The Santa Maria Valley Humane Society announced today that its Executive Director, Sean Hawkins, CAWA, is stepping down from the post that he has held for just under three years to accept the position of Chief Advancement Officer at Charleston Animal Society in Charleston, South Carolina.  Hawkins’ last day at the Central Coast shelter will be January 29, 2020.  Board Vice President for the Humane Society, Frances Romero, says, “Sean professionalized the operations of the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society and he created and advanced programs to help so many animals in need throughout the community.  We are saddened to see him leave but this move is an incredible advancement in Sean’s career and we celebrate that with him.”

Founded in 1874, Charleston Animal Society became the first animal protection organization in South Carolina and one of the first in the Nation and has never turned away an animal in need.  Charleston Animal Society provides direct care to upward of 20,000 animals in need each year with a staff of 100 people and an operating budget of $8 million.  The Chief Advancement Officer position is one of four executive leadership positions for the society.  The position will oversee philanthropy, corporate partnerships, community engagement, planned giving, annual meeting, special events, marketing and communications, resale and retail operations.

While at the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society, Hawkins created and launched the “Adopters Welcome Here” program that increased lifesaving from 493 dogs and cats in 2016 to 1,303 dogs and cats in in 2019 with a 98.7% live release rate.  He also launched Open Paw® manners and skills training program for shelter pets, establishing the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society as the go-to experts in shelter animal enrichment.  This program, rooted in behavioral science, resulted in the continued reduction in length of stay for shelter pets from an average of 35 days in 2016, to 26 days in 2017, 20 days in 2018 and 16 days in 2019.  The animal return rate for adopted pets also dropped from an all-time high of 14.5% in 2016 to now consistently less than 8%, beating most national averages.

“Some of the most important advancements during my time at the Humane Society for me are the establishment of a shelter medicine program and expanding community veterinary services,” said Hawkins.  “We increased spaying and neutering of pets to 2,400 dogs and cats per year – including 243 feral cats last year alone – and we provided emergency veterinary care to 67 dogs in income-qualified families through Chrissies’ Fund last year, as well as other non-emergency services to additional pets in income-qualified families.  The work has been long and hard and immensely rewarding but it has not been without challenges, mainly being away from home and family.”

Dr. Brenda Forsythe, owner of Orcutt Veterinary Hospital and a veterinary advisor for Santa Maria Valley Humane Society, said “Sean understands that animal welfare is a community-wide responsibility and not just tasked to the Humane Society.  Sean took very seriously the responsibility of creating partnerships with the area private practice veterinarians and referral hospitals.  Veterinarians in the community recognized the elevation of standards and the importance that Sean placed on competence, science, and collaboration to advance animal welfare.  That level of commitment to the community as whole did not exist before Sean was involved with the Humane Society.  I’ve grown to love him as a professional and a friend.”  Dr. Forsythe also serves as a science advisor for the Humane Society of the United States.

Sean cared about people, too.  One of the first programs he created in 2017 was the establishment of Pet Safe for animal victims of domestic violence in collaboration with Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley.  “Animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence are closely linked, and this link impacts our communities.  Santa Maria Valley Humane Society hosts a myriad of programs to help stop this cycle of violence.  One program is Pet Safe, a program that Sean and I created one afternoon in his office at the animal shelter,” says Dudley.  “This program is designed to help families with pets who are facing a domestic violence emergency seek free, fast, safety and care for pets so all victims can escape.  Domestic violence shelters in Santa Barbara County do not allow pets to accompany an abused family. Many survivors of domestic violence will choose not to leave an abuser if their pet will be left behind. If an individual does decide to leave a pet behind, the abuser will often hurt that pet in an effort to maintain control over the victim.  Emergency help for animal victims of domestic violence did not exist before the creation of Pet Safe and the partnership with the Humane Society.”

“I’ve worked for every Executive Director that Santa Maria Valley Humane Society has had,” said Denise Clift, Animal Transfer and Cat Program Manager at the animal shelter.  She has worked for Santa Maria Valley Humane Society for almost twenty years, in every animal care position in the organization.  “Sean was a good boss, tough when he needed to be, but I always, always knew that he had a way to do something better for the shelter animals in mind.  He brought our animal care standards far beyond what I could have ever imagined.”

Sean is relocating from Santa Maria, California to Charleston, South Caroline in the next few weeks with his dog, “Oh Be Joyful,” an 8-year-old Golden-Doodle.  He recently adopted “Oh Be” after her owner passed away.  Erik Sandoval, Sean’s husband of 10 years, is a news reporter and anchor for CBS in Orlando.  Erik reports that he is excited to soon live in the same time zone as Sean, and soon to be just 278 miles apart, after the last 3 years of cross-country commuting.  Sean says, “I have developed what I hope will be life-long friendships in the Central Coast and I very much look forward to staying in touch with many friends and colleagues here.”

The senior leadership team at Santa Maria Valley Humane Society, Matt Chan, CAWA, Community Relations Director, Jan Minard, Financial Controller, Denise Clift, Transfer & Cat Program Manager, and Tom Thompson, DVM, Medical Director will continue to oversee the day-to-day operations of the shelter during the transition and leadership change.

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