Monday, April 18, 2016

Cal Fire Prepares for Fire Season

By Sarah Spinetta

Due to a large amount of rainfall as compared to the previous few years, there is a large amount of overgrown grasses, weeds and other vegetation in Amador County. Because of this, Cal Fire has been taking extra measures and tirelessly training their firefighters and pilots in preparation for the impending fire season.

Cal Fire pilots have been practicing with seven helicopters, including two large Chinook and Black Hawk choppers which can transport up to 20 firefighters each.

The Cal Fire practice area is located 1 mile west of Westover Field (JAQ). Because of the wide open space, the area is a perfect place for firefighters and pilots to practice and get ready for the fire season.

Because there is more vegetation this year, there is going to be a higher risk of fire in the summer months. It is time to start thinking about creating a 100 foot barrier around your homes and buildings. Always remember to completely extinguish any flame and be extremely careful with fire in the upcoming months.

For more information about fire safety, visit:

Video by Dave Gebauer
Photos by Bill Lavallie

Copyright © 2016 by Sarah Spinetta. Published by permission of the author.

“More Than Just Pets”: Local Veterinarian Provides 24-hour Emergency Services, Search and Rescue, and Service Dogs for Children with Autism

By Sarah Spinetta

There are many animal lovers in the world, and among them are those who dedicate their lives to taking great care of them. Alison Pillsbury of Acorn Hills Animal Center is one of those people who goes above and beyond to help animals in need.

Pillsbury has been a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) since 1988 and works very hard to take care of the animals in Amador County. “I have always loved animals, and wanted to have a hands-on job where I get to take care of them. I always wanted to be a veterinarian, and be able to help out every animal I could. At Acorn Hills, I work in small animal practices and I do whatever I can to help the animals because I want to give back to them,” Pillsbury said. “I opened Foothill and was there for 13 years before coming to Acorn Hills.”

Pillsbury wanted to provide a 24-hour emergency clinic to Amador County, so she decided to open up the animal center. “I wanted to open an emergency animal practice, and I was the first one to provide Amador County with a full service animal center and emergency clinic. I hope to be able to serve the county with emergency services. It is calming for people to know that there is always someone there who can help their animals. Also, the Jackson Rancheria is very supportive of Acorn Hills. They gave me the perfect building to start my practice.”

At the animal center, Pillsbury does house calls, checkups, urgent care and full-day practice. She is on call 24 hours a day for emergencies, and is devoted to taking care of animals. She has also worked with all kinds of animals, from sea lions to frogs to cats. She currently has four dogs, four cats, birds, frogs and fish.“If there is any animal that needs help, I will help them. I do whatever it takes for the animals to be okay, including either staying the night at Acorn Hills’ office with the animal. In the more serious cases, I will gladly take the animal home to stay with me and my dogs to care for them and check on them all night.”

Kaylee Stockton, Allison Pillsbury,  Katy Taylor, Laurie Fishback,

Kenna Edmonson, Andrea Hoover
In addition to being a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Pillsbury continues to expand her knowledge in order to work with animals in unconventional ways, in order to save or better peoples’ lives. She and her dog are certified in Search and Rescue. Her labrador, Mia, has also been trained and certified to be a California Rescue Dog (CARD) and cadaver dog.

With the help of Pillsbury and the training she received, Mia was able to make a life find...she found and saved the life of a missing woman within 24 hours. Pillsbury has been going with Mia on Search and Rescue missions for eight years. “It takes a lot of dedicated hands-on work for three years to train dogs for Search and Rescue because every dog is different, and they all need to be trained a little differently to learn how to focus,” Pillsbury said. “When Mia is searching an area where the person was last seen, she is very focused and is our first line of defense.”

There are different types of Search and Rescue dogs: Line dogs, who are on a long leash, and area dogs, which are untethered and search all over a designated area. Mia is an urban-certified line dog, which means that she can search around houses or in the city for traces of a scent trail.

“I am currently also training another one of my four dogs to be a Search and Rescue dog,” Pillsbury said. “It is hard work and takes a lot of patience, but it is so rewarding. When dogs are first trained for Search and Rescue and they are taught to go searching for treats and toys in all types of weather and terrains, and then they start picking up really fast and graduate to picking up the scent of people or searching for objects that have a missing person’s scent on them. Their memories are incredible and they are able to help save people.”

