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Giving up animals to safeguard the nation

After a 37-year relationship with the Humane Society of Pinellas, Mary Chaboudy is saying goodbye to her furry friends to begin a new job with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C.

Chaboudy, shelter and office manager for 18 years, on Friday will become cadre management specialist with the National Disaster Medical System, part of the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency's response division. The division takes charge during natural disasters and other major emergencies, such as terrorism.

One of her key responsibilities will be to make sure the doctors, nurses and veterinarians on various disaster response teams have up-to-date training and certifications, Chaboudy said.

Her husband, Rick Chaboudy, executive director of the Humane Society of Pinellas, said he'll have to fill more than one void after his wife flies to Washington today.

"It's going to be an absolute incredible loss and I don't how we're going to replace her," Rick Chaboudy said. "It's kind of a double dose. I'm losing her on the home front and the work front."

Rick Chaboudy said he doesn't plan to leave his post as executive director, but said he hasn't had time to digest the news since his wife was offered the position just two weeks ago.

The couple said they don't want to uproot their 15-year-old daughter, Stephanie, a 10th-grader at Dunedin High School.

For now, the family plans frequent flights back and forth, especially on holiday weekends, Mary Chaboudy said.

Pat Grilletti, who facilitates adoptions for the center, said she'll miss Mary Chaboudy as a friend as well as a supervisor.

"She's there for you no matter what you have to go through," she said. "I know that for a fact."

Grilletti said both Mary and Rick Chaboudy supported her through her successful battle against lung cancer.

On Tuesday, Grilletti was one of 100 friends and family members who threw Mary Chaboudy a sendoff party at the tiki bar at Bright House Networks Field.

In addition to overseeing about 34 employees, Mary Chaboudy managed 200 adult volunteers and 150 student volunteers. She has been visiting the shelter since the late 1960s, when her parents ran the facility, then called the Clearwater Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She began volunteering there when she was 12.

The shelter's special events and volunteer coordinator, Pam Davis, also was offered a position with Homeland Security, and the two will share an apartment in Virginia with Davis' cats.

It may seem like an odd career change: from working with animals to a full-time job with Homeland Security. But in Mary Chaboudy's case it was a natural progression.

Chaboudy had rushed to the aid of animals in times of crisis for years. But the terrorist attacks three years ago made her take a broader role, she said.

"Everything changed after 9/11," she said.

Since 2002, she has been an administrative officer for one of the Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams, a part of the National Disaster Medical System that cares for animals during major emergencies.

Last year, the National Disaster Medical System was phased into the Department of Homeland Security. In her role as an administrative officer, she was able to stay in Clearwater because she was deployed chiefly for disasters. But she started making trips to Washington last April to help with the medical system's transition to Homeland Security. Last month, she also helped in the operations support center organizing response teams for Hurricane Charley.

Her dedication caught the attention of her supervisors, who tapped her for her new position.

Both Mary and Rick Chaboudy said they were confident they made the right decision in accepting the new job.

"Sometimes before you do something you think, "Why are you doing this?' I haven't felt that," Mary Chaboudy said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or at

Saying goodbye Tuesday, Mary Chaboudy of the Humane Society of Pinellas in Clearwater, hugs shelter dogs, left to right, Cashew, Pistachio and Maddie in the shelter's yard. Chaboudy is leaving the shelter for a federal job in Washington, D.C.

On her last day of work Tuesday for the Humane Society of Pinellas, Mary Chaboudy hugs Judy Foster, a volunteer at the shelter. Chaboudy will be a cadre management specialist in a unit that is part of the Department of Homeland Security.