She’s worked on Wall Street and in the world of sports marketing, spent time managing docents at a world-class museum in Vermont, and even was proprietor of her own dog kennel for a time in her home state of New York.
But it appears safe to say that Kathryn Daly Genova has found her ultimate landing spot in the Deep South communities of Pine Mountain and Hamilton, Ga., just north of Columbus. The wife and mother of three children, three grandsons, two rescue dogs and three cats has no plans to leave the area or her job.
In fact, Genova, 62, has been executive director of the Humane Society of Harris County for a decade already, with plenty of goals remaining for the facility that opened five years ago at 3938 Barnes Mill Road in Hamilton. She and a small staff and hard-working group of volunteers are moving toward making the nonprofit organization a no-kill shelter for unwanted dog and cats still needing to find “forever” homes with families.
It is a proverbial labor of love for Genova, who also hopes to expand the Humane Society facility at some point. No two days are alike, she says, with her job ranging from promoting programs and meeting with the public to raising money and cleaning up after the animals and feeding them. Tiring? Yes. But she doesn’t mind when she looks in the eyes of the animals that she and her staff save.
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The Ledger-Enquirer talked with Genova recently about her job, the path that brought her to the area, why she enjoys the hard work, and the satisfaction she receives from making a difference in the lives of some of God’s creatures that often can be forgotten. This interview is edited for length and clarity.
Q. You’ve moved quite a bit over the last 26 years — five different states, 11 different houses?
A. (Laughs) Usually, I’m gone by now, but we’re really going to settle down here. We’re moving, but just to a smaller house … and staying in Georgia.
Q. You’ve had a colorful career it appears?
A. I went to college and was an education major and I fully intended to be teaching. But one way or the other I couldn’t find a teaching job after I graduated from St. John’s, so I just went to an employment agency and they had a job at (financial services firm) Cantor Fitzgerald. All they needed was a college graduate that they could train. I really liked it and stayed for almost 17 years. I was predominately with E.F. Hutton and then there was a merger … But eventually it was more difficult, the business was changing, it was unwieldy and very erratic in terms of stability of positions. Christmastime was always, are you going to get a bonus or are you going to get a pink slip? And I had done it for a long time and thought, you know, it’s time for something else.
Q. And from there?
A. I have had a very varied track in terms of careers. I’ve been fortunate to find wonderful and interesting things to do. When I first left Wall Street I decided (to focus on) what it was I had learned that was transferable, and it was marketing skills … I really was interested in sports marketing and found a small boutique company called SCI, and all he was really looking for was someone who was intelligent and that he could mold and train. So I got a job there and really loved it. I then got married and moved to Vermont and loved the (sports marketing) field. But there was just nothing up there in Vermont. So I had to go look for something else, and I found a museum that was, second to this, the best job I’ve ever had in my life. It was wonderful.
Q. Where was that?
A. I found a part-time job at first at a huge and well-known open-air art and history museum called the Shelburne Museum. Again, I loved it. It was fascinating history, architecture and decorative art. History has always been fascinating to me. And I moved up and eventually became the director of what they call the interpretive program. It’s basically docents or guides. So I had a staff of about 145 people there.
Q. Then came the kennel business?
A. By that time, we had our children and we decided that we needed to be closer to our families. All of our families are from Long Island, so we moved back to new York and I was driving around one day and saw this ‘for sale’ sign in front of a house. It said house and dog kennel for sale, and we screeched to a halt and pulled in. I was like, this is perfect, because all that time I had been raising dogs and working with dogs, and I was like: I can do this. I had always wanted to be a proprietor of my own business and I did that, too. … We did that until we decided to move South.
Q. You’ve been Humane Society director for just over 10 years. Tell us about the facility you have?
A. It’s a small, modest facility that somewhat serves our needs. It could be a bit bigger, but most animal shelters would say that. Considering that we went from nothing, with no facility whatsoever, and we’re the only private agency in the county, it serves us well.
Q. You stay pretty busy?
A. Oh, gosh. We are constantly busy. We are never not full, actually. We only have myself, I have a co-worker, the animal care manager, who’s half-time, and then I have a kennel tech on property each day. We kind of perform miracles with that little of a staff. You find that you wear tons of hats at any given time. It might be transportation — going back and forth from a vet, going to pick up a pallet of litter — or dealing with grants, medical issues, making tough decisions on dogs. I started the year off with a dog that was terminally ill that we had to euthanize, not expecting it and having to be the one to be there with them. I would never just let them go by themselves. So you’ve got to be prepared to do anything, really.
