After Katrina, Saving Animals Led To New Career

AT WORK

At Work: Heather Hart, Animal Center Director, Baltimore Humane Society

November 01, 2009|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to The Baltimore Sun

SALARY: $40,000

AGE: 34

TIME ON THE JOB: Seven months

HOW SHE GOT STARTED: Heather Hart graduated with a bachelor's degree in Spanish from the University of South Carolina. She said she was always interested in photography and opened her own business to take on freelance assignments and portrait photography. At the time, she also volunteered with a nonprofit known as Project Pet. In 2005, she went to the New Orleans area on a magazine photo assignment after Hurricane Katrina.

"I didn't spend any time taking photographs and spent all my time rescuing animals," Hart said.

When she returned to South Carolina, she went to work as operations manager for Project Pet. When she saw the opening for the assistant director of operations for the Baltimore Humane Society, she decided to apply.

"I fell in love with the place and the potential," Hart said.

She began at the shelter two years ago, working first as the assistant director of operations, then moving on to interim animal center director, and seven months ago was promoted to her current position of animal center director.

TYPICAL DAY: Hart works long days, usually putting in 10 hours, seven days a week. But it's a labor of love, Hart said.

Her job is to focus on the administrative side of running the shelter. Hart helps to plan, implement and facilitate programs of the Baltimore Humane Society. She works with a team to develop programming that includes education, resources and aid for the community with the ultimate goal of keeping animals from coming to the shelter.

"We're not going to be able to adopt our way out of this situation," Hart said. "We want to prevent animals from coming to the center in the first place."

The new program, known as Bmore Fare, involves Woof Wellness clinics where shelter staff goes into target communities to promote spay and neuter services and education. They're also developing a food bank for those who cannot afford to feed their pets and a foster program in which young animals and those recovering from surgery can be cared for in the comfort of a home.

The Baltimore Humane Society is a private nonprofit that relies on donations and grant funding. It accepts dogs, cats, rabbits and small rodents. It usually will not euthanize an animal unless there are problems with aggression or severe health issues. At any given time there are usually more than 100 cats and kittens and about 20 to 25 dogs. The Humane Society also offers a discounted spay and neuter service and operates the Nicodemus Memorial Park, a pet cemetery on the 365-acre property.

Hart must regularly respond to e-mail messages, research program ideas and order supplies for the shelter. She also assists in taking care of the animals, training staff members, answering visitors' questions and filling in where needed.

Hart said the shelter is focused on being a resource for the community.

REASONS PETS END UP AT THE SHELTER: The owners are moving, breed restriction issues or pet deposits are required for housing or the owners can't afford to keep the pet.

Her advice: Before taking on a pet, know what you're looking for, find an animal that will match that expectation and realize that there are many expenses associated with having a pet.

THE GOOD: "Being able to help people and the animals. And to know I'm making a difference," Hart said.

THE BAD: "It can be overwhelming at times. You learn to deal with it," said Hart, adding that along with the sad experiences at the shelter come many good stories of animal adoption.

PHILOSOPHY ON THE JOB: "To remain positive and go with the flow."

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