BROOKSVILLE — The Humane Society of the Nature Coast has announced the hiring of longtime Pasco County animal welfare advocate Dina Athanassie as its new executive director. She will assume the duties held for 11 years by Joanne Schoch, who retired in February.
"I'm looking forward to working with the staff, volunteers and board members to raise awareness about our mission and to expand our facilities and services," Athanassie said.
Athanassie, 44, whose experience with nonprofit organizations includes serving on the board of directors for Florida Voices for Animals, said that among her immediate goals will be to familiarize herself with the Humane Society's ongoing fundraising efforts, including the annual Fur Ball, which is slated for Sept. 20 at Silverthorn Country Club.
Athanassie's arrival comes at a critical time for the 50-year-old no-kill Hernando County shelter, which has outlined short-term and long-term expansion goals to enable the organization to meet the growing needs of the county.
Humane Society president Lisa Judge said that although plans for new headquarters on Wiscon Road, south of Brooksville, are a few years — and a couple million dollars — from being realized, the organization hopes to break ground early next year on a new cat compound at its existing facility on Mobley Road that will double the current capacity of 60 cats.
"We have an exciting future mapped out over the next five years," Judge said. "We have a lot of work ahead, and the commitment has been made to continue building strong partnerships with the community, our business partners and our dedicated volunteer staff to meet those goals."
Bringing Athanassie aboard was key to propelling the organization forward, she said. In addition to fundraising, event planning, community outreach and communications, her responsibilities will include educating the public about the community's continuing need to support efforts to provide safe, healthy havens for pets.
"She has a strong history as a vocal proponent for animal welfare, which is what we've always promoted," Judge said.
Athanassie said she wants to change a common misconception about shelter animals, and that many people still believe homeless pets carry a stigma of inferiority.
"That is a myth," she said. "Our shelter and others are full of beautiful, smart, healthy animals waiting to be adopted and loved."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.