Lifelong animal welfare advocate Jack Hagerman joined the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society as its new CEO this month.
He will lead Northern New Mexico’s largest animal shelter, with a $7 million budget, more than 100 paid employees and hundreds of volunteers.
“A lot of people have preconceived notions about what shelters are,” Hagerman said. “I’m used to being the guy who talks about animal welfare to the public.”
Hagerman, 45, replaces former Executive Director Jennifer Steketee, who has retired but plans to volunteer with the nonprofit shelter by fostering animals. Steketee, who previously served as a veterinarian at the shelter, had served in its top job since 2016.
Hagerman is the shelter’s first chief executive officer. The title comes from an organizational restructuring, he said, but the job will include the same responsibilities as those of a director.
He and a spokesman for the shelter both declined to disclose his salary.
The most recent federal tax filings publicly available show Steketee earned more than $157,000 in compensation in 2019 as executive director. The shelter holds around $15 million in assets, the documents show.
Salary and benefits for Steketee’s predecessor, Mary Martin, totaled nearly $188,000, according to tax documents. Martin also lived rent-free in a home the shelter had purchased.
Hagerman said in an interview Tuesday he grew up poor in the Inland Empire, a sprawling area east of Los Angeles. He spent his youth tooling around the neighborhood, picking up stray animals and nursing them back to health.
He said because he was shy, he didn’t have a lot of friends. “Spending time with my animal friends was the way that I liked to spend my time.”
Hagerman overcame his shyness and began working as a marketing, communications and public relations professional in the health care industry, he said. “I was ready to take a step back and focus on a passion project.”
In 2012, he and his partner at the time moved to Spring Green, Wis., where they started a farm and conservation organization for critically endangered livestock. The operation grew quickly, and before long, they were hosting more than 400 animals representing 17 endangered species.
“Making the shift to animal welfare was actually a pretty easy shift to make,” he said. “If you think about how hospitals and clinics work, it’s kind of similar to how shelters work.”
When the relationship ended in 2016, Hagerman moved back to Los Angeles and began working as vice president of operations and community engagement at the Pasadena Humane animal shelter.
“It was a very special time to be a part of animal welfare because, as the pandemic came, the industry started to completely reshape and reengineer itself and provide service to the community in a different way,” he said. “And I got to be a part of building that.”
He moved to New Mexico on Nov. 1 and stepped into his role at the local shelter.
The Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society opened in 1939. It now has a 100-acre campus at 100 Caja del Rio Road with trails and playgrounds for dogs and their caretakers.
It also operates the Clare Eddy Thaw Animal Hospital and two off-campus retail stores.
The retail stores and the animal hospital bring in the majority of its revenue, along with fundraisers, charitable donations and local government contracts.
The nonprofit shelter fosters and permanently places animals, and offers behavioral training classes for post-adoption pets. It provides assistance to disadvantaged pet owners, as well as education and outreach in the community.
It now has around 240 animals — including dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, reptiles and birds — down from 360 at the beginning of November.
A shelter’s busy season typically runs from spring through summer, Hagerman said, and populations drop in the fall as the number of strays decrease with colder weather.
The shelter faced heavy scrutiny in 2018, when two members of its board resigned, citing operating losses and questionable business deals between the shelter, some of its board members and former executive director Martin.
Hagerman said those issues are in the past.
“Our current board of directors is only between two and three years old,” he said. “Whatever was happening back then has not been happening for a number of years now.”
Despite a staffing shortage due to the coronavirus pandemic, he said the shelter is doing well. “Our care of the animals is excellent,” he said.
Going forward, he said he will focus on providing more community resources. One idea he mentioned was creating a pet food bank to aid pet owners who are struggling financially.
“We’ve started to see a dramatic shift from housing animals in shelters to having really robust foster programs,” he said, adding animals do better in a home than they do in a shelter. “The pandemic really helped put that into fast motion.”
“Even if it’s only for a temporary period of time,” Hagerman said, “an animal’s going to do much better in a foster home than they will do in a kennel.”