Animal Adoption Specialist, Maui Humane Society
2. Where is your hometown?
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (career wise)? When was the mental shift to start the journey?
It's been a rollercoaster of a ride to get to this point in my life!
I studied interior design at College but struggled to find steady work. I was living in a small town north east of London and this didn't help my career at all. I knew I wanted out of my 8-5 CAD (computer aided design) job. Working in a small office with artificial lights and mostly gloomy British weather just wasn't where I wanted to be. A close friend recommended I look into cruise ship work as she was enjoying the perks of living at sea, exploring new places. I started researching my options and stumbled across the weird and wonderful world of Super Yachts! I was sold- this was my ticket out of the UK, but it came with big risks. I had to leave the security of my job and home life, sell my car, and work two jobs to save enough money to make the move to the South of France. And all without knowing for sure I could land a job as a Stewardess on one of the Super Yachts.
It’s one of the scariest moves I’ve made. I do not speak French and was surrounded by hundreds of other wanna be Stews and deck hands. But I had put in some groundwork before leaving the UK and had secured a few interviews upon my arrival. After being told I would fail to get a job due to one small tattoo on my ankle I landed a job working for Middle Eastern Royalty! They wanted me to fly to the Seychelles the very next day.
I spent a total of three years in the yachting industry. I was lucky enough to experience life as a white woman in the Middle East. I say lucky, because although I do not wish to return it was a humbling experience.
The highlights were the months we spent in the Seychelles, Zanzibar and the short visit to Aldabra (a remote island bustling with giant tortoises!). Then the final eight months of dry dock in Barcelona. Which is where I discovered a love of photography. And where my longing for a dog grew strongest!
I met my now husband Daithi on the first Yacht in Seychelles. We married in a fairy forte in West Ireland where he was born and raised. We then moved to Sydney, Australia to join another Super Yacht. This move was important to me as my father and two younger siblings had moved out to Sydney five year’s prior.
The six months we spent working in and around the harbor were amazing. It was wonderful being around family and friends too, but sadly work and visa issues forced us to relocate.
Daithi’s older brother, wife and new baby boy (our first nephew) live on Maui. It’s a place his family has lived and visited on and off throughout his life. His brother has lived here for over 12 years now.
I was well and truly over the Yachting world. While it pays incredibly well, and you do get to travel cost free to various destinations, it comes with a high price…for women especially. Not only do you work 15+ hour days, held at the beck and call of your guests, you are also expected to look like a model while doing so. Now I completely understand the importance of looking well groomed and polished for guests, especially when you are being paid so well to serve them. But being surrounded by beautiful, stick thin girls who all have eating disorders isn’t healthy. I still remember the day my male Chief Steward complimented me on ‘looking thin’. I remember this because I was both disgusted and happy about it, and the fact I was both deeply concerned me! I realized then I needed to get out!
As a Stewardess you spend all day serving guests, cleaning cabins (not all guests are as hygienic as you would hope) and trying to look your best while doing so. You do not get to go home at the end of each day- you live where you work. In some cases it’s months on end. By the time you get a little ‘me time’ you go blow off steam with all the money that’s burning in your pockets! So you drink, take drugs and buy expensive stuff you don’t need.
The move to Maui was like a detox. Unlike my Irish/American husband I was not able to work in the USA until I had acquired my Greencard. I could have looked for cash in hand work at bars, but I honestly needed a break from serving people. My sister in law Lisa suggested I go and visit the Maui Humane Society to look into volunteering.
I have to admit I was afraid at first. I was one of those people who avoided shelters because they were ‘too sad’. Don’t get me wrong, all of our pets growing up were rescues, cats, dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, birds. But they came to us through friends or family or neighbors who could no longer care for them. One cat my mum rescued from the streets where he had been abandoned. But we never went into a shelter. The closest we ever got was adopting a puppy from a local rescue, but even then we asked if we could just see the puppies and not go through to where the other dogs were. We just knew we would come out with the one eyed, three legged senior with terminal cancer!
But after three years of serving the very rich and privileged I felt I should give back to those who truly needed help. So I signed up to volunteer…
I focused mainly on dog walking at first. I was overwhelmed with the number of homeless animals at the shelter. Like other volunteers I have met since you feel the need to take every dog out each time you visit, but that’s almost impossible when there are between 24-50 dogs on the adoption floor at any time. So I would walk as many as I could before I felt the tears rising. I would then cry all the way home. The next day I would get up and do it all over again, each time I was able to stay a little longer. Daithi asked why I was putting myself through this. Why? Because if I decide not to go back, if I let my emotions hinder me, then how does that help anyone? I was hooked. I had seen too many faces that needed help. On the most basic level, they just needed a friend who would get them out of the kennel for a walk, or most times just for a cuddle in the grass. The staff is so busy, they have no ‘free time’ to give extra enrichment as much as they would love to. So it helped. Volunteering helped the animals, it helped the dedicated, compassionate staff and that in turn helped the shelter and animals in its keep. It also helped me. I was suddenly surrounded by sentient beings who didn’t judge the way I looked. They live in the moment and each moment they are with you is the best!
