By Patrick McArdle
PITTSFORD — The new executive director of the Rutland County Humane Society has swapped a life in multiple countries treating chimpanzees, elephants and tiger cubs for cats, dogs and the occasional guinea pig.
Dr. Kevin Rushing, 64, started on Oct. 1 as the successor to Gretchen Goodman, who retired this year after 13 years as RCHS executive director.
In some ways, Rushing’s current position is the culmination of goals that started when he was a teenager. At 15, in his home state of Illinois, Rushing worked for the Belleville Area Humane Society.
“I knew I always wanted to be a veterinarian, and it was a good launching point for me,” he said.
Before retiring from the federal government in 2011, Rushing was a foreign service officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. For more than 30 years, Rushing lived and worked in a series of countries, many of them developing regions, including Nepal, Iraq, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Cambodia, Bosnia, Russia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
There were several turning points, relative to his position with RCHS, that happened during Rushing’s time with USAID. He earned his degree as a veterinarian and met his future wife, Debbie Singiser, who was from Mendon.
Singiser, who is the director of international student services for Castleton University, was working for a charitable organization when she met Rushing in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The couple decided to settle in the Rutland area and raise a family. Rushing said because he enjoys public service, he took a position as a deputy sheriff in Rutland County.
“This job (at RCHS) came open, and I told my wife, ‘I’m going to go for it,’” he said.
Now that he’s leading the RCHS, Rushing described its mission as, “to try to help provide a humane environment for animals within Rutland County.”
The shelter in Pittsford provides pet adoption services and also accepts animals, many of them brought to the shelter by animal control officers from area towns.
Rushing said they don’t trap or collect animals, but do accept pets in what he said was a no-kill shelter where staff will do all they can to find a home for an animal, even sending it to another shelter in hopes of expanding the range of people that will look at a particular animal.
“We just don’t put an animal down, just because. We just don’t do that,” he said.
The shelter is also something of a gathering place for animal lovers, with events like last weekend’s Blessing of the Animals taking place at the site. That connection makes some Rutland County residents see the RCHS as the right recipient for their generosity.
“If you want to start talking about the heart and soul of animal rights and animal humane treatment, this is the place,” he said. “People really love their animals, and they love donating.”
Rushing pointed out that many area obituaries end with a request for donations to the RCHS in lieu of flowers. The shelter also receives gifts from people’s estates after they die.
About 70 percent of the animals in the shelter at any given time are cats, with the rest dogs, although there can be the occasional outlier such as guinea pigs, chinchillas, birds or rabbits at the shelter, which can house 70 to 75 animals.
Rushing’s previous experiences included common pets in exotic places or exotic animals. In his office, he has photos of himself with a chimp and a young elephant. While he was part of USAID, Rushing said, he offered his services, pro bono, to embassy staff and others.
Rushing said that was how he got to know Singiser.
But it’s likely his skills as a veterinarian will not be as relevant to his new position as his training in forging connections and developing projects. Rushing said one of his goals as the executive director is to develop a new site for the shelter. The current site sits on wetlands, a fact that will prevent the RCHS from expanding.
He will also try to develop relationships with donors while being mindful that local businesses are frequently asked for donations of money or products.
Rushing said the shelter would benefit as well from more volunteers, for those who want to contribute in another way.
One of the challenges will be leaving the shelter empty-handed on a daily basis. He described a pair of black cocker spaniels that had recently been turned in because the owner could no longer care for them.
“I even told my wife and my kids about them the other night. The agreement I had when I took this job was, Dad’s not bringing any more animals home. So when I mentioned about the two cockers, the family sitting around the table said, ‘Dad, remember what you agreed to,’ because they could see where I was going with this. I said, ‘No, I’m not bringing the cockers home,’” he said.
At home, Rushing has three cats and a German shepherd.