Hannah Richardson has always had a heart for animals.
“I was always taking in the stray cats,” Richardson said of her childhood as she sat on the floor of the Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center in Lyndhurst petting a playful kitten. “My parents definitely encouraged my love for animals, but I think they got a little tired of having so many animals in the house.”
During elementary school, Richardson’s parents arranged for her to volunteer at a local veterinary office in Charlottesville. There, she obtained experience caring for animals and got to witness many surgeries. Her passion for animals and animal care continued growing.
When college years rolled around, Richardson spent her first two years at Blue Ridge Community College before transferring to James Madison University, where she enrolled in their Global Justice Program.
“After graduating from JMU, I decided I wasn’t ready to go to law school or do any further education,” Richardson said.
Instead, she took a job helping to organize study abroad trips. After three years, she transitioned to managing a restaurant.
“I got some management experience with the study abroad,” Richardson said. “I did some event planning, there was a lot of logistics and organization working with third-party companies, and working with a lot of people in other countries.”
Deep down, she knew that was not what she wanted to do forever. Richardson excelled in management positions, but she could not forget her love for animals and her desire to incorporate that into her career.
“I decided that animals are what I wanted to do long-term,” Richardson said.
About three years ago, Richardson said she was introduced to the Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center, where she began fostering pets and engaging in some volunteer work.
“I fostered a couple cute kittens, and I’ve done some hospice fostering as well,” she said. “It’s really how I came to know about the shelter and met all of the wonderful people here.”
Fostering animals is always an adventure, Richardson admits, but absolutely worthwhile.
“There’s always something interesting with having fosters,” she said. “I’ve had kittens that have had ringworm, and given me ringworm. There are definitely some medical issues that you’re always dealing with.”
Socializing foster animals to give them their best chance for adoption is another key component of the commitment, Richardson said.
One day, as if in answer to her wish of combining animals with her career skills and management background, she heard about the opening for animal care shelter manager.
“This opportunity came about,” she said. “I decided to apply, and they offered the job.”
Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center is unique in that it is the only public animal shelter serving Waynesboro, Staunton and Augusta County. This was one of the features that drew Richardson to the organization.
“Animal Control from all three regions bring us any animals they can,” Richardson said. “And animals that someone finds in this area are brought here as well.”
SVASC has an estimated 90% or greater save rate among the animals they take in, Richardson said.
“We’re not a no-kill shelter because of the fact that we’re open admission,” she explained. “We can’t turn away any animals, so it’s very difficult to have a no-kill policy.”
There are ways to work with this and maximize saving of animals, however, Richardson added.
“We do our best to transfer animals to other shelters that have more space,” she said. “We really do our best to get all the animals adopted.”
Richardson hopes to have volunteer orientations on a more regular basis and grow the foster program. Her aim is to bring more structure and growth to some programs that are already in place. Other visions Richardson has for the shelter are increasing adoptions, filling open positions within the shelter to help more animals, increase the shelter’s social media presence, and engage in more community events.
“I’m really excited about engaging in the community, being more involved in community events, and fostering relationships with new shelters,” she said.
SVASC has a pressing need for volunteers, Richardson said.
“Currently, there are five open kennel assistant positions,” she said.
She is hoping to fill these positions as soon as possible to provide the best care possible for the animals in the shelter.
Anyone interested in supporting the mission of SVASC by filling an open position is invited to contact Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center.