Mary Katherine Murphy/Laurinburg Exchange
Scotland County Humane Society's new director, Sara Hatchell, getting to know Sydney, one of the shelter's current inhabitants.
Sara Hatchell’s lengthy résumé could easily list a fluency in canine.
As of April 2, it now includes her new position as director of the Scotland County Humane Society.
Hatchell, who lives in Lumberton, took the position after resigning as adoption coordinator at the Robeson County Animal Shelter. She replaces Karla Milholland, who resigned in March.
“When you take a job like this, you’re doing it because of your love for the animals,” said Milholland. “It’s not a job that you can leave work each day and leave it at the door - it’s 24/7 and you’re dealing with the day-to-day numbers of animals coming in your doors and you can’t always find homes for them. That makes it tough, and I realized it was time for me to step down.”
Milholland will remain a member of the humane society’s board of directors, and pledged her full support to Hatchell.
“I’ve told Sara that I’m there for as much support as she needs,” Milholland said. “That’s the thing in a position like that, you’ve got to have the support of your board of directors because it’s a big job and there are a lot of things we want to accomplish in the coming years. She has a lot of experience and she comes from a county where their shelter dealt with a lot more intake than what we deal with here. I think she’s got the emotional fortitude to deal with it and we’re all there to support her.”
Hatchell’s animal-related experiences range from dog groomer to behavior expert. She first started training dogs in her native California in the 1980s, running her own business socializing pets made ill-mannered by their owners’ mismanagement.
“People would buy a purebred shepherd and keep it in the house for six months, and then when it’s unruly and they put it out on a pole or on a chain, the dog becomes unsocial and it gets off and it bites someone because it’s not socialized,” Hatchell said. “I made it a job to resocialize those animals and make them family pets again. I did that by going to a dog training class and learning how to communicate both verbally and nonverbally - I absorbed it so much that I was able to pass it on and teach other people how to communicate with dogs.”
At the Robeson County shelter, where she worked for over a year, her familiarity with canine personalities served her well in finding homes to fit a particular dog. She expects that it will be even more useful in a lower-intake shelter like Scotland County’s, with some 35 dogs admitted weekly opposed to Robeson’s 150.
“Temperament is very important when it comes to adoption,” said Hatchell. “You need to know if the temperament matches with the family who is looking to adopt, whether or not that dog has way too much energy or not enough energy. Every dog and kitty has a story, and I believe that that story deserves to be told - they deserve a chance to live. After all, it’s not their fault.”
She previously worked as a dog trainer at the Robeson County Humane Society, and expects to put her varied experiences to work in directing the Scotland County shelter.
“This is a very old shelter; it’s been around for quite some time, and the processes of things could be more refined to make things flow better,” Hatchell said. “That’s what I have my eye on doing to help benefit the shelter staff.”
Her job in Scotland County may involve as much work with people and paperwork as it does with the animals themselves.
“There’s a lot more responsibility: financial responsibility, recording responsibility, greetings to the public, overseeing the staff, overseeing the staff that oversees the staff, and creatively trying to make the paperwork easier for the staff to follow to make things flow freely,” said Hatchell.
Hatchell also intends to push forward plans to expand the shelter so that adoptable pets aren’t displaced in emergency situations.
“I also have ideas of building on to the shelter with the board’s approval and adding more kennels,” she said. “When the seized pitbulls came, everyone here discovered that we need more space in order to continue to operate for the county and the city. When something like that happens and we have to hold on to those animals, it is to the detriment of other highly adoptable animals because we’re limited on space. I would like to see that come to fruition fairly quickly.”
She also hopes that merging her contacts in the animal rescue world with the shelter’s existing network will serve to find more safe situations for animals that come through the humane society.
“I bring with me a lot of rescue people that I have contacts for and I am going to add those in along with adoption coordinator Cameron Crabb’s,” said Hatchell. “Hopefully that’s going to benefit and reduce euthanasia, and that’s really the bottom line: to reduce euthanasia. I really think it’s doable, with support.”
After three weeks on the job, Hatchell expressed enthusiasm about the humane society’s possibilities and the support system behind it.
“We have a good staff, and I feel very comfortable with what we’re doing; that we do have enough people to handle the workload,” Hatchell said. “My overall impression is very positive. The people are amazing, the staff, the board, the supporting staff, the founders - they are all dedicated, warm, and wonderful human beings. They have embraced change fully, and I’m thankful to be a part of it.”