|Written by Jeff Wood|
|Tuesday, 06 March 2012 00:00|
It’s all about community for Gary DeGeronimo.
As the new executive director for the Adopt-For-Life Center for Animals, DeGeronimo hopes to create more direct ties between the center and the residents of Cottonwood.
Before joining the Cottonwood center, DeGeronimo served as shelter manager at the Humane Society of Sedona for six years.
And then he retired.
However, DeGeronimo, a canine behavioral specialist and member of the Association of Professional Humane Educators, couldn’t stay away from the animals.
DeGeronimo was working without pay at the Cottonwood center, assisting with the volunteer program, when the position of executive director came open.
It was then that Kyla Allen, president of the board of directors for the center, said the board approached DeGeronimo about coming out of retirement.
“He accomplished marvelous things [in Sedona],” Allen said. She was particularly impressed with DeGeronimo’s public relations experience, ability to put the Sedona shelter on “firm financial footing” and his “great community awareness.”
During his time in Sedona, DeGeronimo spearheaded many efforts to connect with the community, including mobile pet adoptions, a children’s summer camp and hosting birthday parties.
The opportunity to run the Cottonwood center was too good to pass up for DeGeronimo.
“There are no limits as to what you can do here,” he said.
So he came out of retirement.
In just two weeks on the job, DeGeronimo has already begun to make the most of the center’s potential.
DeGeronimo instituted a management team to share responsibility in the center.
The group, consisting of DeGeronimo, bookkeeper Sharon Ackerman, shelter manager Jennifer Nicolella and animal health manager Melody Eaton, holds weekly meetings to keep up with business at the center.
“Four heads are better than one,” DeGeronimo said.
In DeGeronimo’s opinion, volunteers are the base which enables the entire operation to remain standing.
Center volunteers used to share space in the lunchroom. To reflect their importance to the center, they have now been given a dedicated volunteer room.
Technology has also been updated. When DeGeronimo arrived on the job, he inherited a situation in which employees were working with “one-and-a-half computers.”
The bookkeeper had one functioning computer, the receptionist a computer that sometimes functioned, and the rest of the staff used their personal laptops.
Thanks to a recent donation, the center now has four brand new computers, flat-screen monitors and a printer.
DeGeronimo has big plans for the center, but he’s also a realist.
“We’re trying to do a little bit at a time and enhance what’s already here,” he said.
He also has a clear view of his priorities.
“The first thing is to keep the doors open,” he said.
Many of DeGeronimo’s ideas for the center won’t require any money.
A new program is under way to train volunteers to assist in teaching pets good behaviors, which will make them more likely to be adopted.
The goal is to help raise “adaptable animals that are safe to put back into the community,” DeGeronimo said.
The center will also open its doors to the community with an open house Saturday, March 3.
Free hot dogs and drinks will be offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with an opportunity for the public to see the animals at the center and pose any questions they might have to animal behaviorists who will be on hand.
On Wednesday, March 14, in another effort to better connect with the public, the center will begin holding biannual public board meetings with Q-and-A from the public afterward.
If the community won’t come to the center, DeGeronimo will take the center to the community.
Under DeGeronimo’s leadership, the center is now also online, reaching out to residents on Facebook and distributing a monthly electronic newsletter.
DeGeronimo plans to hold pet care clinics in local schools and libraries so children can learn the basics of proper pet care, as well has how to avoid being bitten by an animal.
In an effort to bolster the center’s finances, an inaugural Cruzin’ for the Critters benefit motorcycle ride will take place Saturday, April 14.
The ride will begin and end in Cottonwood, featuring a free breakfast, raffle and entertainment.
The center will receive 100 percent of the proceeds from the ride.
DeGeronimo would like to expand the center’s facilities, with two specific building projects in mind.
On the southwest side of the center, DeGeronimo would like to build a fenced-in dog park.
The park would be for use only by the center. It would feature much of the current natural landscape and be used to let dogs run free and teach them proper off-leash behavior.
Funding efforts are already under way for the park, with completion projected for the summer.
On the northwest side of the center, DeGeronimo envisions a modular building, which would serve as an education center for animal care, training and children’s programs.
Additionally, DeGeronimo hopes to renovate the former shelter, a low-slung brick building with outdoor cages built next to the current center site.
Currently the former shelter is being used for animal intake and isolation. After renovation, it could used to house more animals, increasing potential adoptions back into the community.
All of these changes have only one aim for DeGeronimo: create a long-lasting bond between the center and the community.
“This is a very good shelter. The staff are very well-qualified, and we need to bring people back to show them it isn’t the shelter they remember. We’re excited about the future,” DeGeronimo said.