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Animal advocate leaving Humane Society of the Nature Coast

BROOKSVILLE

Joanne Schoch's unusual view of the world comes from a love of animals and a passionate need to nurture.

The horrors that make many people turn away — an abused dog or a malnourished kitten — only draw her closer.

This has made her a natural to lead the Humane Society. In fact, for many people, she is the Humane Society. When they think of the organization — a no-kill shelter that has operated for nearly 50 years — they usually think of Schoch.

Soon, that will change.

Schoch, 61, told board members last week that she will step down from her post as executive director of the Humane Society in February on the advice of her doctor. In her 10 years on the job, she has seen the nonprofit organization rise from a financially strapped operation on the verge of collapse to one that is ready to meet the challenges of the future.

And although proud of her accomplishments, Schoch dismisses the idea that the Humane Society is her baby. Rather, she credits staffers and volunteers who are committed to carrying out the organization's mission.

"Nothing that exists here could have come about had there not been people with hearts who really care that animals deserve a warm, loving place to call home," Schoch said.

Schoch's departure comes at a critical time for the Humane Society. The organization still needs about $150,000 to launch construction of a long-planned shelter expansion. She hopes that the next director will make completion of the project a top priority.

"There's still plenty to do here," Schoch said. "I have faith that whoever takes over will see that it all is done."

Longtime Human Society board member Paul Montante said that replacing Schoch will be tough because of the job's high stress and relatively low pay, about $40,000 per year.

"It's a field where compassion fatigue is common due to the high demands on your time and energy," Montante said. "Joanne has never shown that. She has that unique ability to get along with people from all walks in the community. She opened a lot of doors for us."

Schoch originally joined the organization as a volunteer in 2001, a time when things weren't going so well. Run only by a small unpaid board, the society's lone employee spent most of her time managing the shelter. After being elected president of the board in 2003, Schoch helped launch an effort to bring more people to the organization through her connections in the business community.

Hired the next year as the shelter's first executive director, Shoch went to work to improve the society's financial picture. She organized fundraisers and approached local businesses to help with the much-needed expansion of shelter facilities. Other actions included the hiring of a full time veterinary technician and initiating an annual education and training program for staff and board members.

Perhaps most important, said Schoch, was that she wanted to see the nonprofit organization operate more like a business.

"Doing that changed a lot of thinking in the community about who we are," she said. "We joined the chamber of commerce and began setting both short-term and long-term goals that would assure that we would always be here, no matter what."

A big part of Schoch's strategy has always been centered around educating the public on animal welfare issues. She is proud of her role in helping change the handling of animals in distress by public and private shelters.

In response to the furor last year over the euthanization of a young, adoptable dog named Zeus by a county animal services shelter employee, Schoch called for a town hall meeting in the hope of stimulating dialogue between animal activists and animal control officials.

Said Schoch, "In the end, the welfare and treatment of animals is a community responsibility that needs a communitywide response. There's no amount of money you can spend that will ever change that."

Indeed, Schoch's mantra has always been to encourage the community to act as animal advocates and teach that the best way to stem the flood of stray pets is to curb unwanted breeding.

Schoch was a featured speaker at the 2009 Humane Society of the U.S. national conference, and has served as an adviser on strategic planning and development for the North County Humane Society in Atascadero, Calif. And although she hasn't given much thought to what she wants to do in retirement, she is considering working as a consultant for other rescue groups.

Over the next couple of months, Schoch will prepare for her exit from the Humane Society. She has already named assistant manager Alisa Marsh as the shelter's operations director. And if asked, she will be happy to assist the board in its search for a new executive director. Schoch said that in time, she hopes to return as a shelter volunteer.

"I do want to stay involved, and I'd be happy to do anything that's low stress. I'll clean kennels, walk dogs, anything that needs to be done," Schoch said.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1435.

Animal advocate leaving Humane Society of the Nature Coast 12/13/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 13, 2013 7:12pm]

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