COO Michelle Pari Retires
After 27 years of dedicated service, Michelle is leaving her HHS family.
Michelle Pari, COO of Halifax Humane Society has announced her intention to retire in 2020 once a suitable replacement is secured for her position.
Michelle began her journey with HHS in 1993 after reading an article in the News Journal about a need for volunteers. She began volunteering by donating food, but then recognized needs in so many other areas, daily visits became a routine. Over her 27-year career she has held numerous positions including Volunteer Manager, Community Relations Manager, Shelter Manager, interim Executive Director and her current position of Chief Operating Officer. We had the opportunity to sit down with Michelle to take a retrospective look back over her rewarding and most interesting career in animal welfare.
HHS- How has the shelter changed from 27-years ago?
MP- It was such a different place back then, but it had so much potential. When I started, the shelter was half the size it is now and we only had the one set of kennels which are currently used as the stray kennels. A few buildings were torn down to make way for the expansion of 11th Ave., now known as LPGA Blvd. Over the years, buildings were added as needed, but the flow was not very functional to get from one end of the building to the other.
HHS- The newly renovated facility is a major step forward. What are your thoughts about the updates?
MP- I have been through 3 capital campaigns and while all were much needed, this last renovation was the most exciting and the most impactful. The public views the organization differently now and for the better. Miguel is a visionary. He had a vision of what needed to be accomplished to change the perception of the organization to the public, and he has accomplished that goal.
(top- Halifax Humane Society back in 1991. bottom- 2020)
HHS- What was your first position at HHS?
MP- I started as a volunteer and really loved it. I was actually here so much, doing different tasks, a manager came to me and asked if I would like to become an employee so they would know I would be there every day. I was offered a full-time position. It was nothing glamorous, I started out bathing animals and really loved how it would transform from a scared and sad creature to a happy animal. It was so rewarding to see the impact such a small gesture had on bringing these animals out of their shell. Early on, I began to pay my own way to attend animal care expos for certifications and to learn more from the experts. As an animal lover, you tend to think there are simple solutions to most everything but when you are actually here and dealing with the problems you realize there are no simple solutions. Later, I was very fortunate and appreciative the ED at the time was supportive and encouraging for my desire to learn as much as possible about animal care. Knowledge is your biggest asset when dealing with complex situations. Knowing the right way of doing something instead of just rushing to do it, made a world of difference and it became a real passion. After that it was just a process of learning, applying my knowledge and growing with the organization through the years.
I quickly learned you can’t take them all home and it is not humane to keep building more kennels to warehouse all of the surplus animals born each year. We needed to develop solutions to deal with the problem of too many animals.
HHS- What did you feel the solutions were?
MP- As we have proven, spay/neutering has been a game changer to keeping the dog and cat population under control, but back then, it was unheard of. Most people didn't consider that as the right thing to do, or they had 100 reasons why not to do it. The challenge for the organization was to educate the community and get them to understand that spay/neuter was necessary, but even though we stepped up our efforts to educate, the intake numbers continued to grow to one point when over 17,000 were brought into the organization in a year. These types of challenges were priority to me and finding a solution was imperative.
HHS- What was the solution?
MP- We spent so many years asking people to do the right thing and spay/neuter their animals, but we didn’t have the tools in place for them to do it at the level needed. There were very limited affordable options available and we could only offer pet owners 2 spay/neuter surgeries a day. The rest of the time was spent on spay/neutering the animals at the shelter. It was clear, in order to reduce the number of homeless animals humanely, we needed a low cost high quality/high volume spay/neuter solution. Efforts eventually led to opening the Redinger Spay/Neuter Clinic where appointments filled up fast.
HHS- What year was the clinic opened?
MP- It opened in 2012 with the help of a PetSmart grant and a very generous donor named Alan Redinger. Once the clinic opened, we started to see some amazing progress in reducing shelter animal intake. As our reports show, back in 2012 we took in over 13,500 animals that year. In 2019, we took in under 7,000.
HHS- When did the organization change from being reactive to proactive?
MP- It has really been a process over the years. Prior management did a great job at keeping HHS up and running during very high intake years, but the real progress with reducing the pet overpopulation in our area started in 2012 when we opened the Redinger Clinic. Miguel came on board in 2011 and started the ball rolling for many changes that gave us the ability to switch from reactive to proactive. Although all of our programs combined contribute to the reduction of pet euthanasia, this particular program has the most impact to our goal. It is much more effective. Performing an average of 10,000 surgeries each year has made it so dogs are no longer euthanized for space! We are getting close with cats too as work continues with developing and improving cooperative efforts for TNR (trap, neuter, return) programs to address that challenge. I made a promise to myself and to the animals that I would do everything I could to help make change, and I am so happy to have seen the changes come about in my lifetime.
HHS- How was the board and donor base back then?
MP- Throughout the years Halifax has been very blessed to have a remarkable Board of Directors and community support is growing. There were lean years, but there were some very helpful board members. Mel Stack has helped a great deal with his insight as to bequests and estates. It is through the help from these generous people that keep us going. Sustainability is the key. We are a non-profit, but we still need funds to pay bills and operate efficiently. It’s funny, years ago we use to think this is the type of job where you are trying to put yourself out of business – no more homeless animals. But reality is, we can be successful at humanely reducing animal intake and there will always be a need for the proactive services that we provide for community animals.
HHS- What was the most challenging situation for you during your time here?
MP- As far as a challenging incident, I would say it was the times we needed to evacuate due to wildfires fires in the area. In 1998 and in 2008 we needed to evacuate all the animals to the county fairgrounds, and we had to do it with only 30-minutes notice. Keep in mind we had 350 or so animals on-site at the time, so this was no easy task. Luckily, the facility was spared but it could have been a very different outcome. Local animal controls helped us as did residents. They would hear the message we placed on the radio when they were driving on I-95 and pull off to come help. We were so relieved that the shelter was saved, we held a party for the fire fighters when we moved back into the facility. It was one of those situations when you question how are we going to get this done and then you can’t believe you actually did it.
Another challenge was educating the public about animal welfare. In the public’s eye, HHS was regarded as the pound 20-years ago. Today, with the advent of social media, the education and awareness process is so much easier. Attitudes have changed. Pets are considered more like family and treated better. As well, we have a public dog park, a boarding and grooming center, a large mission-based retail area, dog training classes, kids spring, summer, and winter camps, and many other programs for people to experience. We are so much more than a shelter.
HHS- What do think about the growth we have seen all around us over the last 5-years?
MP- HHS is very unique compared to other shelters that are not in the middle of a growing area of their city. Most shelters are like we were 30-years ago and still on the outskirts of the city surrounded by very little. We are fortunate because the area around us is being developed at a voracious rate and with growth comes more people living in new homes that were not here 5-years ago. We have extremely good foot traffic of people visiting the facility daily which is a major benefit for the animals.
HHS- Anything else you would like to add?
MP- I was working in the medical profession as an office manager before beginning my career at HHS. I am so glad I took a leap of faith and pursued a career in animal welfare where I have met and worked with some of the most amazing people. I can’t thank my husband Mark enough for his support and contributions as well. I could not have taken that step without him. We joke how he is a “draftee” as he has been just as involved with HHS throughout the years helping out in countless ways. If someone reading this article is unhappy with their current career position, I would recommend that they follow their passion. Being happy in your career is so very important. A third of your life is spent working so that third should be fulfilling and rewarding.
Admittedly, after so many years, the thought of leaving my position comes with mixed emotions of sadness and excitement, however I look forward to remaining a loyal supporter of HHS for many years to come. I guess it’s time to become a volunteer again.