SPRINGFIELD – For some people, the career transition Leslie Harris is making might seem to be quite a leap. The longtime executive director of the Dakin Humane Society of the Pioneer Valley is leaving that job to work at Quonquont Farm & Orchard in Whatley.
For Harris, who said she grew up on a small farm in Ohio, the move is “in a way a return to her roots.”
Her last day in the office was Oct. 1.
“Leslie’s vision and leadership has given Dakin incredible momentum and untold success stories,” Dakin Board Treasurer Charlotte Cathro said. “Since joining the organization in 1995, Leslie grew Dakin from an all-volunteer, foster-based network to one with more than 60 employees between its two locations in Springfield and Leverett, a full-time spay/neuter clinic that has performed more than 60,000 surgeries, and a multi-million dollar budget. I know I speak for the entire board in expressing my appreciation for Leslie’s stewardship of Dakin and wish her great success in her new role.”
Involved with Dakin since the mid-1990s, Harris became executive director in 2001. At first just located in Hampshire County, the organization moved to Springfield in 2009 when the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Animals left its Springfield headquarters on Union Street.
The hallmark program for Dakin has been a campaign to greatly reduce the number of unwanted animals through its pay and neuter clinics.
She readily admitted that coming to Springfield was “a big risk” for the small organization.
“The business as usual approach for the past 100 years has solved the problem,” she said.
That approach has been to take in stray cats and dogs, adopt out what you could and kill the rest, she explained.
“The most important thing we did was the spay/neuter clinic, the least romantic thing we do,” Harris said.
While Dakin saved thousands of animals through its adoption services, Harris believes, “The thing that makes the difference isn’t the rescue, it’s prevention.”
Since 2009, the organization has performed 60,000 spay/neuter operations, which Harris said has made a positive impact on unwanted animals.
Harris said she has come to understand that Dakin is a human social service agency as there are animal elements in family crisis. She explained that people skip meals to keep an animal in the family.
The cost of veterinary services is an ongoing concern.
“The third most common call we receive is ‘I can’t afford necessary veterinary care. Can you help me?’” she said.
The cost of care has motivated the weekly low cost vaccine clinics Dakin offers, Harris added.
Although Harris said she would be sad leaving Dakin, she explained she is looking forward to working on a farm that produces blueberries, peaches and apples. She has been working at the farm informally and said agricultural work, “soothes the soul.”
Dakin’s board recently voted to appoint its president, Nancy Creed, to the position of interim executive director while it conducts a search for a permanent replacement.