Mary Leavens sits outside on a sunny morning, holding the leash of Genevieve, one of the animals up for adoption at the Humane Society of Harford County Inc., where Leavens serves as executive director.
Leavens and Genevieve look equally content in each other’s company as Leavens reflects on how she came into this job five years ago. The Bel Air resident had been at Harford Community College for 18 years as an administrator and felt it was “time for a change.” She wanted to stay in Harford, where her community and business contacts were. The Humane Society was a natural fit since “when I was a kid people used to call me Elly May Clampett because I always loved animals,” she says, referring to the critter-loving daughter in “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
Leavens notes that the Humane Society’s mission is to unite people and pets. A good storyteller, she gives herself goosebumps as she talks about some of the “love connections” -- like the one between the bull terrier who came to the shelter in terrible shape, and one day left in the front seat of a BMW with his new owner.
While Leavens says she has the “best job ever,” she acknowledges that it is tough.
Her organization is an independent nonprofit with an annual operating budget of about $1 million. As an “open admission” shelter, HSHC takes in all stray animals from the county -- about 4,500 animals a year, 3,100 of which are cats. A contract with the county government gives the shelter 55 percent of its funding, but the rest comes from adoption fees, fundraising, grants and donations.
“We do pretty well with dogs,” Leavens says, but dealing with the cats has been a challenge. This year, HSHC started a “pick your purr-fect price campaign,” a program that lets potential pet owners choose how much they want to pay for the adoption fee. They also recently launched “Rescue Me at Harford Mall,” where they’ve leased space and have cats up for adoption every day.
HSHC also recently joined forces with Pets for Patriots Inc., a program that gives discounts to those in the armed forces and has helped spur the adoption rate, too.
And there is good news on the horizon. The county is building HSHC a new, much-needed $6 million facility on the property to replace the dilapidated farmhouse and outbuildings that were donated in 1947.
Leavens is launching a $1.5 million fundraising campaign for the equipment and furnishings that will go inside the building. Her goal is to make it “adoption-friendly” with meet-and-greet areas for animals and those hoping to adopt.
While many of the HSHC animals do find their “forever” homes (a few have even gone home with Leavens over the years), some don’t, for a variety of reasons including medical issues and aggressive temperaments. Leavens says, “We do the very best we can with what we have to work with. We are always looking for more adopters and foster families. We celebrate the adoption of every animal, and we just hope for the day when we can move every adoptable animal into their ‘forever’ home.”
And even as she speaks, a co-worker comes by to tell her that a dog that has been prancing by this morning with some potential owners is going home with them, causing Leavens to break out into a megawatt smile.
“I wouldn’t want any other job,” she says, looking happily at Genevieve.
Editor’s note: Genevieve has been adopted from the shelter, as has Rosa, the dog shown here with Leavens. Panda, the dog pictured in the group photo of our Women of Harford feature, found her forever home with Leavens.
Off the clock with Leavens
Favorite movie: “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale”
Favorite place to chill out: The beach
Favorite food: Seafood
Downtime activities: Riding her horses and spending time with her family, including her husband and her son, 21, and daughter, 15