Knowing how to work with people is key when it comes to helping animals

Jimmy and Kitty DuVernet

Jimmie and Kitty DuVernet with Moses the dog.

Some people say they work with animals because they don’t like people. Through the lens of my life’s journey, I say you can’t help animals if you can’t work with people.

There are a few things you should know about me right from the start. I’m from the Deep South, Albany, Georgia, to be exact. While Georgia was not a good fit for me in a lot of ways, parts of the South would have to be surgically removed from my being. In other words, I will take my Southern heritage with me to the grave.

Family has always been the most important thing to me. My parents, Kitty and Jimmie, and my eldest sister Kay, have passed away. My three other older sisters, Diane, Susan, Laura, and their families, still live in Georgia. Like most families, ours has always been a little nutty, and I say that in the most affectionate way. Of course, pets have always been an important part of our family.

When I was a little girl, Moses was our beloved dog. He was a handsome mutt…perhaps part collie, part German Shepherd. Kay, my older sister by 18 years, rescued Moses from drowning in the Chattahoochee River bulrushes when he was a puppy, thus his name. Kay was a starving artist living on her own in Atlanta at the time. Her apartment was not conducive to pets, so Moses came to live with us in Albany. While Moses was technically Kay’s dog, Mama and Daddy were his true parents, if his love forthem and theirs for him were any indication.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are of “good night parties” when all of the DuVernet girls were home in Albany. For our reunion parties, we would gather in Susan’s bedroom. Moses, too. Kay would play the harmonica, while Moses sang along. We always concluded our parties with a harmonized rendition of “Good Night Ladies.” With his nose pointed toward the ceiling, Moses appeared to be howling at the moon.

My love of family and animals has guided my entire nonprofit career. After graduating from Yale with a degree in psychology, I went on to get my Masters in social work at Smith. My goal was to become a family therapist working in private practice. An internship at a nonprofit family services agency made me realize that I belonged in a mission-driven environment.

After earning my master’s degree in the early 1990s, I landed my first job as a foster care social worker at Family and Child Services of Washington, D.C. Through family counseling and support services, we tried to keep fragile families together whenever possible. For children who were abused or neglected, and with no hope for family preservation, we found foster or adoptive homes.

Fast forward to 2014, when I became the president and CEO of the Virginia Beach SPCA. My experience working with people was a perfect background for working to help animals.

The field of animal welfare has been evolving rapidly to a focus on Human Animal Support Services. Especially during the pandemic, Pasadena Humane, like other shelters across the country, has been working hard to support families with pets. Whether through our Pet Food Bank for families experiencing financial hardship, or through temporary boarding for families in housing crises, our goal is to keep pets with the families who love them whenever possible.

For pets who are abused or neglected, or for those where family preservation is not possible, we provide shelter while we work to place them in adoptive homes. Sometimes these pets stay in our volunteer foster homes until a permanent home can be found.

They say home is where the heart is, and I am happy to have found my new home at Pasadena Humane.

While I will always be pulled back to the East Coast by my family of origin in Georgia, not to mention my husband Pierce’s family in Connecticut, our son James who is in his second year at Yale, and our many friends in Virginia, I think I have always been a West Coast gal at heart. I look forward to sharing more stories of family and pets with you as I spread my West Coast roots.

Dia DuVernet is president and CEO of Pasadena Humane.