PUHI — Merenza Richards is all about taking care of her hanai ohana at Kauai Humane Society — both the human and animal members.
The Washington state native has been working as KHS’s new foster coordinator for six months, and the foster program has blossomed in that time.
“We put out a call for fosters pretty much right when I got to the position, and I’ve been going, going nonstop,” Richards said. “It can be stressful and hard, but I do it for the animals and the love I have for the people I work with.”
The daughter of a hound hunter, Richards worked in her father’s small butcher shop wrapping cuts of local meat and farm-raised beef.
That’s where she learned community-mindedness and developed a love for customer service, as well as a taste for locally sourced foods.
“I’m a team player, all in all, and I just want to get in where I’m most needed and help out where I can,” Richards said. “I do miss the butcher shop. It’s farm-raised beef and it doesn’t get any better than that.”
KHS’s field trip program was what drew Richards through the doors, first as a vacationer missing her animals, and then as a transplant homesick for her furry family back on the Mainland.
“I was visiting (KHS) and Emily, who is another animal care gal that was working, she said they were hiring,” Richards said. “I applied right away.”
It was a perfect fit for Richards, because she is a people person who says animals are therapy.
“I get to talk to people, and I get to be in there and get to know the dogs and cats one-on-one to see who will be best suited for each other,” she said.
She’s fitting in well, said Scott Pisani, executive director at KHS. Richards provides a “great experience for the local families who volunteer to foster animals.”
“She is a great example of how we can share the joy of pets in people’s lives in a compassionate way,” Pisani said.
While Richards is new to the animal welfare world, she isn’t a stranger to working with cats, dogs and the other pets that cruise through KHS.
“We always had hounds and cats. And I used to collect strays and bring them home (when I was a kid), and sometimes the neighbors’ dogs,” Richards said.
Now, the Kekaha resident lives with Edgar the husky, Dexter the 6-month-old whippet/hound mix and a cat named PJ. And she’s considering getting another cat from KHS.
Richards’ priority has been organizing and growing the foster program — and she intends to continue.
“Foster (families), they’re really a backbone of this place, because normally we wouldn’t be able to give these animals the extra time because we’re full here,” Richards said.
In her six months at KHS, Richards has seen the evidence of the foster program’s success in the personalities of the cats and dogs that go home with community members.
“I’m seeing a turnaround in cats and with dogs, with giving them more time and allowing them to decompress,” she said. “These animals have been through God only knows what and it really helps get them the skills they need.”
Richards also wants to bolster her veterinary technician skills so she can lend a hand when staff members get overwhelmed with animals.
“Sometimes we’ve got a vet tech in surgery and if I’ve got a foster that comes in, I’ll have to give meds and give them updates and what they’re needing,” she said. “It’s going to help them in the long run.”