Shortly after he took over last May as executive director of the Asheville (North Carolina) Humane Society, Tracy Elliott welcomed a group of staffers into his office.
The humane society was already committed to saving every possible animal at the shelter. But the staff had a vision to go further — a community-building program to help people in the poorest neighborhoods take care of their pets. They knew the shelter couldn’t afford it. They just wanted Elliott to know.
Elliott, though, surprised them. “Let’s not assume we can’t afford it,” he told them. “Let’s see if we can.”
With an initial grant secured and a funding campaign launched, the pioneering Thrive Together initiative is in full swing. Now, instead of a family surrendering a beloved pet to the shelter because they can’t afford what it needs, be it veterinary care, vaccinations, food or even a collar and leash, the agency is out in the neighborhoods, asking how they can help. “The ultimate goal is to get every animal spayed and neutered,” says Elliott. “But we don’t start there. We build a relationship with both that person and the neighborhood so that when they’re ready for spay and neuter, they know that we can provide that.”
Elliott has lengthy experience both in banking and in running AIDS nonprofits, but as an animal lover, leading an animal welfare organization was his dream job. That doesn’t mean it is not without its onerous moments, though. Two weeks after he started, the shelter had a distemper crisis where the possibility existed of having to euthanize every dog. Luckily, the outbreak was limited to four animals.
Now, life is good — if only he can find a way to explain to his two rat terriers and large “urban mix” pooch why he comes home smelling so interesting.