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Stephanie Lanham Turns Passion For Animals Into a Career

By Inside Columbia
Encounters031623_225653-min

Photo by L.G. Patterson 

While her love for animals has always been there, Stephanie Lanham did not always plan to work at an animal shelter. Now the operations manager at the Central Missouri Humane Society, Lanham stumbled upon her dream job just after graduating from the University ofMissouri in 2008. “I was looking for a part-time job and I saw an opening at CMHS,” she says. “It unexpectedly turned a passion into my career.

Throughout the years, Lanham’s favorite part of the job has been seeing all kinds of animals transform and blossom. “It is amazing to watch them go from start to finish and get into a place where they are well loved and taken care of,” she says.

When Lanham began her career, there was a 50% placement rate atCMHS, meaning that “only half of the animals that came in got out of here alive. But we have made a lot of changes over the last 14 years,” she says.

In 2014, CMHS shifted its focus to primarily Boone County, only taking in animals from other areas if space allowed. Before then, Lanham says the organization was taking in animals from all over the state and beyond. Then, in 2016, the behavior modification program (now known as the Pawsitive Support Program) was created, which helped prevent some animals with behavior issues from being euthanized.

During the pandemic, CMHS focused on getting animals into foster homes as people weren’t allowed to go into the shelter itself. “For the first time in our organization’s history, all adoptable dogs and cats were in foster, and our kennels were empty,” Lanham says. And even now, CMHS has kept the kennels closed for walkthroughs as she says the staff noticed a stark decrease in stress levels for the animals without the added people. “Instead, we focus more on one-on-one time with potential adopters and a matchmaker(staff member) so we can create better matches,” Lanham says.

And while the organization’s community services were once limited to low-cost spay/neuter and vaccine clinics, Lanham says that changed in2021, when it began offering expanded emergency veterinary care on a limited basis, while partnering with other local agencies to help care for the pets of unhoused people.

Thanks to those changes, the humane society now has a 97% placement rate. In 2022 alone, CMHS society took in nearly 2,500 animals, with more than 2,100 of those pets getting adopted and nearly 180 lost pets being reunited with their owners. “It’s been really cool to seethe organization make a huge turn around,” Lanham says.

While the placement rate has improved and programs have grown, CMHS is in need of a new facility as the current one is outdated and falling apart, especially as it celebrates its 80th anniversary. Lanham says the plan is to upgrade soon, as they are currently in the process of searching for a new building.

While it can seem like the job must be filled with furry snuggles and lots of love, Lanham knows that some days, you could walk in and see something devastating, like the day someone brought in a crate containing five starving puppies. “This is a very mentally draining job on some days, and you need to find a good work/life balance,” Lanham says. “We try to focus on the positive here, but there are days when it is super sad.”

Though there are many lows that can come with the job, Lanham also gets to experience many highs, the best of which is seeing animals find their forever home.“It is a hard job sometimes but is very rewarding at the end of the day,” she says.

Whether someone is looking to adop tfor the first time or bring another furry friend into their home, Lanham says it’s important to do research, as “it can take awhile for animals in a shelter to transition into a home. A little bit of patience goes along way with sheltered dogs and cats.”

No matter what type of companion you’re seeking, Lanham says CMHS will do its best to find the perfect pet for you.“Even if we don’t have something right now for you, we might have something in the future,” she says. “You never know what will walk through these doors.” Lanham herself recently lost her cat to cancer and says her time to find a new forever pet is right around the corner.“Now that I am pet-free, I am definitely thinking when a good time would be to adopt a new one,” she says.

To learn more about adopting a pe tat CMHS, fostering a furry friend or volunteering, visit cmhspets.org.

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