Faces of Christmas

12 Faces of Christmas: Joanne Harland bakes treats for cancer patients, feeds abandoned dogs

The basics: Joanne Harland, 73, works in the career department at Fresno Adult School. Born in South Carolina and raised in Virginia, Harland moved to California in 1964 and lives in Fresno with her husband of 44 years, Roy.

What she does: Several times each week, Harland stops by California Oncology of the Central Valley to bring baked goods for patients.

And for more than 20 years, Harland has visited dogs left in car lots to protect property and feeds them turkey, chicken, ham and other meats. “When I go down the alleys I drive a ’70 Volkswagen Bug – they all recognize the car,” Harland says. “They know it’s me.”

Why she does it: “So many people don’t do anything. We should all do something – sometimes the smallest thing can, you know, make someone feel good.”

The turning point: After going to California Oncology over four years ago to get a blood test and being impressed with the staff, Harland started making cranberry bread, fruit cake, panettone bread pudding and other goods to take with her each visit.

Driving around town throughout the years and seeing dogs chained to grocery carts, fences or other objects, Harland was inspired to begin caring for them. “I saw a beautiful German shepherd chained to a grocery cart – he couldn’t run, he couldn’t do anything,” she says, describing the type of circumstances she often witnesses. “So I made a U-turn to go back.”

Details, details: In her visits to California Oncology, Harland has been motivated by the positive attitude of the patients. “So many of them have a positive attitude – even though they’re going through some horrific stuff. We were here a few moments ago, all of us laughing like crazy  It’s not depressing – you may be (depressed), but when we get through with you, you won’t be.”

Though Harland visits the car lots regularly to feed dogs, she makes a point of going on Christmas Day when the lots are all closed. “He would run to the car and sit,” Harland says of one of her favorite lot dogs, a pit bull named Cement. “I’d be in the car and he would look at me like, ‘Get out!’ and I’d throw food in and he’d just swallow it and not chew.”

What others say: “What I love about her most of all is, she’s honest and straightforward,” says Debra Plattner, a patient of California Oncology who has known Harland since April 2014. “She’s funny, in a way that takes your fears away. It’s her honesty that just puts you at ease.”

How you can help: “Get involved,” Harland says. “You can always donate to any animal rescue in Fresno – they’re all great.”

Those interested in donating can contact Animal Rescue of Fresno at 559-225-5715, Fresno Bully Rescue at 559-276-7611 and Animal Compassion Team of California at 559-266-6364.

Razi Syed: 559-441-6679, @razisyed

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