Jonathan McDonell and Kiera

The new executive director of Ark-Valley Humane Society, Jonathan McDonell, plays with Kiera, a 7-year-old pit bull, Wednesday outside the AVHS office in Buena Vista. McDonell, who transitioned to animal welfare late in life, plans on making AVHS the go-to resource for all things cat and dog related in Chaffee County.

The new executive director of Ark-Valley Humane Society, Jonathan McDonell, left a good job in Silicon Valley 3 years ago because he said he was looking for something more fulfilling in life.

He discovered a meaningful career at a large pet-rescue mission in Phoenix in 2011. Now, he’s looking to grow AVHS much like the center in Phoenix, where the number of employees and animals doubled during his time there.

McDonell has served as executive director at the Humane Society since July. He wants to make it the go-to resource for all things cat and dog related, he said. That includes basic pet-care information, spaying, neutering and training, as well as the No. 1 place to go for pet adoption in Chaffee County.

“We want to be the destination (where) people go to get companion animals,” he said.

Growing the organization requires building on the already strong relationship with the community and taking advantage of the skills and dedication of the staff, he said. It’s about increasing the visibility of AVHS, while maintaining the quality of care for the animals, he said.

Animal care is McDonell’s top priority. The challenge, he said, is remembering that it is a business, and that has to be balanced with the animal care.

“At the forefront is caring for the animals,” he said. “At the same time, you have to be mindful of the financial impact of decisions.”

That balancing act is tricky at all animal shelters, but it’s slightly easier at AVHS because the board is very supportive and knows that animal care is the No. 1 priority, he said.

Part of the attraction of AVHS is that he could be hands-on in the day-to-day operations and still interact with the animals.

Prior to working in animal welfare, McDonell lived in Silicon Valley, where he worked at a company that manufactured high-end audio and video equipment.

His love for animals and his desire to do more in life drew him to a career in animal welfare. However, his love for animals didn’t develop until later in life.

Growing up, he didn’t have any pets, he said. It wasn’t until he moved out on his own that he bought a dog. In Phoenix, he made sure to make time in his schedule to spend with the animals in the shelter.

He and his wife have three dogs at their home in Buena Vista: a cattle dog and two pit bulls – a very misunderstood breed, he said.

Since arriving in Chaffee County, he has really enjoyed escaping the fast-paced life of living in a big city. That’s not to say that life has dulled since moving, he said.

Every day at the shelter is different. As McDonell says, “you never know what’s going to be in the kennel.”

The community can meet McDonell at a meet and greet at 6 p.m. Oct. 18 at Wallbangers Sports Bar & Grill, 720 E. U.S. 50.

The event will feature food, drinks and live music courtesy of Mo’Champipple and the Miso Horns starting at 7:30 p.m.

A cover charge costs $10 per person, $15 per couple and $20 for families. Money collected from the cover charges will go to AVHS as well as 10 percent of the proceeds from food and drinks.

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