Animal Friends President and CEO David Swisher heralds the organization’s cause
Photography by Cayla Zahoran

“We kind of rescued Lucky, a 2-year old chocolate lab, off death row, if you will. When she came to Animal Friends, one of the kennel people came and said, ‘Dave you got to see this dog. She is beautiful.’ It was just a perfect match. She’s been a great addition to the family.”

For Animal Friends President and CEO David Swisher, a love of animals took him from being an accountant to being named the organization’s first CFO 16 years ago. “I was the CFO for about a year and a half, and then the previous director had left and the board asked me to just step in on an interim basis. They were going to do a national search — but they haven’t said anything since,” he says with a joking smile.

In 16 years time, Swisher has seen the animal shelter go from a small space in the Strip District to a beautiful campus at the new Caryl Gates Gluck Resource Center. Established five years ago, the headquarters are complete with walking trails and expanded amenities. “When we found this property and decided to build this new facility, it changed the whole dynamic of the organization. We wanted to change the way an animal shelter looked, the way it smelled, the way it served the community. We’ve been able to welcome so many more people to the facility and help so many more animals,” Swisher says.

At any given time, Animal Friends houses between 250 dogs, cats, and rabbits. An extensive foster program is also in place, where volunteers take animals into their homes until they are ready for adoption — typically, there are 100-125 additional pets in foster care. Swisher says 2,400 animals are adopted per year.

Animal Friends has also formed a partnership with Ainsworth Pet Nutrition. The company donates all animal food for the shelter, which, interestingly, has allowed Animal Friends to give back to the community through their Chow Wagon program. “Any [pet food] donations we receive from the general public, we turn around and give to local food banks, so that they can give the food to their clients to make sure their pets are being properly fed and given the proper nutrition,” Swisher says. “It’s a really nice program, especially in this difficult economy.”

Animal Friends has also implemented and expanded human programming in recent years. “We have a humane education program that reaches out into the schools and educates students about compassion and empathy and how to care for animals. Our hope is by reaching out to them through animal welfare, we can also make them more appropriate towards other human beings,” he explains.

While Animal Friends is known for their adoption programs, they know that adoption will never solve the problem of pet overpopulation. Swisher explains, “Above all else, our primary focus is to end unwarranted euthanasia in our region through a community-wide spay/neuter initiative. By making low-cost surgeries available to all pet owners, feral cat caregivers and smaller shelters, we are well on our way to spaying and neutering 24,000 pets over three years.”

With an organization that gives back so much, it was a no-brainer to us here at WHIRL to agree with cover girl Beth Stern’s suggestion that our 10th Anniversary Party, which takes place this month, benefit the organization.    “We are so excited about it because Beth is certainly a true animal lover. Her reputation in animal welfare speaks for itself — she is always out there trying to educate the community about the importance of animals in our lives so we were really excited that she will bring a national presence to Animal Friends,” Swisher says. “We hope to garner from it a few adoptions. We would love to get a few volunteers out of it, and obviously we would just like to raise awareness about the important work that Animal Friends is doing in the community.”

Animal Friends, 526 Camp Horne Road, North Hills. 412.847.7000. thinkingoutsidethecage.org.

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