VASCI Alum, Kristina O'Keefe Accepts Position as North Attleboro Animal Control Officer/Shelter Director

Kristina said “I moved to Florida shortly after graduation and found it incredibly difficult to find an animal related job down there. I applied to every zoo within an hour radius, tried working at a veterinarian’s office, and eventually ended up working part time as a receptionist at the European Wax Center….. (yes, you can laugh!). After applying numerous times and showing up in-person I was able to get a part-time position as a kennel keeper at a humane society.

There were 350 dogs; the first day I worked there, 52 animals were surrendered to the shelter. It was a high-kill shelter, even though they claimed they never cleared for space. After my first day in the kennels, the manager moved me to the Veterinary Unit which was working alongside the vet in a locked portion of the humane society. A tiny blue-nosed pit-bull puppy was brought into the unit from the “stray” unit (stray had appx 150 dogs waiting to be evaluated). The vet looked at the pup, listened to his heart, picked up the phone and said “We need to clear this one.” I didn’t realize what clear meant so I was playing with the puppy and I asked “Clear?” and she said, “Stop touching him, put him back in his crate, he is getting put down.” This was a 5-week-old puppy. He had a minor heart murmur, but with the number of dogs they have at the humane society, he didn’t have a high chance of being adopted. Needless to say, I went home that day and was inconsolable. I knew I wanted to work in shelter/rescue, but not being in a position to make the decisions to save or take a life was awful and I knew if I continued there I wouldn’t grow, but lose my passion for what I had wanted to do.

I had volunteered at the North Attleboro (Massachusetts) Animal Shelter during college and the Animal Control Officer/Shelter Director emailed me in September saying there would be a job opening soon if I wanted to apply. She had been the director for 30+ years and was only 53 so I did not think she was retiring, I just assumed it was a kennel keeping job. I applied for the job, got an interview with the Town Administrator, director of HR, and Animal Control Officer/Shelter Director. Then the Board of Selectmen interviewed three candidates publicly (local cable tv). I interviewed with them and went home. My mom called me not five minutes after I walked through the door and said, “You got it.” I thought she was just cheering me on, like “you’ve got this!” But she meant I really had gotten it. The Board made a motion to nominate me for the position, it was unanimous, and the director of HR called me shortly after I hung up with my mom to tell me! I was crying I was so happy!

I am now the Department Head for North Attleboro’s Animal Control/Shelter. My title is Animal Control Officer and I am also the state Animal Inspector. My life has truly become the shelter. There is never a time when I can’t have my phone on me as I am on-call 24/7 for animal emergencies. I work alongside the police department for emergency calls and get to help the abused, neglected, and abandoned every day. But I love every minute of it. My volunteers and employees all believe in making our shelter a place of hope and healing for both people and animals.

Today, I am taking my favorite girl Corgee to a pack walk in Hingham. This is run by a behaviorist who takes a group of 20+ dog reactive dogs and makes them walk alongside each other to desensitize them. By the end of the walk, the dogs close the distance between each other and learn that all they have to do is walk.

I never would have thought being an Animal Control Officer was an option. I don’t even think I saw myself as a shelter director, I just hoped to work in a shelter. I think that not knowing what to do next is a good thing. Working in that bird lab has come in handy so many times! I can now go into a house where someone has a bird stuck in their bathroom, turn the light off, and walk out holding the bird in my hand. All of those experiences and struggle to figure out where it was my skills and “soft as all heck heart” could be of use, helped me to find where I belong.”

Click here to learn more about the North Attleboro Animal Shelter.

Click here for photos and story about Kristina’s recent raccoon rescue.