Q. How many animals do you have on site now?
A. We have about 22 to 25 dogs at any one time, and upwards of 40 to 45 cats. We have several catteries. Free-roam cats get to go outside in an enclosed environment. They have little beds and places to climb on. We also have a more traditional building. Most of them have dietary issues or are too young to mingle with the adult cats. And then we have a medical area.
Q. These animals are picked up by the county?
A. Almost 100 percent of our dogs come from animal control. We are physically next door to animal control. Our building is actually built on county property … and we have a great relationship with our animal control officers in the county. Since we’re the only private agency in the county, we concentrate on getting our animals from there … Most of our cats also come from animal control, but there we have more owner/guardian surrenders. That’s folks who have found a litter of cats under their shed or whatever, and rather than sending them to animal control, they surrender them as guardian and we’ll take them.
Q. Do pretty much all of your animals get adopted?
A. We ultimately adopt everything out, yes. Our focus is hard-to-place animals, those with medical issues or behavior issues.
Q. Dogs with behavior issues?
A. Most of them are dog reactive, on a minor basis or a severe basis, and those dogs are hard to place. Most people are multiple pet owners, so when we get a dog that has reaction issues, it’s difficult to find a home for them … What we’ve really decided to focus on is how to make sure that those dogs are the ones that get concentrated on, that we’re able to work with them and put them in environments with resources, enrichment and housing that’s conducive to a more calm and safe environment … That is all moving toward our no-kill goal, which is making sure that every healthy or treatable animal is adopted, and that euthanization is reserved only for terminally ill animals, or animals that cannot be placed safely with the public.
Q. Explain a bit more about the no-kill goal?
A. The live-release rate, which is how our success is measured, is 86.6 percent in Harris County. To be considered a no-kill community, you have to be 90 percent and maintain that 90 percent. So we’re this close (pinches her fingers) and we really want to get there. We’ve got great support from our county, tremendous support, and they should be really proud of the fact that they live in a rural Georgia community that is this close to being considered no-kill.
Q. What’s your work schedule like?
A. A typical day? … I was lamenting yesterday with my co-worker about that. It could be anything. I walked in today and one of my staff people was sick. She messed up her knee and she’s the kennel cleaner. The next thing I know I was scooping the poop and feeding everybody and getting all of that done. So I jump in everywhere I can. I’ve done all of it.
But, ideally, I concentrate on formulating outreach programs and managing outreach programs. Like we have Rescue to Restore, which we do in conjunction with the Juvenile Justice Department in Georgia. We run it out of the Midland Youth Development campus. That’s a program that goes about eight to nine months a year. We work with them, providing animals for the training. Dogs will go there and live. Boys will be assigned those animals and are responsible for their care and training, and they come out and hopefully are more adoptable because they now have skills. The boys, you can’t imagine what they get from it.
Q. There’s work out in the community?
A. Another thing we do is coordinating volunteers for our pet food pantry. We provide (pet) food to our community members who are having a hard time making ends meet and feeding their pets. We go through the Meals on Wheels program (to distribute it) because lots of times seniors who really depend on the companionship of a cat or a dog will feed the protein portion of their Meals on Wheels to their pet if they’re short (on money). So we try to make sure they have (pet) food for the animals.
And it’s always coming up with new things like talking with community members about what we can do to help, either expanding a program or creating a new one. Right now we’re trying to work on getting more (involvement) in the school system. The education piece of our mission is a little lackluster and we’re trying to formulate those programs. There’s also grant writing (for financial resources), which is very, very difficult. It’s very competitive to get some money for these programs. And, of course, it’s just working on the management and maintenance of our facility itself. We just lost a washer and dryer and had to hustle up one before we drown in wet laundry, which was solved by one of our board members, thank Heaven. So it is just a little bit of everything.
