While Houston Dynamo FC defender Sam Junqua has been in Texas for just over two years, the love that inspires his work with animals in Houston has been around since the beginning.
“I’ve always loved animals,” said Junqua. “I didn’t have any cats or dogs growing up. My family traveled a lot, we had three boys playing soccer, so we went all over the place. We had different sorts of pets – parakeet, aquatic turtles, but never a cat or dog.”
When Junqua was drafted by Houston in 2019, one can imagine plenty of things were on his to-do list. The Cal State alumnus and San Francisco native, however, made his lifelong passion one of his first tasks.
“I adopted my first cat when I first came to Houston, and I really enjoyed it,” Junqua remembers fondly. “Through that experience, I learned more about the various organizations that handle animals in town. Unfortunately, a lot of kittens get euthanized here. There’s a massive population problem, and I wanted to see if I could help in any way and try to care for them.”
In addition to working on the field, Junqua began working off the field with local animal shelters as a foster parent with his girlfriend, Emma. That’s why they started taking a few kittens at a time, especially ones scheduled to be euthanized later that day.
“When my girlfriend and I applied to be fosters at the end of the 2020 season, we didn't feel like we were ready just yet,” said Junqua. “We applied ahead of time and thought maybe in offseason it could be nice to do. But they contacted us that same week saying that they need an emergency foster for some kittens that were going to be put down. Like it or not, we were kind of thrown into it unexpectedly. We didn't want the kittens to be put down and nobody else was stepping up, so that's how it started.”
That one phone call started a body of work that has spanned nearly a year.
“We’ve been doing it ever since,” said Junqua. “They came in bunches – at one time we fostered 12. It’s been a really rewarding experience for my girlfriend and I. Some require more work than others; the first ones we got were bottle babies who needed to be fed every couple of hours, and right now we have a couple of kittens that have upper respiratory infections. Like I said, sometimes they are a lot more work!”
Not only have Junqua and his girlfriend taken the role of perennial foster parents, but the pair have helped Houston’s furry friends in other ways as well. Junqua has volunteered at the SPCA, and recently participated in the organization’s dog-walking initiative with Houston Pets Alive!, a local shelter.
Sam’s love for animals have taken him across many paths, and there’s one special intersection that has happened along the way.
“It was an interesting coincidence because over the course of a couple of weeks working with the kittens, we can start to become attached to them,” said Junqua. “So, whenever someone adopts them, we love to get a photo of them later to see how they’re doing and if they’re having a good time. This one couple’s son, Patrick, was with one of the cats and had some sort of soccer jersey on. I mentioned to my girlfriend to ask about it and if he plays soccer. Turns out that not only is he a defender on his club team, but the family are Dynamo season ticket holders.”
Junqua met up with the family last week over dinner, not only to discuss the beautiful game but bond over the furry friend the two share.