Stray Hearts Animal Shelter welcomes new director

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Just in time and not a moment too soon, Stray Hearts Animal Shelter welcomes Cynthis Lucas as the shelter's latest manager and director.

As a two-year newcomer to Taos, Lucas initially came to the area to retire, but was called back into animal service after learning of the difficulties Stray Hearts had been going through in recent years. Lucas said her 37 years of experience in animal rescue is critical for any shelter and she is pleased to have joined the Stray Hearts team.

"I've always loved animals, always," said Lucas. "My first words were 'kitty cat,' and [my family] didn't even own a cat."

Lucas has worked as both an animal rescuer and a shelter manager. She came to Taos from the Animal Friends of North Central West Virginia, where she had been the shelter manager. She said her history with animal rescue began as a result of a tragedy in her life, after the loss of her twin daughters. Lucas said she has continued to seek comfort and solace through serving the animal community.

She said she is looking forward to working with the Stray Hearts crew and hopes to get the community more involved with the happenings of the shelter.

"Cynthis Lucas is an amazing person," said Stray Hearts Board President Barbara Ann Downs vanCalsem. "We met her by chance and instantly knew Stray Hearts needed her."

As the manager of the shelter for a little more than two weeks, Lucas has begun implementing some of her methods among the Stray Hearts staff and said the transitions have been going well. One of her notable first changes was to eliminate the use of hot dogs as a training method. Instead, she has encouraged the staff to utilize more healthy options for the animals. In addition, Lucas said she wants to bring the community into the shelter more by having volunteer groups come and interact with the animals. She's thinking of bringing in senior citizens or even schoolchildren to play with some of the animals. This, according to Lucas, would build good relations between the community and the shelter, as well as entice people to adopt the animals after they interact with them.

It's no secret that Stray Hearts has had financial troubles in the past. However, Lucas said she is not worried about that and only wants to move forward. More fundraising events are on the horizon for Stray Hearts, including its Halloween pet parade on Oct. 28, where pet costumes are highly encouraged. Lucas said there are many good people working at Stray Hearts to assure the abandoned and stray animals are cared for in the healthiest way possible.

"I just have such faith that everything is going to be just fine," said Lucas.

While changing some of the training policies at Stray Hearts, Lucas said she also wants to change the way the community looks at aggressive or shy animals. She plans to implement informational classes or lessons for owners of dogs and cats to help them figure out why an animal is aggressive or shy, rather than leaving the animal at the shelter, an act Lucas and Stray Hearts are no strangers to.

"There's a reason for an animal's behavior," Lucas said, "so let's find the reason."

The manager position had been filled by members of the board since Jennifer Gfeller, the shelter's former director, departed in July. Gfeller left Stray Hearts after less than three months in her position. Stray Hearts had been without an official manager since then. Manager duties at the shelter include interacting with the public, filing necessary paperwork and keeping the shelter running overall.

Optimistically looking toward the future, Lucas said the staff and volunteers at Stray Hearts have made her transition into the new position smooth and said everyone involved in helping with the shelter is wonderful.

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