Q. It’s often can be putting out fires?
A. Exactly. It’s what makes it exciting. It’s never boring. It’s never the same thing everyday, and it’s absolutely the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. It’s seeing a dog like Trigger (a black Labrador mix) go off to a forever home, and you know that you put the work into Trigger, you’ve housed him safely, you’ve made sure that he’s balanced, you’ve evaluated him correctly. And you’ve done the same on the other side with the adopter and shown that they make a good match. You get the pictures two years later (after an adoption), or somebody stopping by with them on a leash a year later and saying, oh, I don’t know if you remember us, but we adopted … those are the things that really make your heart feel good. It’s also knowing that dogs that do come over from animal control, they’re going through the front door and not the back door. That’s a top priority. You couldn’t ask for a more important job.
Q. What’s the most challenging thing you face?
A. It’s sort of two-fold. The more immediate challenge you face every day is finding proper and safe outlets for your animals, because you can’t save them unless you adopt. You can’t save unless you transfer a dog to a more suitable environment. For instance, we transfer dogs to the National Detection Dog Training Program, which is up in Newnan, that’s run by the USDA. So our outlets are not always just adoptions. If you don’t find something for them, a dog or cat languishing in animal control is going to end up being euthanized. That’s the more pressing and probably the most stressful part of the job.
Q. And the long-run challenge?
A. The other piece of it is being able to bring in the funds to do the work that you need to do long term. Doing our adoptions are wonderful, but they’re not a solution to the overall problem, which is the overpopulation and the irresponsible dog ownership and unplanned breeding, those sorts of things. And that takes human and financial resources. One person or two people can’t do it. There aren’t enough hours in the day. So it’s figuring out ways to create those human and financial resources and being able to get out and do those bigger projects that actually start chipping away at the underlying problem. That’s long term.
Q. Where does your money come from?
A. Absolutely all private donations. Our building is on county land, and that is a long-term land lease. There’s no cost to that. But we have to maintain ourselves in good stead with the county and with the state. But we get no other funding. So we do special events. (There’s) Puttin’ on the Dog in March. It’s our signature event and probably the single largest fundraiser. We have a sporting clays event in the fall. We do those, but every day, getting checks in from folks that have either noticed what we’ve done and want to support us, or are giving in memoriam or in honor of someone, those little checks, that’s what drives us.
Q. And as you said, raising money is competitive?
A. There are lots of good causes that are pulling at peoples’ charitable giving and animals don’t always take the top spot. But I couldn’t say that there’s a more worthwhile cause than these guys.
Q. So anybody looking for a friend or companion should come see you at the Humane Society, but make sure you’re ready for it?
A. If somebody wants to adopt a dog, it’s an important decision in a family, and you have to find the right one. You should never be impulsive. You wouldn’t buy the first car on the lot. If you’re looking for a pair of shoes, you look at a couple of them. You need to find the right (pet) match, so I always encourage people to not just stop at my place. If it doesn’t feel right, look at other places (like PAWS Humane in Columbus). You can always come back. We just want these adoptions to be lifelong and it’s only going to work if everybody in the family is on the same page, and if everybody gets along. That’s why we stand by our animals and their lives. We would take them back no matter what. We hope that people just make the right decision.
Q. The bottom line, it sounds like, is that you love what you do, even with all the work?
A. Yes. It’s crazy and I sometimes go home and go: What did I accomplish today? But you’ve been in 9 million different directions and nothing on your to-do list got done … But, no, I couldn’t think of doing anything else than helping these guys.
Kathryn Daly Genova
Hometown: Freeport, N.Y.
Current residence: Pine Mountain, Ga.
Education: 1972 graduate of St. Agnes Cathedral High School in Rockville Centre, N.Y.; earned a bachelor of science in education degree from St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., in 1976
Previous jobs: Proprietor (owner) of North Fork Kennels, a dog boarding facility in Long Island, N.Y.; interpreter program supervisor at Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vt.; worked with SCI Sports Marketing in New York and served in various roles in government and tax-exempt markets with E.F. Hutton and Shearson, Lehman, Hutton in New York and Wyoming
Family: Married 26 years to James Genova; they have three children, three grandsons, two rescue dogs and three cats
Leisure time: She’s an avid reader, enjoys knitting and working with her personal dogs
Of note: She has lived in five different states (some twice) in 11 different houses over the last 26 years; she climbed Pacaya, the volcano in Guatamala; she has shown dogs in Westminster and Crufts; she and her husband fostered and then adopted three wonderful children on their 5th wedding anniversary, and have been a family for 21 years