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Former editor finds calling as animal advocate

Nick Winfrey, vice president of planning and development at Rancho Coastal Humane Society, poses with his Italian Greyhound Ryley. “Encinitas is the mecca for animal welfare,” Winfrey said.
( / Jared Whitlock)

Nick Winfrey is seemingly everywhere in Encinitas, from recently hosting the “State of the City Address” to playing Santa around the holidays at the San Diego Botanic Garden to serving as president of Leucadia 101 Main Street.

But he’s especially proud of his day job — vice president of planning and development at the nonprofit Rancho Coastal Humane Society. Tucked away at 389 Requeza Street in Encinitas, the animal shelter has kennels, medical facilities and a pet food bank.

Charity Navigator recently gave the nonprofit a four-star rating — the highest possible ranking, which Winfrey said is a testament to the hard work of staff and volunteers.

“Encinitas is the mecca for animal welfare,” Winfrey said while sitting in his office, his Italian greyhound, Ryley, at his feet. “The rest of the world can look to see what we’re doing here.”

Before Winfrey advocated for animals and sported a long beard, he was a clean-cut Marine living in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was considering re-enlisting or getting his master’s degree in Texas, but then he met his future wife, Nicole, who asked him to move to Encinitas with her. Not knowing anything about the area, he worried it would be like Los Angeles — “kind of stuck-up” in his words.

“I came here in 2008 for a girl, and that turned out to be an amazing decision,” Winfrey said.

He realized as much upon first arriving in Encinitas. Music from the annual Switchfoot Bro-Am concert wafted from the beach, and then he had a delicious meal at Juanitas.

That killer vibe continued — their neighbors were welcoming and helped them get settled. Before long, the couple wanted to give back to the city, so they volunteered at Rancho Coastal Humane Society.

Winfrey, now 35, volunteered in part to get away from his soul-crushing job as the editor of a political outfit.

“I got a sour taste in my mouth with politics, what they are, what they have to do. My escape was coming here.”

His newfound love for animals led him to take a job as an adoption counselor at Rancho Coastal. It wasn’t an easy decision at the time, since the Rancho Coastal gig meant taking a pay cut. But Winfrey said his wife encouraged him to choose his passion for animals over money, the absolute right call in retrospect.

“If we were in LA, Scottsdale or anywhere else, we would be like, ‘forget my well-being, we need to make more money.’ But here it’s ‘no, just do what you want to do and the rest will come.’ You don’t have to have the best or biggest things here, you can just be.”

When he’s not working, he’s lending a hand to Leucadia 101 Main Street and other local organizations, as well as raising rescued Italian greyhounds with his wife.

Winfrey, who was born in Nebraska and has lived throughout the U.S., said Encinitas has put him at ease. It’s something his family has noticed — even if they’re not exactly fond of his shaggy hair and beard, he joked.

Rancho Coastal CEO Jim Silveira said Winfrey is brimming with energy and ideas.

“I can remember when he first started he would always pop into my office and pass along ideas he said that he’d been thinking about all night,” Silveira said. “That energy is still there.”

Silveira also credited Winfrey with building key relationships throughout Encinitas, which has translated into more support for its projects.

“Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Silveira said.

Over the years Winfrey has taken on bigger roles at Rancho Coastal, currently serving as vice president of planning and development. His focus at present is on Rancho Coastal expansion plans that call for a new education building and medical facility on the 5-acre property.

Rancho Coastal started when Maria K. Lloyd bought the site in 1960 — back when the neighborhood was rural — and turned it into an animal shelter. Its footprint has grown, and so has its ranks — now boasting 46 employees and 400 volunteers. The expansion, which Rancho Coastal is raising money for, will allow a greater number of services.

“What we do works really well, but we want to do more of it,” Winfrey said while strolling across the property. He noted an expansion ground-breaking is scheduled for later this year and construction could finish as soon as 2018.

At a given time, the shelter has 60 to 100 animals — rabbits, cats and dogs — and each receives food and medical attention, he explained. They’re carefully picked from other public shelters, or they’re given to Rancho Coastal when people can no longer care for them. That includes an Animal Safehouse Program, which temporarily takes in the pets of domestic violence victims while they find a better housing situation.

“This place has such innovative programs, one reason I love it,” he said.

Rancho Coastal wouldn’t be possible without the backing of an animal-loving city, he said. And on that note, he doesn’t ever want to move.

“This is our home. The people here, the energy here, the lifestyle here, the animals.”

Visit rchumanesociety.org to learn more.


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