The High Desert Humane Society is on the move — literally — thanks to dynamic new leadership and the relocation of the dog rescue facility from the backyard of the thrift store on Broad Street to a dedicated facility just up the hill from the Globe Cemetery.
Cynthia Carr, who joined the HDHS Board as its new president this year, brings her experience working with a national nonprofit and wide-ranging contacts in the animal rescue field.
“It’s been incredibly exciting to have Cynthia on the board,” says past president and current board member Cheryl Brazell. “She brings not only her experience but her large network of people and contacts.”
Since 1971, High Desert Humane Society has supported thousands of families and animals in the Globe-Miami area. The group — largely supported through grant funding, revenues from their thrift and furniture stores, and donations — has racked up an impressive track record.
Despite the pandemic limitations in 2021, HDHS helped 1,248 dogs and even more cats find new homes and receive emergency medical interventions. And thanks to a win-win collaboration with other animal care agencies, including the San Carlos Apache Geronimo Animal Rescue Team (GART), the group has received much-needed help with food, transport, and a low-cost spay and neuter program.
There have been challenges. Health issues among the leadership led to limited oversight of the program, which resulted in challenges at the cat house, at the dog rescue, and with unsupervised volunteers in the community. Additionally, fundraising efforts that once fueled many of the programs were all but curtailed as of 2020 due to COVID.
A change in leadership
Before taking the reins as board president, Carr supported the efforts of past president Cheryl Brazell and HDHS for years. She also brings deep experience and commitment to the animal welfare field.
Through her association with the Humane Society of the United States, based in Washington D.C., she studied animal welfare legislative bills. She also participated each year in Humane Lobby Day at the state capitol.
It was through Carr’s association with the Humane Society of the United States that Carr and Brazell first met. During this early connection, in 2013, Carr became familiar with HDHS, GART, and the Arizona Humane Society. Initially, she helped HDHS obtain resources by establishing statewide systems to support resource giveaways.
These systems are still operational, and giveaways now include frequent semi-truck loads of new goods donated by Chewy, Costco, and Max & Leo, which make it possible for HDHS to stock its free pet food pantry.
Carr also initiated a massive grant-funded project for the San Carlos Apache Reservation, where nearly 1,000 dog houses were built and delivered to protect canines from extreme temperatures.
But with the ever-changing economics brought about by COVID and multiple health emergencies among its leadership, HDHS’s board of directors struggled to keep the doors open and the services flowing.
“We may have to stop some of our service(s),” Brazell told Carr in a phone call earlier this year. She asked Carr if she could step in to help the board get back on track. Carr said yes.
“I was impressed with Cheryl [Brazell] and all that she did to start the organization and build it. There was no way I was going to let it fail,” Carr explained. She added, “It is a difficult paradigm shift to go from founder mentality to succession planning, and I felt I could help with this.”
Carr joined the HDHS board in October 2021 and was elected president to help lead the group through a transition period that is still being defined.
Since she arrived at HDHS, Carr has been a whirlwind of activity: streamlining and strengthening HDHS, improving its sustainability and ability to respond to stakeholders’ needs, and updating the organization to the 21st century.
A new home
Most visibly, Carr is heading up HDHS’s move to a new building and transforming that building into a well-appointed dog rescue facility. HDHS has dreamed of having an improved facility for some time. The opportunity arose to make this a reality when Gila County Animal Care and Control vacated its old shelter by the cemetery, a building they had been leasing from HDHS.
Carr spearheaded the current work to renovate the facility. A cadre of volunteers from here and around the state worked hard, cleaning out the muck, scraping off old paint, rebuilding pens, and remodeling the interiors.
Carr is seeking donations of AstroTurf, dog pools, sun shades, Kuranda beds (which lift dogs off the floor), and treadmills to allow the dogs to play and exercise when the heat is excessive. She’s also looking for artists to help bring color and life to the walls.
