COLUMBIA — When you walk into Mary Pat Boatfield's office at the Central Missouri Humane Society, chances are good that you'll be greeted by Cole, a black poodle mix not much bigger than a loaf of bread.
His tail wagging like a flag in a blustery wind, he welcomes visitors with a silly dance. But no barks or licks — he has some manners. Cole is one of six pets, including three other dogs, a cat and a dove, that live with Boatfield in Hallsville.
Mission: According to its website, the Central Missouri Humane Society "exists to prevent and alleviate suffering and uncontrolled reproduction of companion animals with emphasis on public education, adoption and providing basic veterinary services for under-served pet owners."
Budget: $1 million
Staff/volunteers: 26 employees; 100 to 200 volunteers
Current number of animals: 80, excluding animals being fostered
To donate: By phone at 443-7387 or by mail to 616 Big Bear Blvd., Columbia, MO 65202
To volunteer: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 443-7387 ext. 211
On May 29, Boatfield began her new job as executive director of the Humane Society, a position that has been vacant since October.
"My specialty is working with organizations that have a desire for structure and that need some financial development," she said. "I guess you could say I do turnarounds."
Boatfield applied for the job after seeing it posted on a national listserv. After 12 years as executive director of the Nashville Humane Association in Tennessee, Boatfield felt her work there was done.
"You do what you can do," she said. "In the life cycle of an organization, you need different leaders that have different visions. This job had to be the right position for where I am and where I want to go. Chemistry is really important."
Chris Koukola, vice president of the society's board of directors, said Boatfield was right for the Humane Society because of her depth of knowledge about animal welfare and her long leadership success in Nashville. Also, she said, Boatfield has a strong interest in building involvement with the community.
As part of the interview process, Boatfield took a look at the society's strategic plan, which calls for a capital campaign to expand the facility.
"We feel Columbia has the capacity to support the best kind of shelter," Koukola said. "She was very supportive of this plan, which made her a good fit."
Led spay, neuter program
In Nashville, Boatfield worked as a Disaster Animal Response Team, or DART, leader during the 2010 flood. Doug Balthaser, a veterinarian with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, said he worked with Boatfield during this disaster.
He said her quick response included moving two of the humane association's emergency mobile units to a temporary American Red Cross center, located at the Lipscomb University basketball arena, before the flood waters rose too high. These units took in displaced pets while their owners took shelter inside the arena.
DART members also collected displaced animals in animal control vehicles and took them to the mobile units at the arena.
Without her quick thinking, they would not have been able to set up any kind of shelter for the displaced animals during that flood, Balthaser said.
Sharon Langford, a former member of the board of directors for the Nashville Humane Association, said Boatfield developed a strong spay and neuter program to decrease the number of stray dogs and cats.
Boatfield was involved in a study that analyzed areas where people encountered the most problems with stray animals, Langford said. Boatfield supported a program that sent a vehicle out to these areas on a regular schedule to spay and neuter animals. These efforts were effective in reducing the number of stray animals, Langford said.
Boatfield hopes to implement a similar program in the Columbia area.
Langford also said that when Boatfield began at the association 12 years ago, it was in the process of building a new shelter. Even though the association was in transition, Boatfield continued to manage the shelter and decided the best ways to use the new space, she said.
"Her strength is her vision," Langford said. "She has a big picture approach and a very experienced background for a role like this."
Now, the Nashville Humane Association has a facility 10,000 square feet bigger than the old building, Boatfield said.
Langford said that because of Boatfield's outreach abilities, the association's volunteer program has grown as well.
Visibility key to stability, shelter
The society is one of only three open-door shelters in Missouri, meaning all animals are accepted into its care. Currently, about 80 animals including dogs, cats, rabbits and ferrets are housed at the shelter at 616 Big Bear Blvd.. This does not include animals living in foster care.
Despite a million-dollar renovation the Central Missouri Humane Society underwent two years ago, the shelter is making plans to build a new facility. Because this project is still in the preliminary stages, Boatfield said she wants to work toward getting a better marketing campaign to target donors.
"At the moment there is no marketing initiative to get the word out," she said. "We need radio, TV and print in order to get people to come to the shelter, and also so we are the first on their minds when donating."
That's key to creating financial stability, she said.
For 2012, the Humane Society's budget is about $1 million with predicted expenses at $936,810, according to Boatfield. Donations and fundraising account for 37 percent the revenue.
Koukola said the down economy has been a huge factor because it causes a decrease in donations and an increase in the number of animals being dropped off.
In talking about her plans, Boatfield emphasized the importance of connecting the shelter with the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. The university already collaborates with the shelter.
"Every week, we send about 10 to 15 dogs to get spayed or neutered by (veterinary) students. It’s mutually beneficial because they get experience, and it saves us money in the long run," said Colin LaVaute, shelter relations coordinator.
LaVaute said that with no executive director for the past six months, work for the Humane Society's 26 employees has been difficult. Alan Allert stepped down in October for health reasons, and deputy director Julie Aber has filled in since then. The society had hired Kimberly Sherlaw as executive director in February, but she rescinded her acceptance for personal reasons.
"The staff has really come through the tough time," LaVaute said. "But we are just elated to have (Boatfield)."
'A very emotional position'
From a young age, Boatfield had a passion for animals. She began training German shepherds in grade school and continued through high school. She has worked with horses and owned a number of rabbits.
"I wanted to get into vet school, but in that day we were lucky if one or two women got into the school. It was very difficult," she said.
Boatfield said that although she did not get in to veterinary school, she received her state vocational certificate in animal sciences after attending agricultural education courses at Ohio State University. She earned her bachelor's degree in education from the University of Toledo and eventually a master's degree in education.
She worked at vocational schools for four years teaching animal science. Her first job at a not-for-profit organization was at the Toledo Area Humane Society, where she was executive director for 15 years until moving to Nashville.
Boatfield has been in the Columbia area only since May 24, so she is still acclimating. She said she liked the city and how it is still connected to agriculture and the land. She mentioned she loves her GPS because she considers herself "directionally impaired."
Boatfield, 62, has been working with animal-related organizations for more than 35 years. She admits that the job is still difficult.
"It’s a very emotional position day to day," she said. "You have to work with animals that have been hit by cars, been abused or stolen. To make a difference in these dogs' lives is very draining and trying, but you end up making their lives much better."
To counter the emotional drain, Boatfield tries to busy herself with other projects when not working. She enjoys buying and rehabilitating houses.
"It’s job that you can take off the pressure and create a project by ripping out a wall or arrange for plumbing," she said. "It's nothing animal-related."
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.