I continued to volunteer for the next six months. I hated the thought of my time at MHS ending due to ‘real life’ taking over. I was awaiting my work permit and knew I needed to start looking for a job. The day my permit arrived a job for an Adoption Counselor presented itself. I had no previous experience, bar the past six months volunteering and my love for animals. But through the support and slight risk taking of my director I got the job!
Since working at the Maui Humane Society I have been given the opportunity to develop my skills and work in different departments. I have an amazing work ohana and have made many friends through staff and volunteers. Supportive, compassionate people surround me. As an animal care worker you often feel anger at people as a species. But I get to work with the best of the best! There is also a strong female presence. Both my Director and CEO are hard working, inspiring, compassionate women who I admire and respect.
5. Biggest accomplishment since making the (physical/mental) move?
My state of mind! I, like so many of my colleagues, have to deal with loss and suffering. It can be all too easy to slip into the doom. Yet we work towards the positive changes we are making on a daily basis. I am so proud of all the amazing changes our shelter has seen in the past two years alone. We are now at a 93% live release rate for dogs. We have spayed and neutered thousands of public cats and dogs for FREE with our MASH (Mobile Animal Surgical Hospital) clinics. We help hundreds of animals with extra medical needs thanks to donations towards our Hope Fund. We flew over 300 dogs to guaranteed rescues on the mainland last year with our Wings of Aloha program, opening up space for others in need. Our Beach Buddies program gets adoptable dogs out of the shelter for a day of enrichment. I am proud to be a part of this amazing team and am proud to be strong enough to see us through the next decade or two!
6. Advice for other women?
This sounds so clichéd but follow you heart. I am so fortunate to have a loving, supportive husband who has welcomed and cared for the many fosters and sleepless nights worrying/planning. He’s a handy man and has been roped into many projects around the shelter! Could I do it without his support? Well, yes of course but not to the best of my ability. I am so thankful to him for helping me along my journey. You’ll know when you have found your place in the world- don’t be shy about taking opportunities given to you.
7. Where in the world do you feel “tallest”?
At work- I’m at my “tallest”! There are no pretenses, I am who I am and I feel good about the work I do. Plus it’s a place filled with the most amazing animals you will ever meet!!!
8. What is the future goal/challenge (career goals in 5-10 years)?
I would love to start training as a dog trainer. Not so I can leave the shelter but so I can offer free classes to those who adopt. I know basic skills and already counsel and advise the public on how to set their new furry friend up for success. But after spending time with Bad Rap and watching their Pit Education classes I am inspired to be able to offer a similar program. Training is a huge part of owning a dog, and for newly adopted dogs it’s beneficial to their long-term success. I would also love to follow this training with the Canine Good Citizen test. Being able to help the public get their dogs CGC certificates may just help them renting with their dogs. Maui is a tough place to rent with any pets and this is a huge cause of the numbers we see surrendered.
I have recently read about the efforts of the 'Coalition to Unchain Dogs' and this is a movement I see a great need for here on Maui. We already offer low/free spay and neuter services to the public, but to be able to build fences and unchain dogs is the next step. This is now on my radar for future projects.
9. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
The main fear I have and I doubt I’m alone in this one, is not being able to do enough. As hard as you work, as much blood, sweat and tears you put into saving animals, you cannot save them all. This NEVER gets easier. Not only do you face the struggles in your own community you are also very aware of those much worse off than you in others. I follow many rescues and shelters on the mainland and we are all heading in the right direction, but some have bigger issue to face along the way. I know this is an exciting time for animal welfare. When I hear stories of how things were 20, even 10 years back it’s amazing how far we have come. Yet I can’t help but wish I could do more right here, right now. While I do not wish to erase this fear entirely I do wish to learn how to be happy with what I CAN do and not with what I can’t.
10. What inspires you?
Other rescue groups working hard to solve pet over population. Pit bull activists, mainly Bad Rap who has been a source of education and inspiration to me. Success stories from families who chose to adopt/rescue and who are now proud animal advocates! And the animal’s themselves- we can learn so much from them. They live in the moment, forgive without grudges and love unconditionally.
11. Who is a “WOW Woman” in your life who inspires you (and why)?
Our CEO Jerleen Bryant. She has taken a struggling shelter with a bad rap from the ‘“pound that kills animals’” to the "open admission shelter where you can find your new best friend”. I love seeing the look on visitors’ faces as they enter the newly renovated shelter. Listening to them comment on how innovative our programs are, how they are suitably impressed by the attentive, compassionate staff. And how much they enjoy visiting our wonderful animals. Adoptions are rising and the word is spreading. Adopt don’t shop- MHS is the place to find your new best friend.
Jerleen used to run her own rescue in Oregon so she understands the need to educate the public and try to work with families to help keep pets in homes where possible. She also has ties with rescues on the east coast and has been an invaluable source of knowledge for our team. Where others see problems Jerleen sees the opportunities for change. Not only is she amazing at her job she is also very nurturing when it comes to staff. She knows this line of work offers little in the way of promotions (there are few tiers to work up to). Yet she strives to help her staff develop their skills and move between departments, helping them fulfill their own aspirations. For me, having a strong leader, one who I both admire and respect is invaluable. I have a lot to thank her for.
12. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)