Some people just stand out. They shine, they are examples, they are the standard we hold ourselves to, they are people we aspire to be more like. The qualities we like in these people are sometimes ones we wish we had ourselves, and sometimes ones we are just happy to be around. Jack Griffin is one of those people. For the past year and a half, Jack has served as my boss at Women’s Humane Society, and because of his leadership, not only have I grown, but the organization has made leaps and bounds and dogs throughout the Philadelphia area are better for it.

Jack brought home the first dog to be “his” at age 18, a male Akita, a dog he talks about as having altered the course of his life. Though he was young, Jack recognized that training this dog through the use of coercion or force was likely to backfire on him, he also had the wisdom at that young age to understand that just because he had lived with dogs his whole life, this in no way made him an expert about their behavior. Akitas are large dogs, who can be somewhat aloof, wary of strangers and that old chestnut- “dominant” often comes flying out of people’s mouths when they talk about them. Thanks to Caesar, that first Akita of his, Jack not only began to change the way he saw his own dog, but every one he’s encountered since.

In his role as the Director of Shelter Services at WHS, Jack has single-handedly changed the way an entire department not only does their jobs, but the way they see their jobs. The latter is important because helping people understand the welfare implications of their actions has truly changed the direction of the shelter and positively impacts the lives of the animals housed within its walls. When you talk to Jack about anything related to dog behavior or animal welfare, you quickly recognize that he knows his stuff. He makes enrichment for shelter animals as much a priority as disease control, and implements programs, policies and initiatives based not only on the goal of making sure more animals are successfully released, but that they experience as high a quality of life as we can provide while they are sheltered.

Not only is Jack extremely knowledgeable, he’s insightful, wise and kind. When faced with an upset employee (me), his go-to is not to to shut it down, but to hear it out and to try to find the most amenable solution. And because he’s such a keen thinker, he’s able to recognize where the upset may be rooted and when his employees are upset, that it’s more likely to do with how things might impact the animals in our care than complaints made for the sake of complaining. And that, in large part, is because he’s fostered cooperative relationships. In any conversation with him, you recognize that the actions and decisions he makes are not done arbitrarily and have at their core, values that are directly related not only to making the best decisions for the animals, but to ensure employees understand the why and how of those decisions.

In addition to his work at WHS, Jack is basically the Patron Saint of Akitas. He and his wife, Julianne, regularly transport Akitas from shelters to Big East Akita Rescue in Tom’s River, N.J. so that they get their second chance. They’ve also adopted and fostered numerous senior Akitas and are fierce advocates for the breed.

Sometimes, Little Bits of Good really add up. In the case of Jack Griffin, not only has he created an environment where the welfare of our animals comes first and foremost and made an incredible impact on the way animal sheltering is done at WHS. Because of who he is as a professional, dogs and cats have a dramatically improved quality of life while they are sheltered. Because of who he is as a person, he gets buy-in from his employees. This winning combination has had the best effect a shelter could ask for: happier and healthier animals, a staff who believes in the work they are doing, and a community that more fully embraces the shelter’s mission.

For me, that’s more than a Little Bit. It’s a significant shift in the way sheltering is done. And thousands of dogs have Jack Griffin and an Akita named Cesar to thank for it.

 

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