HDHS is in the process of moving the dogs into the new shelter. Once complete, the current rescue building on Mesquite Street will be repurposed for events like puppy yoga classes, dog training classes, dog adoption events, community education campaigns, and even event space rental in the large upstairs room. Carr is encouraging the board to consider the possibilities and is working with college landscape architecture students to redesign the outdoor space behind the thrift store.
In a major development, Carr is also working to improve HDHS’s ability to work with — and reward — volunteers and staff. She’s creating position descriptions, working toward being able to pay living wages for the group’s full-time positions, and updating payroll practices and benefits tracking.
“This is an organization that has been run by hundreds of dedicated volunteers. Their success has helped the program to grow, and now we need to make changes to accommodate that growth,” Carr says.
Last May, Carr brought on board a new volunteer coordinator tasked with creating a volunteer handbook, updating the volunteer application form, onboarding new volunteers, running monthly volunteer meetings, getting all-volunteer resource materials onto the HDHS website, and training volunteers to use electronic tracking systems. To make this hire possible, Carr worked with Public Allies, a nonprofit organization that will pay 50% of the coordinator’s salary for the first year. Due to logistical challenges, this position is open again, and the HDHS is looking for a competent person to fill it.
To maximize profits from HDHS’s stores, Carr empowers store managers to run their shops as they see fit and has enlisted the services of a professional bookkeeper and a payroll support agency.
Darin Lowery, who manages the HDHS furniture store on Broad, says the store’s profits have increased from 30% to 40% in recent months and says he appreciates that Carr “is not a micromanager, but is a hands-on president.”
Part of the fresh approach is familiarity and ease in implementing technology and effectively utilizing social media. Thanks to this knowledge, the Humane Society is finally getting computers. After Carr learned most of HDHS’s 11 buildings had none, she reached out to the County to obtain 12 donated computers.
Computers are basic to any organization, and for HDHS they are key to grant writing, partnership recruitment, training veterinary technicians, and tracking the organization’s multifaceted animal rescue activities. Once the new technology is in place, HDHS will be better able to track animals and streamline and organize ongoing programs, such as the Trap-Neuter-Return program for feral cats.
The organization is also reviewing its policies and procedures, redesigning its website and Facebook page, and updating its bank accounts and financial software. As part of this process, it is creating a finance manual and a Board of Directors manual, setting up expense tracking systems, and creating a process for support agency requests.
Looking to HDHS’s future, the board is focusing on building capacity, better managing existing resources, increasing community outreach, building interagency partnerships, and undertaking succession planning for the organization.
Developing future animal welfare advocates for Globe, Miami, and San Carlos is also one of Carr’s missions in bringing new energy and resources to HDHS. She’s building a partnership with Gila Community College to create a nonprofit management internship program for students and is working on launching a grant-funded vet-tech training program.
“There is a huge gap nationally in available veterinary resources. If we can’t recruit people to our area, let’s train our own talent,” she says.
Across the Southwest, challenges linked to the recent pandemic have created an animal care crisis. Shelters have been inundated with dogs and cats far beyond their capacity. To address the massive influx of animals needing care, Carr is organizing animal care agencies statewide to create a transportation network and plan for effectively moving animals needing adoption to regions around the United States needing dogs.
Carr invites volunteers to participate in the amazing things being accomplished in and through HDHS. By the end of summer, HDHS’s website will show how volunteers can get involved. New volunteers will join an army of experienced helpers to build a stronger and more efficacious HDHS.
“There are so many ways for people to join in and help. Adopting our pets, offering to foster, volunteering at one of our locations, and donating your time, talent or treasure will help us save more animals and help more families with their furry family members,” Carr says.
Thea Wilshire works as an author, psychologist, speaker, healthcare consultant, and AirBnB host. Her passions include community development, the creation of public spaces, trying new adventures, and sharing her therapy dog with schools and medical facilities. Find her blog at https://www.acornconsulting.org/blog.