Pillsbury is one of several veterinarians at Acorn Hills who have rescue dogs of their own, and they work with the dogs all over the state of California for missing people. She also works with the Humane Society of the United States, was part of the people who provided disaster services in Hurricane Katrina, and continues to travel around to multiple countries.

Another way that Pillsbury is trying to improve the lives of people is by training service dogs to help children who have autism. “Having the dogs work with the kids as companions really helps them because they form a strong bond and connection with each other,” Pillsbury said. “It is a great way to help the children; they seem to understand and communicate with each other in an unspoken language.” One of her future dreams is to have more shelter dogs be trained as companion dogs for the children. “I would love to incorporate animals with helping others, because they are truly so loving and caring,” Pillsbury said.

“I know what it is like to be worried about your pets, because they are more than just pets. They are so loving and give so much to us, asking so little in return. This is why the whole goal of Acorn Hills Animal Center is to provide emergency pet practice to Amador County.”

Alison Pillsbury is always on call and you can reach her at 209-267-5554. Acorn Hills Animal Center is located at 80 Ridge Road, Suite C, Sutter Creek and you can call them at 209-267-5554 for emergencies or regular checkups.

Copyright © 2016 Sarah Spinetta. Published by permission of the author.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Groundbreaking Aerodynamic Technology at Catto Propellers

By Sarah Spinetta

You know how there's all this cool new technology now? Well,Craig Catto is one of those contributors. He develops new ideas to improve aeronautics and then makes them a reality by hand-making them in his airplane hangar, right here in Amador County.

Catto's main focuses are on propellers and experimental aircraft such as drones. His drones fly 25% higher and 15% longer than ones from other countries. Despite the drones, Catto creates hundreds of beautiful propellers a year, currently making new dynamic propellers for all types of planes. Since he ships internationally, his propellers are ordered worldwide.

How does he make these propellers? The process starts with creating a wooden template, which is typically made out of maple wood. After getting the basic shape of the propellers, they turn it over to one of their two CNC machines. "A dozen of us were working one day and our machine broke. I decided to buy a backup one after that so we wouldn't have to stop working until the other one got fixed,” Catto said.

The machines are programmed to cut the wood with perfect precision to ensure they are balanced. After that, the propellers are covered in layers of carbon fiber and a glass composite to keep them durable and strong. However, even after being carved by the CNC machine, the propellers go through multiple tests to ensure that the blades are all perfectly balanced. After that, optional nickel leading edges are applied for a completely weatherproof propeller.

Catto is recognized all over the world for the development of these incredible pieces of machinery. In fact, he is one of the largest sellers in the United States by volume. He also supplies the U.S. with the largest market for LSA'S (light sport aircraft), and has worked with various companies all over the world, even NASA. He designed a solar-powered aircraft that flew by remote control. We’re not talking about model airplanes here, because this one had eight motors on it. Those motors, combined with Catto's incredible talent, enabled the aircraft to fly 82,000 feet high, which is more than double the height of a commercial airplane's height. Today, that plane he created is in the Smithsonian.

In addition to these incredible feats, Catto designed rigid-wing hang gliders and was the first person on the West coast to design a model that was motorized, and has broken over eight world records with his propellers.

Catto has had a passion for flying ever since he was little, so he naturally wanted to pursue a career in that field. It all started when he turned 15 and started hang gliding. So before he even had his driver's license, Catto was flying freely in the sky on hang gliders. When he was a sophomore in high school, he started taking college classes starting in engineering and then focusing on aerodynamics. In 1980, 20-year-old, he decided to move from San Jose to Amador County, and found an airplane hangar for $500 a month at the local airport, Westover Field. He then proceeded to build himself a loft in that hangar and then lived in it for six months. In 2009, he worked built and designed his propellers out of his house with the help of one other person. That's when Catto decided to expand his business, so he moved into Hangar 156.

He is still in that hangar today, now with four companies, and is inventing and developing new technology.

For more information, call Craig Catto at 209-559-5972 or visit his website at

Copyright © 2016 by Sarah Spinetta. Published with permission by the author.