Good news for the Humane Society of Central Arizona.
Funny how it goes: Sometimes when you follow a dream, you end up back where you started — but different.
So newly-minted Humane Society Director Sarah Hock grew up in Payson, with a menagerie of dogs, cats and even pet ferrets — loving animals but not knowing what she might be when she grew up.
The daughter of Joe and Jane Hock, owners of CMS Painting and Deck Sanding and Hock Crockery in Strawberry, it never really occurred to Sarah that she might one day make a living doing what she loved best.
So she trundled off to Arizona State University in 2000, to earn a degree in Humanities — volunteering when she could at animal shelters to feed her soul.
Somewhere in there, it dawned on her that you can do what you love — even if sometimes you have to enter by the back door.
“You grow up thinking the only way you can work with animals is to be a vet or work at a zoo — but it’s like a lot of careers in the nonprofit field — at first you don’t realize you can get paid for that,” said Hock, 28.
After volunteering her time at animal shelters in the Valley where she attended school, she resolved to do the thing she loved and worry about the money later.
So she went on to get her master’s in nonprofit studies, then went to work for the Animal Welfare League and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She gravitated into the outreach and education fields, educating pet owners and school children about how to care for their pets.
Now, after five years in the field, she has returned to Payson to take over the humane society here at a crucial moment in the organization’s evolution.
An ambitious, years-long fund-raising effort to build an urgently needed new shelter smashed into the wall of the recession, prompting the humane society board recently to change plans and build the hoped-for shelter in installments.
So now the group is revising its plans and preparing to start construction in the spring on a new shelter with indoor kennels to replace the ramshackle, A-frame house first built in 1972. Backers hope to build a safe, secure, quiet shelter for about $400,000 on a piece of land alongside the existing shelter just off Main Street.
“I’ve been on the job all of eight days, so we’re still assessing the situation and I’m getting my feet wet and seeing what we need to work on. Hopefully, everything will go smoothly and we’ll start building next year.”
That means getting through another winter, with many outdoor kennels and ongoing challenges keeping the existing facilities pasted together and operational.
“Right now the conditions are looking pretty good,” said Hock. Hopefully we’ll get through the winter without any significant problems,” unlike last winter when a storm damaged the roof.
She noted that the shelter currently has about 25 dogs and 30 cats, with room to accommodate more.
Fortunately, the shelter continues to enlist community support and a solid core of volunteers.
Moreover, the shelter managed to hang onto its $7,500-monthly contract with Payson to handle stray animals picked up in town. The town at one point had proposed cutting the contract by more than half, until town officials decided state law requires them to cover the cost of handling all the stray animals in town, even if they weren’t picked up by the town’s animal control officer.
Meanwhile, Hock said she’s happy to be home — and doing what she loves.
She’s not even worried about Payson’s reputation as a boring place for an unmarried 20-something.
“I’m not worried about that at all,” she said. “I like having some time to myself. I like hiking. I like nature. I like the outdoors. I work on my photography and like to cook and I’m an avid reader — and every day I get to work with animals.
“I think pets make you a better person. They’re a wonderful stress relief. You always have someone to come home to that loves you and that will listen to you no matter what you say. Tell them about your bad day and all they want to do is crawl up in your lap and spend time with you.”