A familiar face has been chosen as the new director of the Corinne T. Smith Animal Center. During last week’s meeting, the board of directors voted Leona Cleveland to replace Butch Lawson, who briefly held the position.

Prior to Cleveland’s hiring, day-to-day shelter operations were being conducted by Freda Day, a former director who ran the shelter for several years.

Cleveland, who had been donating time to the shelter, complimented Day for her dedication. “She has been a huge mentor and help to me, organizing and coordinating the immense amount of paperwork left behind,” Cleveland said. “Fortunately, most of the policies and procedures she wrote years ago, still apply today, allowing us continuum.”

A veterinary technician for 25 years, including 18 at the Small Animal Medical Center in Brownwood, Cleveland has been involved with the shelter for roughly 15 years, including stints as volunteer, board member and board vice-president. Along with Cary Perrin, the two women created Canines, Cats and Cabernet and Spay-ghetti, two of the shelter’s signature fundraising events.

With previous issues faced by animal center, Cleveland said she wasn’t sure even six months ago if she would take a more active role. “Life has a way of putting us where we need to be,” Cleveland said. “When I was asked to attend a board meeting in November of last year, I had reservations.

“I felt that I really did not want to be involved in the drama. But after seeing what was going on, I just knew that I needed to be there in some capacity. I feel I have a good reputation within the community and am confident I can get the support back for the shelter. I’m not afraid to jump in and get things done.”

Cleveland has a deep love not just for the shelter, but the animal community as a whole. “My passion has always been for the welfare of animals,” Cleveland said. “We need to be the voice for those that are voiceless. No dog or cat should be hungry, homeless, unloved or treated unkindly.”

Operating the animal center “as it was designed” is a top responsibility, Cleveland said. “We have to maintain the legacy of a compassionate shelter for the animals, but we cannot become an inhumanely overcrowded abyss,” she said.

After a rough several months that included changes in personnel and board members, Cleveland said she is happy with the transformation taking place at the shelter.

“The changes are amazing,” Cleveland said. “Thanks largely in part to our rescue coordinator, Tinya Thomas, we have transported more than 200 animals to rescue organizations across the country. We have gone from facing the fate of 144- plus dogs and 40-plus cats to where we are now. It is incredible to me that this was accomplished with no euthanasia. I am so proud of our ‘#teamshelter.’”

Cleveland said she is also looking forward to the “successful transition” of the shelter into a “respected facility” and a part of the NOKILL2025 sheltering movement taking place across the nation.

Short term goals are also a priority. “I want to reinstate the respect of the community so we can regain much needed donations and sponsorship,” Cleveland said. “We have some wonderful sponsors who have stood behind us, such as Ethos/Canidae that feed our dogs such a wonderful diet, PetSense who donates food and offers an adoption outlet for our cats and so many more.”

Showcasing the facility and animals to the public is another goal. “We have the most lovable, entertaining dogs that will steal everyone’s heart,” Cleveland said. Another upgrade to the facility will include local artist Amanda Coers who will be “perfecting” the cat adoption room.

Board member Stephen Finch said he is also happy with the changes at the shelter. “When you walk in the building, you are not knocked over from the stench of animal waste,” Finch said. “The dogs are content and not barking incessantly. The kennels are clean and do not have waste smeared everywhere.

“The dogs are being taken out of their kennels for exercise. The staff is working well together under their new leadership. We have an awesome rescue coordinator who is networking dogs.”

Finch said the shelter has experienced a 180-degree turn. “We absolutely still have room for improvement, but the distance we have come in three months is surprising. The board is more involved than I have ever seen and we are now ready to start fundraising again.”

One of the shelter’s newest board members, Travis Curry, is also optimistic. “I feel like the shelter is in much better shape than it was,” Curry said. “Leona is doing an amazing job and the board is way more hands-on and working as a team. We are starting committees, working on fundraising ideas and getting the facility cleaned up inside and out. I am really excited to see what the future holds for the shelter.”