by Len Lear
Joan Smith-Reese, 67, a native of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, started a career in home care and hospice after graduating from Lycoming College with a degree in Social Work.
She started a home health company in 1992 in Philadelphia and then became President of Keystone Home Health Services and worked with Gail Inderweis, President of Keystone Hospice in Wyndmoor, caring for patients with terminal illnesses.
In 2009, however, she graduated from Chestnut Hill College with a Masters in Holy Spirituality in Health Care and moved upstate.
“I was disillusioned with health care and the lack of services available to our patients because of insurance,” she explained. “Home health and hospice are the least expensive in the health care chain and yet always the least funded. Patients who did not receive adequate care were then being re-hospitalized (and still are today), which is far more expensive that authorizing a few more days or weeks of service to get patients back to good or stable health. I wanted to make a difference and felt I couldn’t; animals are my passion, so I am hopefully making a difference now.”
In March 2010, the former Oreland resident joined Animal Care Sanctuary, an animal shelter, no-kill for 52 years, that started for the first 15 years in New Jersey and is now in East Smithfield in northern Pennsylvania, close to the New York state border. Smith-Reese is now Executive Director.
“Our founder’s [Lesley Sinclair] largest donor base was Philly and still is,” she said, “and also many of the cats and dogs in the early days were brought from Philly. Today many people come to Animal Care Sanctuary from Philly to adopt. We have a large network in the region and meet two times a year to review PA legislation for animals. We also have an advisory group that attends many events around the area – Skippack Days, Chestnut Hill Days, etc.”
According to Ann Lewis, of Collegeville, a spokesperson for the shelter, “Our mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and adopt companion animals. We have over 190 acres in two locations in upstate Pennsylvania. What really makes us unique is that we have three dedicated vets, and all of our adoptable animals come vaccinated, spay/neutered and microchipped. We do a lot to support our local communities including education programs, offering low-cost community clinics and pet food pantries. We also have a pre-vet internship program with housing on-site.”
Interestingly, Smith-Reese had no previous experience with animal rescue, sanctuary, etc., but she went to Washington and spoke with the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, and “He told me the industry needs administrative, business background, that leadership is needed to move the country in a more humane environment. So I jumped in and have no regrets.”
Smith-Reese took this particular job with the Animal Care Sanctuary because of its long history as a no-kill shelter.
“Spay/neuter is key to the overpopulation of dogs and particularly cats,” she pointed out. “The founder of this shelter was passionate about quality care and spay/neuter. She died in 1998, and the sanctuary became dormant.
“I saw an opportunity with a strong leadership team to be a national leader. My first call was to Cornell University, and they came and made recommendations for exceptional care.”
Today, the Animal Care Sanctuary has been recognized as a “Shelter with a Soul,” winning numerous awards. The sanctuary was awarded Miranda Lambert’s “MuttNation Foundation Award” in 2015 and 2019 as the best shelter in Pennsylvania. Animal Care Sanctuary was also recognized as having the greatest community impact, and Smith-Reese won the Business Person of the Year Award in 2014.
“With 132 acres in East Smithfield and 64 acres in our Wellsboro Shelter, we have great advantages to invite the community to walk dogs, have dog parks for the community, spend time on our ‘catio’ with our cats, come to the cat café’s etc.”
There are approximately 350 animals in the sanctuary at any one time, all dogs and cats. Does the sanctuary ever have to turn away animals because they are a no-kill sanctuary and, one would assume, have limited space and personnel?
“Not often turned away,” said Smith-Reese, “but sometimes delayed a few days. We concentrate on owner surrender, also assisting our community shelters that are over capacity so they do not have to euthanize and also pull dogs from the south.”
What is the best thing about Smith-Reese’s work at the sanctuary?
“The best thing is seeing an animal that came in frightened or needing time to become healthy and strong and then go home to a loving, forever home.”
What should the public know about the animal shelter and sanctuary “industry” that they may not?
“That many animals, cats and dogs, that come to the shelter are purebred. That the worst thing animal lovers can do is purchase a puppy over the internet or from a pet store as they are supporting puppy mills. Look for a good shelter, rescue group or a reputable breeder.”
For more information, visit AnimalCareSanctuary.org or call 818-314-4032.