The beginning of a new chapter always means the end of another one
Such is the case once again. As Animal Care Sanctuary (ACS) looks forward toward the much-anticipated opening of its new kennel and clinic in early October, this exciting new chapter will be first one in a decade that will not include Chief Executive Officer – and dear friend – Joan Smith-Reese.
Once the clinic and kennel are open to the public, Smith-Reese will officially hand the keys of the sanctuary to Terri McKendry, who has been the ACS director of development for the past two years.
It would not be an understatement to say Smith-Reese’s leadership at ACS over the past 10 years was nothing short of transformational. She not only departs ACS with a brand-new facility, but also with a record-setting adoption rate.
When Smith-Reese arrived at ACS as Executive Director, the animal care facilities needed repairs and upgrading; there was no community clinic at all; and adoptions were few.
But as many who have worked with Smith-Reese closely over the years, all of whom also had a hand in the transformation of the shelter on the hill, have said, she is a visionary.
“She’s always looking at the bigger picture,” said former Animal Services Director Rachel Rossiter, who was Smith-Reese’s first hire 10 years ago and only recently departed ACS, herself. “She has always been very passionate – just all in. And from the ground up, we were able to make it happen.
“She had an idea then what animal welfare should look like,” Rossiter continued. “A lot of the standards you see across major shelters today, she was trying to implement back then.”
Among those visions was the on-site community clinic. In addition to providing more efficient, cost-effective veterinarian services to the hundreds of cats and dogs take in by ACS each year, this clinic also provides low-cost spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations and wellness exams to the surrounding communities.
“The clinic is a direct result of Joan’s efforts,” said ACS Board President Ellen Feldman. “She’s just a person of ultimate integrity who was able to take our late Founder Lesley Sinclair’s vision forward in an amazing way.”
That vision also led to the successful addition of a second ACS location in Wellsboro several years ago.
“Joan just always makes herself available,” ACS Wellsboro Director Rachel Preble said. “She might not always be here physically, but she’s always here when we need her. We both share a social work background and we both have big dreams for Wellsboro. I’ve really enjoyed working with her. She relates to everyone. She pushes everyone without micromanaging, and she gets you out of your comfort zone in a good way.”
One of those ways was early in Smith-Reese’s and Rossiter’s tenures, when they made the trek to Washington D.C. to advocate for stronger protections for animals.
“We went down there, and we were around all the big national names in animal sheltering,” Rossiter said. “No one knew who we were, but it never fazed Joan. She was proud that we were there, and now we’re one of those nationally-recognized shelters.”
But even beyond her professional achievements at ACS, Smith-Reese will be remembered and missed for how she treated everyone.
“She always remembers to give out birthday cards and Christmas cards – no matter who you are,” said Animal Services Director Becca Morgan. “She genuinely cares about the people who work at ACS. She can see things in people that they don’t see in themselves. She has faith and confidence in them.”
“Joan’s heart and soul lives here,” Executive Coordinator Kim Chebalo said. “She has worked from dawn to dusk and sometimes in-between, and she has so much energy for what is happening with the dogs and cats. She has given everything to make ACS what it is today. I hope she knows that she built an
amazing Animal Care Sanctuary.”
“Working with Joan has been special,” added Feldman. “I think people are drawn to her humility – how she’s genuinely interested, empathetic, and listens to what you have to say. She has a heart the size of Pennsylvania.”
Smith-Reese leaves ACS with an irreplaceable legacy, and she has left a mark as large and lasting as that of our founder, Lesley Sinclair. She took the unknown “shelter on the hill” and transformed it into a leading animal rescue center, community clinic and advocate for animal rights, and her own pawprint will be on ACS forever.
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