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Meet Emily Wood: Broward County's New Director Of Animal Care And Adoption

Emily Wood, the new person in charge of animal welfare services in Broward County, will start on Jan. 25, 2021.
Courtesy Emily Wood
Emily Wood, the new person in charge of animal welfare services in Broward County, will start on Jan. 25, 2021.

After conducting a national search, Broward County has named an experienced California animal welfare enthusiast to head its animal care and adoption division.

Broward has named a new person in charge of the county's animal shelter.

Emily Wood is the incoming director of Broward's Animal Care and Adoption Division.

Wood currently directs animal services in Yolo County, Calif., and is the former director of placement and customer care with the Pasadena Humane Society and SPCA.

She will drive cross country, from her home in California, to South Florida with her two pet rabbits: Arlo who is 16, and Mary Lou, a hospice adoption — but she is doing well, Wood says.

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Wood's set to begin the job at the end of next month. And she told WLRN she is excited to make the journey to Broward.

"I'm really excited to explore and taste all the food, and enjoy the beach and the warm weather — and maybe meet a manatee. I don't know if that's possible, but, yes, that's that's what I'm looking forward to," she said, in addition to meeting people and hearing stories about their pets here. "So I'll be driving cross-country with my bunnies and looking forward to starting 2021 off right."

The last director for the Broward division, Lauralei Combs, resigned in March after complaints and criticism from a county commissioner and animal activists.

To assist Wood in her new role, the county is in the process of searching for a new assistant director to provide direct oversight of shelter operations — and who will be responsible and accountable for "ensuring the shelter is operated in a clean, safe and sanitary manner at all times."

WLRN spoke with Wood Wednesday. The following conversation is edited for clarity and length.

WLRN: Why did you want this job?

WOOD: I was really looking for an opportunity to lead an organization. I was coming most recently from Pasadena Humane Society, which is lovely. But I had really trained up the people who reported to me, the managers and directors who reported me, and they were ready for more. And I was ready to get out of the way and let them do more.

And I also wanted to do more. Looking into Broward County, there was a lot of talk about what the shelter needed, and not all of it resonated with me as what was right for the sheltering world today, and especially in a time of COVID. We've made so many innovations and it seems like just the right time to get in and get my hands dirty and help a county that wants it — is hungry for it.

Those innovations that we've always said, "well, our four walls are really the safest place," we've had to change those because we've had to reduce staffing. We can't have the public coming in and out in the way that they used to and really have relied on our communities and bigger and broader ways — and really have attempted to let go of some of that false feeling of control that we can fix everything by bringing it into the shelter.

No, we can support our community better by reaching outside those four walls.

What are some of your main goals coming to Broward? The county mentioned you're interested in more collaborations.

Oftentimes we're worried about evictions coming up — or in domestic violence situations, people, it's been studied that people will stay too long and in a bad situation because they don't want to leave their dog. We will see people accessing pet food banks long before they can't pay their rent. So we want to get them into the system and have a plan for them and support them when and if a crisis hits.

We really need to let all of those support services know what we can offer as well for assistance, and that we're there because they're very focused on the human, but humans are often attached to animals — more and more every day.

I rent with rabbits. Some people think, well, they'll just be in a cage, and some people think they will ruin my house. And so that's a little bit about me having to have that conversation.

I don't know if we're going to have cycles of work from home and going back to work or, again, the eviction crisis. We're preparing for a variety of worlds. And I don't know that we've always been aware of that in animal welfare.

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, leads the WLRN Newsroom as Director of Daily News & Original Live Programming. Previously she reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News.
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