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SHERIDAN — Next week, Cel Hope will celebrate nine years as the executive director at the Sheridan Dog and Cat Shelter. Her ninth anniversary, April 1, will also be her last day on the job, and she will officially pass the reigns to Debie Crawford.
This is technically Hope’s second crack at retirement. Before she joined the team at the Dog and Cat Shelter, she had already invested more than 20 years as director of religious education at Holy Name School. When the shelter’s previous director suddenly vacated the job, Hope applied for the position after being encouraged by her professional associates.
“They thought I needed the shelter and the shelter needed me,” she said.
Hope was on her own after two days of training from Sheridan’s head Community Service Officer Ray Burr. Three months later, she was furnished with an official job description. From a largely unstructured start-up, Hope has overseen years of rebuilding at the Shelter during some of the community’s busiest times for needy animals — first because of an energy boom and population surplus, and later, because of the economic recession.
“I thought I would be able to be working more directly with the animals, and it turned out I’m mostly working in front of the computer or dealing with people,” Hope said, recalling her initial struggle of being a self-described introvert with an extrovert’s job. A big portion of that job has been fundraising.
Along the way, Hope has endured an emotional roller coaster congruent with a career centered on working with creatures who become homeless and destitute, only to be rehabilitated and adopted into loving homes.
“Over the years, there have been great animals nobody has looked at,” Hope said. “If you’re an introvert, as an animal, similar to a person, you don’t sell yourself.”
It’s these animals that were Hope’s hands-on projects in addition to the administrative tasks her job required. Over the years, she took several pets who might otherwise have been passed over and selected them as her personal assistants. They would join her in her office each day or run a shift at the front desk wearing an “Adopt me” sign around their necks, all the while, gaining social skills and exposure. Some of Hope’s animals acted as assistants for months, but most eventually found forever homes.
The frequent heartache followed by the exuberance of a new beginning is one that Hope said is unforgettable.
While anywhere between 1,200 and 1,600 animals pass through the shelter doors each year, about 400 of them are true adoptions. The rest are animals picked up for temporary detainment after being lost and wandering around town.
“Thankfully, we don’t get a lot that are the victim of deliberate cruelty, but we do get a lot that are skin and bones and victims of neglect,” Hope revealed, adding that even from the worst circumstances, the forgiving nature animals demonstrate is something she outlines as a teaching point to people.
“Animals say, ‘Today is today, I’m in a place where there’s kindness and love, and life is good.’ In that, they teach you a lot,” she said.
Hope added that she is thankful for the community support she’s witnessed, both via financial contributions and the adoptive families that have chosen their new family members from the shelter.
“In this community, we’ve got so many great people who are truly concerned about animals, and I think that’s above average,” she said.
Today, the situation Hope is passing on is much different than the one she inherited, and she has dedicated her last two weeks to working with Crawford to make the transition as seamless as possible.
The Dog and Cat Shelter board of directors received approximately 40 applications for Hope’s position, and interviewed 10 candidates before making a selection.
Crawford, who grew up in Cody and lived in Sheridan a few years ago, has a background managing an inner-city dog park in New Orleans. Before that, she worked at the Adventuarium Science Center in Gillette. Both jobs entailed working with animals and a strong administrative capacity.
“Coming here, I didn’t think I would get the job of my dreams right off the bat,” Crawford admitted. “I thought I would find something to get by and then eventually work my way into something that I loved.”
Crawford said she’s excited about her new beginning and spoke optimistically about the staff and facility she’s joining.
Hope’s last — and Crawford’s first — fundraiser for the Dog and Cat Shelter will be Saturday from 5-8 p.m. at the Sheridan County Fairgrounds exhibit hall. The Spring FUN-raiser will feature kids’ games, food from Qdoba Mexican grill and a bucket raffle. Tickets are $12 for kids and $6 for adults and available at the door.