Stray Hearts hires new executive director


Stray Hearts Animal Shelter, the non-profit that has been without a permanent executive director for over half a year, hired Jennifer Gfeller to assume that post in April.

Gfeller was the director of a local government-run animal shelter in Junction City, Kan. for the past three years, according to a press release from Stray Hearts.

Prior to that position, she was a trainer for the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. Gfeller graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in animal science and is a graduate of the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior, according to Stray Hearts.

The previous Stray Hearts director, Harvey Yocum, left in August amid a “pretty ugly” shakeup, as he described it at the time. His departure fit a pattern of instability in leadership. In 2014, the shelter was thrown into a tailspin as its veterinarian had his license revoked, the vehicle of the former director was set ablaze in the shelter’s parking lot and board members resigned en masse.

After Yocum’s departure, the animal shelter board of directors stressed the need to find an experienced director who could stabilize long-term operations and rebuild relationships with local governments, which provide substantial funding for the shelter through contracts.

“Jennifer brings to Stray Hearts all of the important qualities we have been seeking in an executive director,” said Pam Miller, president of the board.

“Her record of innovation, accomplishment and leadership is a perfect fit. On behalf of the board, we are confident that Jennifer is the right person at the right time to lead our staff and volunteers, and promote the welfare of our pets as we help them find forever homes,” Miller said.

During Gfeller’s tenure in Junction City, adoption rates were increased by 25 percent, according to the news release.

She also “created an evaluation process to assess behavior and health of each animal upon intake [and] evaluated, proposed, and executed enhancements to daily operations and customer service to make every customer and donor experience exceptional,” the statement from the shelter board said.

Diane Padoven, who consulted for Stray Hearts prior to becoming its acting director in August, will continue to lead the shelter until Gfeller officially comes on board April 24.

"We spent four months interviewing candidates for this position and, after an exhaustive search, selected the person we think is the perfect choice for Taos," said Donna Storch, Stray Hearts board member.

“During my brief visit to Taos, I fell in love with the community and unique culture. I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to bring my shelter knowledge and experience to Stray Hearts...My biggest goal will be to shorten the average length of stay for the animals in our care. This can be accomplished by transporting animals to no-kill rescues, developing a foster care program and reaching a wider adoption audience,” Gfeller said.