We had the good fortune of connecting with Traci Wilkerson Steckel and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Traci Wilkerson, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
This is an excellent question because the idea behind Traci’s Paws goes back to my childhood. I have loved animals and grown up with pets all of my life. For the first eight years, I grew up in the country where our nearest neighbor was a mile away, and people found this to be the ideal place to dump their dogs and cats, usually while pregnant. As an adult, while I was a teacher, I also had several co-workers “dump” their unwanted classroom pets on me before we left for summer break.

As time passed, I knew I wanted to find a way to help pets like the ones who were discarded that my family and I ended up taking care of throughout the years.

Initially, I wanted to start a rescue and still do when the time is right. But as I educated myself more on pet overpopulation, I realized that adding one more rescue organization to the mix just would not put a dent in the job of saving pets or helping pets and their families who were facing the possibility of being separated.

So, in 2012 I sat down and started putting pen to paper for the following year. I volunteered at a local animal center and began meeting with the president picking his brain. I called as many pet rescue organizations in Texas (my home state), Arizona, and the West Coast as possible to find out significant issues they faced and what they truly needed to be successful organizations and successful at saving animals. When I compiled my lists from these organizations, it was clear there was a greater need for pet rescue assistance, which was not an established business when I registered my corporation or even a few years later, when Traci’s Paws was approved for 501c3 status.

These pet rescue organizations told me they needed help in so many areas that I wanted Traci’s Paws to be a resource for these rescues and provide Pet Rescue Assistance most beneficially. Many people say Traci’s Paws is a rescue for rescues, and I am okay with that.

Of course, I still want to have a rescue of my own when I know that I will have adequate time, support, and resources, but until then, we will continue to help aid these organizations and pet owners with our unique type of non-profit business.

Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
The work I have done through Traci’s Paws has been gratifying to me. We have created one-of-kind events like Doggies & Donuts, Paws Parties, and Unleash the Holiday Cheer that have brought the community together by supporting rescue organizations and the local military & veteran community, finding many excellent families for their adoptable pets, providing pet food and other resources for them, and even providing news segments for them on KUSI. While I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of a charity event or just the daily routine, it will dawn on me that I am truly living out one of my biggest dreams. It is easy to take things for granted, and this has been no exception.

Has building Traci’s Paws and getting where we are today been easy? Not really, but nothing worth having usually is. When I was first getting started in 2012 and 2013, I would work before going into the office, work through my lunch breaks, and work between 10 pm-2 am almost every night and weekends. Eight years later, I am working even more hours with my consulting business and back in the automotive industry, so I try to spend 1 hour on Traci’s Paws before and after work and as much as possible on the weekends.

Pre-pandemic, we had up to thirty-one events annually. We were in the preliminary stages of a project we initiated with local rescues, businesses, and the San Diego County District Attorney, which I was enormously proud of.

I think one of the best aspects of our biggest challenge, which was the pandemic, is we were forced to take a moment of pause and reassess everything we had been doing. What events could we do away with, and which ones were imperative to keep that would enable us to help those who needed us while staying afloat.

Traci’s Paws just celebrated nine years of rescue work, fundraising, and saving pets on April 17th. While each year has evolved, we have made sure that we’ve made strategic moves that continue hurling us in the right direction to help more people in our community, rescue organizations, and pets all over the United States.

Lastly, I have to say one facet of our evolution that has made me very proud is our Pet Food Fund. In previous pre-pandemic years, we hosted in-person pet food drives collecting food that went to rescue organizations and even to homeless people with pets living in a local shelter.

When COVID hit, we had people from our community of pet food donors who reached out because they’d lost jobs and were facing financial difficulty, and couldn’t afford pet food. We quickly sprang into action and created the Traci’s Paws Pet Food Fund, which enabled us to accept monetary donations, order pet food from Chewy, and have it shipped directly to people in need all over the United States. It was quick, easy, and COVID-safe. We have provided pets from all over the country with several thousand pounds of pet food, including a shelter in Puerto Rico!

A big lesson I’ve learned is that if you have a dream, you should slowly and carefully follow it by allowing your business mind to lead you and not your heart. Accept help when it is offered and always be kind and thankful.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Oh goodness, this is difficult! There’s so much to do here! I’d say we have to start early and go by The Donut Bar San Diego before they sell out, then head over to The Quartyard. We’ve had a LOT of events here like Doggies and Donuts (I’m sure you can guess who our donut sponsor was!) and our Paws Parties.

Then I’d like to head down through East Village to Petco Park, Seaport Village, for lunch on the harbor. Make a trek to La Jolla and watch the sea lions on the beach. Grab another donut at the Donut Bar Pacific Beach and have dinner in Little Italy and Landini’s, where we’ve been the beneficiary of Doggies on the Deck twice, and hang out with cool people and their pups.

There are some great hidden gems all over San Diego County, and many of them are pet friendly too!

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
It is so difficult trying to dedicate my work to only one person. I’d have to start with my parents, who always taught me responsible pet ownership. They would have all dumped animals on our property spayed and neutered, fed, and healthy.

My grandmother Wanda (who just turned 96) has significantly influenced my love for animals. She has had everything from pet bunnies and hamsters to cats and dogs and many birds, including two turkeys named Perky and Lerky! Then I have such great appreciation for so many professional acquaintances, friends, and my husband, Scott. I appreciate their positive influence, love, and support throughout these years.

Website: www.TracisPaws.org

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tracispaws

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/tracispawsinc

Twitter: @TracisPaws

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TracisPaws

Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/tracis-paws-san-diego

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TracisPaws

Image Credits
Elrod Images, Sunsets Unleashed

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutSocal is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.