LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i Humane Society has a new executive director, and one who has a lifetime of working with animals all around the country — and says she wouldn’t want to do anything else.
Penny Cistaro has 38 years of animal welfare experience from working at animal shelters around the nation. She was working in Sacramento, Calif., with the SPCA and Animal Care Services when she was selected from more than 50 applicants to lead KHS.
“I started working in animal shelters when I was 19 years old, and have stayed there doing this for the next 38 years,” Cistaro said.
With just a few days on the job — her first day was Tuesday— Cistaro said she is spending a lot of time getting to know the 42 staff members and hundreds of volunteers. She said the facility and land provided by Grove Farm is beautiful and well-maintained for the KHS mission of contracted animal control services and other responsibilities for the welfare of animals.
“The staff has been wonderful, welcoming and open,” she said. “This is just day two on the job, and I am taking a step back to evaluate programs and engage with staff and community on what we need to do. We are planing town hall meetings for the public to come talk about what they think is important.”
Cistaro started her career at the Anti-Cruelty Society in her native Chicago. She went to work for the Peninsula Humane Society in Florida, the Massachusetts SPCA and the Marine Humane Society in Novato, Calif., and served as executive director for the Whatcom Humane Society in Bellingham, Wash.
This is not her first time to Hawai‘i, but this the first time Cistaro has lived and worked here. The idea of living on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean appealed to her, and she came with a dog, Morgan, and two cats, Moonshine and Griffin.
“I have always been on the water and idea being able to come to small community and have an impact on animal welfare — and live in this environment — is what I always wanted,” she said.
Cistaro was introduced by KHS Board President Orianna “Orrie” Skomoroch at the society’s annual dinner on March 2. She was hired through a three-member selection committee and the vote of all 12 board members. Cistaro replaces outgoing director Shannon Blizzard, who left in October to be closer to family in Kansas, according to outgoing KHS Board President Elizabeth Frietas.
Cistaro was a finalist from around 35 applicants between September and December, who were interviewed via Skype, Freitas said. She won the board’s confidence with her experience in management, animal care, adoptions, animal control, investigations, staff and volunteer training, program development and implementation.
Other factors in Cistaro’s hiring was her background as a nationally-recognized speaker and workshop presenter on stress management and adoption programs for pets. She is also a consultant on shelter evaluation programs and with meeting the physical and emotional needs of the animals in their care.
“Penny is an amazing and incredible woman who is very humble about her skills and background,” Frietas said. “She has a great deal of confidence, skills and knowledge but she is very humble with them.”
These qualities make Cistaro a good fit for KHS, Frietas added.
“My thought was, ‘she gets it,’” Frietas added. “She is so comfortable in her own skin and with her own abilities and gifts, that she doesn’t have to prove anything, which is wonderful.”