Susan Russell has big plans at ACCT.
And the new executive director is fully confident in all of the things planned for Philadelphia’s open-intake shelter.
But she’s also adamant about how the organization will get things done.
They say there’s no “I” in team, and there’s certainly no “I” in her vocabulary and whenever she talks about the big things on the horizon, she’s quick to point out it’s not her doing them.
“We have such a great network,” said Russell, who became the executive director at Animal Care and Control Team Philadelphia last month after serving the same position at the shelter in Chicago. “There are great employees here. And a lot of them are volunteers because they care so much. And we have great rescue partners who help move the animals and get them into homes. And then our volunteers are so passionate and hard working. We couldn’t do anything without them.”
Russell certainly appreciates the work rescues and volunteers do, and she knows how passionate those helpers are because it’s where she got her start.
Always an animal lover, when she was a lawyer in Chicago, she started volunteering at the animal shelter.
“I loved being there, walking the dogs and then I ran the volunteer orientation and I realize how important volunteers are to what shelters want to do,” Russell said. “And ACCT has so many wonderful volunteers. They are dedicated. They come in no matter what. They are passionate and are needed.”
Russell has gained a lot more experience since she started out as a volunteer, but she still has the same passion for helping animals.
She and her husband have six cats. She doesn’t have any dogs of her own because she’s not home often enough to care for them, but when she’s done doing her administrative duties at work, she doesn’t rush home. She rushes to the kennels.
“Volunteering is a great way to get exercise and it’s great for the dogs,” Russell said. “I love walking the dogs here. They love to get out and I’m very hands on. I’ll go back to the kennels whenever I have a chance.”
Though she is fairly new to her position, which she started on Oct. 22, and to Philadelphia, she’s feeling right at home. She has fallen in love with the look of the city and is very impressed in what the city has to offer.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful city, trees and sidewalks and so many things to do,” Russell said. “I’ve never seen so many trees and sidewalks with roots coming up. It’s beautiful.
“And I’m not coming into a situation that is bad, I’m coming in and I hope to, with the employees and volunteers to continue it growing. ACCT has some fantastic things. You look, they have a life-saving department. A department that is dedicated to saving lives. How great is that? And there’s the no-kill coalition. They have a help desk that helps people keep their pets. And you have Emeka’s Fund. There’s so many great things in place here.”
ACCT does have many great things, but there have been some controversies. One of the big ones was in the spring when the city split with former executive director Vincent Medley. ACCT is also always under fire, unfairly at times, because the open intake shelter is forced to euthanize pets for space. But the former brass didn’t help their cause by banning volunteers and rescue groups.
Those days appear to be over, though.
Russell knows an open intake shelter can’t save them all, but she’ll do everything in her power to save as many as possible, and she’ll do that through transparency, communication and relying on those who care for help.
“People love animals, and want to help animals, but we also want to help people,” Russell said. “There are people who want to keep their pets, but might not have the ability to do it. We want to make sure we help people when they need it. And when animals do come in, we have to move them out as quickly as possible. It’s hard with an open intake shelter, but we should always try to do better.”
And to do so, Russell and her shelter are doing some things this month to help move their precious inventory. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, there will be special promotions on adoption fees for dogs and cats. Adoption fees will be waived on Nov. 23, 24 and 25, so you’ll have more money to buy treats and toys for Christmas.
They also hope Giving Tuesday produces some much-needed cash, which can mean more lives saved. The organization is hoping to raise $6,000, and the money will go to the Stella Fund, which pays for lifesaving surgeries and treatment for shelter animals.
Information on the events is available at acctphilly.org.
Russell knows there will be challenges. She knows there will be hiccups, times when the shelter is overcrowded and sadly, there will be tough decisions that lead to euthanasia.
But Russell is confident everyone will work together to make sure those numbers are as low as possible.
“Philadelphia is my kind of city,” Russell said. “Chicago was, too, but I love Philadelphia. The people really care. They’re willing to help. Everyone from the great employees, the volunteers and the rescues, who I’m meeting every day. Everybody wants to help.
“We want to be no kill. No kill is a philosophy. We want to make sure every healthy and adoptable animal makes it out. There will be times when we’re full and we don’t have room. We want to make sure we’re able to move every animal we can out the door.”