa Valley. It’s about how we can make an impact around the globe for the benefit of animals, humans and our planet.”
Monica credits her husband David with setting the stage for Jameson, thanks to his ardent desire to help area winemakers get their feet wet in the wine industry. “He would take them under his wing, talk to them about pricing and merchandising and advise them on how to successfully launch their brand. He was always giving back to the community too and is a strong believer in paying it forward. Doing the right thing is rooted in his DNA and is the guiding force behind Jameson Humane.”
The fact that Jameson Humane was named in honor of Monica’s huge 180 lb. Great Pyrenees speaks volumes about her steadfast vision for the future. No matter how big or challenging the undertaking, when it comes to making animals – and wine drinkers – happy, Monica and Jameson are all in. ☐