October 1, 1999. My first day on the job as Executive Director of Little Traverse Bay Humane Society. The shelter was located at the old facility on U.S. 131 in Petoskey, the location that served the organization since 1951. As many of you remember, the building epitomized the era of animal welfare with no windows for ventilation or sunlight; cold, concrete floors; and inadequate space for animals who came through the door. I remember walking in and looking at all the animals and saying, “well, we’re NOT staying here.”
Although the years have blurred together, the first day sticks out almost hour-by-hour. I was told to be at the shelter at 8:30 because that is when the existing ED got to work and could start my training. I thought to myself, “8:30? Who is there letting the dogs out and starting the cleaning procedure? What about the cats? Is there anyone to start feeding and medicating them?” It seemed awfully late in the morning to start taking care of animals.
The first thing I noticed was that it did not matter because there was no cleaning schedule. At the time, I had no experience in the world of nonprofits, but I knew how to take care of animals, so I started at the bottom. Every morning I arrived at work at 7:30 (and I still do today!) and started cleaning all of the animal enclosures. I did not have the awesome staff that I have today, most mornings it was just me. Despite the chaos that I walked into, I found a level of peace deep cleaning and caring for the shelter animals. Ironically, it is that calmness and peacefulness that has kept me here for all of these years.
During the first year, I could not tell you how many calls I received from disgruntled donors who had not received acknowledgements, frustrated members of the community who were trying to surrender their animals-from years past, and members of the organization who were disappointed in the facility and the lack of care the shelter animals had been receiving. I will not lie when I say that every time the phone rang, my heart sank. I just could not keep up with all the fires I had to put out.
As with every tough period in life, things began to improve. The initial changes that I made, although they seemed small at the time, made a world of difference in the lives of the shelter animals. Looking back, I am thankful that LTBHS was a small organization. It gave me the chance to grow with it and learn all aspects of running a nonprofit, no kill animal shelter. As I look at our campus today, all I can think is that we have come a long way baby.