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The Animal Haven manager Michelle DeRosa says both Tank and Mario are looking for new homes, just like more than a hundred other animals currently staying in the shelter. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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As manager of The Animal Haven shelter on Mill Road, Michelle DeRosa is working hard to make it the best shelter it can be.
Michelle came to work at the shelter eight years ago after she decided she needed a change from her previous career as a drug and alcohol counselor. A Branford resident, Michelle attended Gateway Community College and then Southern Connecticut State University, initially for education before switching to counseling.
“I had no experience other than loving animals,” she says. “I just decided that I’ve always wanted to work with animals and I should have gone into it from the beginning.”
When she found an open position at The Animal Haven, Michelle took it, starting as a kennel assistant and working her way up to manage the shelter.
“I’ve always worked a lot of hours. It’s just the way I am,” she says. “Whatever I do with work, I usually put my all into it…Eventually they asked if I wanted to manage it.”
Her dedication started with cleaning out dog kennels and while cleaning is still a part of her job, she’s now also responsible for taking care of the animals, too. She even takes some of the animals who need extra care home.
Michelle has a hand in many of the shelter’s operations, from Facebook posting and emailing to advocating against animal abuse.
“There’s not a lot of justice for animals,” she says.
Though Michelle says she has never wanted to become a veterinarian, she’s learned a lot about caring for animals from bottle feeding kittens to recognizing illnesses and knowing how to treat them.
“Shelter care is different than vet care. You learn a lot more in a shelter, I believe, sometimes because there’s just so much going on in a shelter,” Michelle says.
Because the shelter sees the animals all the time, Michelle thinks its easier for them to tell when a cat or dog is acting differently whereas a vet doesn’t get to see the animal full time.
“People won’t pick up on it as much at home because they don’t have the experience, whereas we know and have seem some strange cases, so we can kind of cut to the chase,” she says.
Of course, the shelter still relies on vets for major issues, usually spending $80,000 per year on vet bills. That bill primarily covers spaying and neutering as well as major surgeries. Michelle taking some sick animals home helps to keep costs down.
“There’s been a lot of animal surrenders and a lot of animal abuse issues lately,” she says. “It’s been rough.”
Seeing a distressed animal brought into the shelter is one of the most difficult parts of the job, Michelle says.
“It’s hard to keep your composure sometimes when you care for animals so much because it’s people who are doing it. It’s not the animals’ fault,” she says.
To add to the influx of need at The Animal Haven, it is kitten season, so many of the surrendered cats that haven’t been spayed arrive pregnant.
Among other life changes, Michelle says that moving is one of the most common causes of an animal surrender. Many people will move to a location where pets are not allowed and will have no other option but to give up their animal.
With more animals coming in, it’s important for the dogs and cats at The Animal Haven to be adopted, but the shelter wants to make sure the animal finds the right home, not just a home.
“If somebody likes an animal, they come in and fill out an application,” she says. “We do background checks, legal checks, vet references, personal references, all that kind of stuff.”
With only a few workers to check applicants’ homes and go through the background checks, the process can take some time.
“Because we work so closely, people think we’re kind of strict…but we want to do the best fit for the home so they don’t get returned,” Michelle says. “It’s really hard for an animal to come back here.”
The shelter is always looking for donations of wet and dry cat and dog food, towels, and blankets. Michelle says they are also raising money to purchase new, more easily cleaned cat trees.
Another challenge Animal Haven faces is the ongoing renovations, which have cut down on space for incoming animals. The renovations, which started a year and a half ago, will allow staff to better divide animals with specific health needs and restructure the dog kennels.
The project is not yet complete, but is all part of Michelle’s plan to make Animal Haven the best shelter it can be.
“It’s going to be really nice,” she says.
To nominate a Person of the Week, email Nathan Hughart at n.hughart@Zip06.com.
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