THE BLOG
10/13/2014 04:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Jessica's Haven & Rescue: Special People, Special Dogs

Two best friends, a very special girl named Jessica, and dogs desperately in need of homes. This is the foundation for Jessica's Haven & Rescue, a small non-profit business making a huge difference in the lives of a handful of special needs adults, some of whom function at various levels of the autistic spectrum. What makes Jessica's Haven unique are the many ways this program gives back to the community. Because of the work and dedication of the autistic participants (known as clients), unwanted dogs are given a second chance, and people who often struggle to find their place in the world gain valuable life and work skills.

The Story of Jessica's Haven & Rescue

In 2006, Laura Cottingham and Laura Hislop came together with an idea for a small business. They joined forces to create Bed & Biscuits, which provides a variety of dog-related services, including boarding, grooming and doggie day care. The impetus for their partnership was two-fold. Laura Cottingham, a dog lover her whole life, had always dreamed of turning her passion into full time work. Laura Hislop was trying to decide how she and her husband could provide the best opportunity for their autistic daughter, Jessica, who had recently graduated from high school. Jessica had a deep connection with dogs, and together, Laura & Laura envisioned and conceived a business that could provide hands on, vocational training for Jessica.

Immediately after they opened for business, Jessica began spending time at Bed & Biscuits to learn how to be a dog groomer's assistant. Jessica helped with grooming dogs, maintaining the doggie exercise area and giving lots of loving attention to all the dogs in her care.

After learning and mastering the necessary skills to be a dog groomer's assistant, Jessica's self-esteem grew.

"As Jessica's parent, I was dismayed by the options for young adults with autism to live joyful and purposeful lives in our society, which is people based. My daughter is at her best, relaxed and open, when she is in the company of dogs. By helping a rescue dog become more adoptable, Jessica's feels needed, and important. She has learned responsibility, and now owns the skill of being a wonderful groomer's assistant. Most importantly, she lives each day happily, contributing with the best she has to offer, the love of dogs." -- Laura Hislop


Jessica with rescue dogs for adoption

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Soon after Bed & Biscuits opened for business, Laura Cottingham started to rescue unwanted small dogs from high kill animal shelters across California. Part of her work now included her time (and money) to foster and find homes for small dogs that would have otherwise been euthanized. Jessica volunteered her time to help take care of these dogs.

Several years after Jessica started working at Bed & Biscuits, she invited some of her friends to join her. Together, they learned how to wash dogs, assist with kennel duties, in addition to participating in other creative outlets. Word began to spread across the special needs community in Marin, and partnerships with Lifehouse, Oak Hill School, Star Academy, Cyprus School, and Integrated Community Services began to take shape.

Scarlett & Katie doing crafts
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As a routine for Jessica and her friends began to flourish, Laura & Laura discussed ways to expand the program they were developing. They decided to incorporate as a nonprofit, a process that took approximately five months and the help of an attorney who donated her time.

Jessica's Haven & Rescue was born.

The Dogs of Jessica's Haven & Rescue

The rescued dogs at Jessica's Haven & Rescue come in a variety of small dog shapes and sizes. Many Chihuahuas and Chihuahua mixes are flooding animal shelters across California, primarily due to the demand created by celebrities toting these little guys around like the latest designer handbags. Personally, I have nothing against designer handbags. However, in my opinion, displaying a dog as a fashion accessory is irresponsible. The result is that more dogs are being bred and sold, and then surrendered to animal shelters once the novelty of having a little dog wears off.

If you are considering bringing a small dog into your life, please consider adopting one from Jessica's Haven & Rescue or your local animal shelter.

Little Halo is looking for her forever home.
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What has evolved is an educational program that works with the local community, and across the San Francisco Bay Area. Jessica's Haven & Rescue has a vocational skills training program that operates four days a week in addition to rescuing and finding homes for unwanted dogs. Through the support of donors and the community, they have been able to hire a special education teacher, and keep the program operational for the upcoming year.

"What makes our program unique is that our rescue dogs have a purpose. While being cared for, socialized and loved by our participants, the dogs are providing unconditional love and comfort to our participants. In return, I see magic happening every day!" -- Laura Cottingham

Plans for Jessica's Haven & Rescue include expansion. Due to the success of the program, there is a waiting list for client participants, and one of the long-term goals includes a larger facility. Since Jessica's Haven doesn't charge for the services they provide, they rely on donations and the generosity of the public to offset the costs of running Jessica's Haven.

Jessica's Haven & Rescue operates a four-day-a-week vocational training program that serves 26 special needs adults, and is currently fostering nine rescue dogs that are in search of their forever homes. If you want to learn more please visit Jessica's Haven.