I’ve loved and owned multiple dogs most of my adult life, ranging from Yorkshire Terriers to German Shepherds and the occasional Labrador mix. Two of our dogs were rescues, and I was always struck by how grateful they seemed for the little things that our other dogs took for granted.
My interest in dogs always had to fit around my day job, though. I spent 32 years with the federal government, starting in the U.S. Army, then as a civilian employee working for Department of Energy and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I had lots of different jobs but always seemed to be involved with starting up and implementing programs, strategic planning, and communications.
As I got closer to retirement, I began thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had fallen in love with a dog activity called K9 Nose Work® that I started in 2013 with my German Shepherd Mocha. Mocha had been a cute, stubborn puppy that grew into an 80 pound diva that reacted badly to other dogs. Because dogs are trained one at a time in nose work (and stay in a crate when not working) even reactive or very shy dogs can participate. It was transformational in how it helped Mocha by giving her a job, burning energy and building trust between us. I decided to complete the requirements to become a certified nose work instructor (CNWI™). I wasn’t sure exactly what I would do with nose work in retirement, but I knew I had to share this great tool with other dog owners experiencing challenges with their dogs like I had with Mocha.
I completed associate level instructor requirements in 2016 and became a full CNWI™ in September 2017. I retired in December 2016 and went to the Cheaha Regional Humane Society to volunteer my services to teach nose work to shelter dogs. I quickly learned that our local shelters struggle and do an incredible job just keeping up with the daily demands of animal intake, feeding, cleaning kennels, and providing medical care, while working with the public on lost pets, strays, and animal surrenders. There just isn’t much time or space to conduct enrichment activities to help the dogs under their care. I did some other volunteer work at Cheaha along with my husband Tom, and we felt frustrated that we couldn’t do more to make things better for all those dogs.
In the summer of 2017 I started looking for a larger space to teach my nose work classes to customers I’d established in Jacksonville. As Tom and I searched online and drove around, we stumbled onto the former United Cerebral Palsy building in Anniston. It had been vacant for three years and UCP was anxious to sell it. It was much bigger than what I needed for my regular nose work classes. But as we walked through it, we were struck at just how perfect the facility was to bring in shelter dogs and provide some enrichment activities. We talked and talked and came to the decision that this was meant to be. If we were serious about wanting to do something to help shelter dogs, and if we were willing to commit our own resources and work very hard, we could do something to help make a difference. We started this journey and hope you will join us in helping shelter dogs!
I always wanted a dog when I was a child but my father refused to get one. As I learned years later, it was because he had a dog when he was young and the dog ran out into the road and was killed by a car. The pain he went through because of the loss was something he didn’t want his own children to experience. It’s ironic, because I have owned dogs almost my whole adult life, and have experienced time and again the sadness and pain of losing them. But I feel that the pain is not an unreasonable price to pay for the joy, laughter and silliness they bring to us their entire lifetime. And I believe that when you lose a dog, you should do two things. One, sit down and write about some of the wonderful happy memories you have of them. Reading it will bring you great joy many times over. And two, when you are ready, get another dog and give it a good home. The best tribute to the dog that left your life is to open your life to another one. And I know lots of great dogs in our area shelters that would make wonderful pets!
I started my career in the U.S. Army at the ripe age of 19. I earned my second lieutenant bars through Officer Candidate School, my jump wings through Airborne School, and my flight wings through Flight School. I spent 10 years in the Army. I met my wife Julie just a few months before I got out. I was a captain, she was a lieutenant, and I ordered her to like me. We’ve been married for 37 years so I guess it worked out.
I received both my bachelor’s and master’s degree from Jacksonville State University. I’m proud of my accomplishments from a 37 year federal government career, including my final assignment as the Chief Information Security Officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When I retired, Julie was still working, so I spent lots of time discovering YouTube and perfecting my cooking skills. Once she retired, we began looking for ways to give back to the community and we thought that working with shelter dogs was a great match, given how much we both love dogs and how much we have learned over the years in raising multiple, sometimes problematic pets. We volunteered at Cheaha Regional Humane Society and we realized something big was needed to help them and the other area shelters be able to provide socialization, basic obedience, and other enrichment activities. After all, if you go to PetSmart to adopt a dog and as soon as it comes out of its crate it knocks your four year old daughter over, you’re probably not going to adopt it! So we decided we have one more big adventure left in us, and we established the Encore Enrichment Center for Shelter Dogs. I hope you will join us to share your passion and your skills at the Center. We need your help to make it work!
My passion for animals began early in life, brought out by Tippy, the cat I had when I was a little girl. I’ve loved animals ever since. In my adult career, I’ve held positions in the animal field for over 14 years. My journey first started at the Pell City Animal Shelter (ASPCI) in 2003. I was the kennel manager for 12 years. During the first year I was there, we took in over 8,000 animals.
I soon realized my career choice was not going to be easy. There just aren’t enough adopters and homes open for each animal. Unfortunately, euthanasia was the main solution for overpopulation during that time. By 2008 however, things took a turn for the better. ASPCI opened a spay/neuter program and partnered with PetSmart to promote more adoptions. In 2010, we started coordinating with rescue groups and even more lives were saved. It was a huge blessing! However, in 2015 ASPCI did not renew their contract with the city. Even though ASPCI shut down, I still pushed forward in the animal field. I moved on find Cheaha Regional Humane Society. I worked there for almost two years as the director. We had some successes, especially in the areas of rescue animal transport and ensuring spay/neutering of adopted pets. But we also faced overcrowding and resource constraints that kept us from being able to place more animals with good families who would care for them forever.
Throughout the 14 years I’ve served as a shelter employee I have experienced many situations most people couldn’t imagine. Between euthanizing, medicating mangy animals, seizing over 200 animals from one location, assisting in rescuing dogs in two separate puppy mill cases, prosecuting several cases for animal cruelty/neglect, and socializing animals that are beyond scared of humans, I found that each case strengthened my love and passion for animals. Now I plan to apply my experience at the Encore Enrichment Center for Shelter Dogs. I want to keep improving the lives of homeless animals by helping them become more sociable and highly adoptable. I can’t wait to bring shelter dogs to Encore to give them some time in a clean, quiet, FUN facility and a break from the stressful kennel environment! I believe it will improve their quality of life and increase their chances for adoption.