Over her 24 years as an employee of the Antioch Animal Services, she has taken home ducks, kittens, dogs, goats, chickens and parrots to nurse them back to health.
Her work will be put aside for a short time at the Contra Costa County Heroes Breakfast, held Oct. 5 at Danville’s Crow Canyon Country Club, where she’ll be honored by the Bay Area chapter of the Red Cross.
“I feel weird getting an award for something that everyone should do.” Helgemo said. “It bothers me when I go on Facebook and see people begging for help for animals. Why don’t these people provide help themselves?”
Although she’s ambivalent about the recognition, October’s event will mark the third time she’s been honored for her work. She has received a Golden Bone Award from the nonprofit Friends of Animal Services and a Meritorious Service Award through the Antioch Police Department.
It’s no surprise that the favorite part of Helgemo’s job is walking through the door to whatever awaits at the Antioch Animal Shelter. She walked through the door 24 years ago and has never wanted to leave.
Since starting as an animal care attendant, Helgemo has been promoted to animal control officer and now supervisor, but her passion for animals has never wavered.
“I’m so busy that people tell me they need to put a tracking device on me,” she said.
Her love of animals has created unique situations at her home. Her kids used to run to the bathtub only to find bath time was cancelled by ducklings occupying the space.
These days, when Helgemo arrives home, she’s greeted by a three-legged turtle she brought from the shelter. A portion of her backyard is cordoned off for ducklings prior to their fledging and flying away.
“Every year, ducks return,” Helgemo said. “I can’t say they’re the same ones from five years ago, but it seems they are.”
According to Antioch Animal Control Officer Gabrielle Johnson, since taking over as supervisor about four years ago Helgemo has embraced modern technology to further the efforts of the shelter, and enhanced training sessions for youth.
When she’s not in the shelter, her mind isn’t far from it. She routinely checks on her employees by phone and text messages. She even went out on a call – unusual for a supervisor.
“She’s the mom who holds this place together,” Johnson said. “She trusts her employees and takes our ideas about how to help the animals.”
When Helgemo has a bad day at work, it’s the animals that help cheer her up. “I do have my bad days when I go outside and smoke a cigarette,” she said. “But one of the cats will always come over and help me chill out.”
Away from work or caring for the animals that manage to find their way home with her, Helgemo is dedicated to her show dogs: “Animals really are my passion.”
The annual Contra Costa County Heroes Breakfast celebrates everyday heroes, recognizing local individuals and organizations that make a difference in their community through acts of extraordinary courage and kindness. Helgemo will be honored along with five other Bay Area residents and organizations.