Selena Coffey, Foothills Humane Society executive Director

Published 10:00 pm Friday, July 18, 2014

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By Mark Schmerling

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Two and one-half year ago, when Foothills Human Society’s board of directors hired the agency’s first executive director, they, the animals at the shelter, and many local prospective pet owners got a bonus.

The directors chose Selena Coffey, who not only grew up on a farm and loved animals, but who also had sixteen years’ experience working in local government (in Henderson County), supervising, among other entities, animal services


“I enjoy animals, and I love them,” Coffey said recently. Much of that feeling comes from growing up on a farm in very rural Clay County, not far from both Georgia and Tennessee. “I was around farms all my life,” she recalled, telling herself at the time of her current position’s availability, “‘this might be a good position to take.’ I saw it as a good opportunity.” Many animals that have passed through the shelter, and the humans they’ve adopted would agree that Coffey has been a great fit


Coffey said that, while many rescue operations are volunteer-managed, as was FHS at the time, directors here decided that the operation had grown to the point where they needed to hire an executive director. “That’s what got me here.” She quickly discovered that her new position provided “an opportunity for me to build upon what was already here.”


Coffey’s previous work experience has proven invaluable. As FHS Director, she “is still involved in public service. I enjoy working with the community. I come in touch with all parts of the community,” including speaking with civic groups. “I feel like I’m making a difference here,” Coffey said, doing something larger than myself.”


Simply entering her Foothills Human Society office each day is rewarding for Coffey.


“Most days, it’s heartwarming to see that they (the animals in the shelter) are well-cared for. Even being in a shelter, for some of these animals, is better than where they were. You never know what kind of situation they were living in before.”


“In some cases, though, she admitted that “it’s very sobering” to think about the circumstances that often deliver some animals to the shelter.


Dogs and cats comprise most of Foothills Humane Society’s temporary residents, though “we get birds; we get rabbits,” Coffey related. “We get a little bit of everything. It’s difficult to turn any animal away as long as we can house it for a short time.


Eastern Polk County is horse country, but not all horse owners can properly care for their animals. Foothills Equine Rescue Assistance program, under FHS, exists to help horse owners with some basic expenses of keeping their animals healthy.


As with other endeavors, Coffey noted that animal-related issues are often originated with humans.


“The biggest challenge we face,” she observed, “is educating the public about spaying and neutering their pets, about micro-chipping (embedding small chips between the animal’s shoulder blades to help with identification and reconnecting the animals with their humans upon separation).”


Coffey also said that in many cases education involves helping people be responsible pet owners, by keeping their critters out of excessive heat and cold and feeding them properly. In many cases, animals wind up at the shelter because of improper care.


Not all of FHS’s charges wind up there through owner neglect, Coffey emphasized.


In some cases, owners will bring their pets to the shelter, noting that they (the owners) are moving, and can’t keep of take care of their pets. In some cases, pets and owners are re-united when the latter find better circumstances. To cover some of their own costs of sheltering, feeding and testing these pets, FHS personnel charge a return-to-owner fee, said Coffey.


Can Coffey really leave her job behind after hours? “No way!” she responded. “No way. Animals are like us,” with after hour challenges. She said she is always available. When she can take a break from her work, Coffey enjoys hiking and golf, “when I can fit it in.” She recently purchased a kayak as another way to enjoy outdoor recreation.


She especially enjoys “spending time with my seven-year-old, which is the most fun.”


Coffey knows from long experience, and from seeing prospective pet owners and shelter animals bonding at FHS, that “the animals adopt their owners. That’s another nice thing about this job, when you see the animal adopt a human. They know. I think rescue animals have very appreciative spirits. Some folks think I’m kooky for saying it, but it seems to be the case.”


What is Coffey’s goal?


“The key for me,” she explained, “is the people and the animals– to put the animals in situations where they and the humans are happy. It’s never-ending work,” she observed, but added, “Some days, it’s not really work. It’s more fun.”