Meet Kaitlyn Thomas: Community Pet Program Coordinator
When Kaitlyn Thomas started her new job at BARCS as Community Pet Program Coordinator on April 23, “I felt like I had come home,” she says, “The BARCS community and this new position are a perfect fit for me.”
“I am passionate about social justice,” Kaitlyn explains. Her job at BARCS allows her to combine this love of working to make communities better with her love of cats and dogs.
Kaitlyn began her work with animals seven years ago in animal welfare, and she founded a nonprofit, Finding Knox, after her beloved dog was stolen but returned to her through a huge community effort. That effort made her realize the power of community. “I met Annie Pruitt, the founder of Charm City Companions, and I began to immerse myself in the community.”
Kaitlyn lives in the Park Circle/Park Heights neighborhood and has worked with its residents, but since starting at BARCS, her focus had been on Cherry Hill, the neighborhood BARCS calls home.
“We have a unique opportunity. This animal component has been a missing piece of the puzzle for too long. We are linking human services with animal support.
“This is so much more than pets,” she continues. “Something magical happens when you connect with someone and their cat or dog. So many more doors open.”
Kaitlyn says Cherry Hill is the perfect neighborhood to connect its residents to animal services.
“There is no question Cherry Hill is an underserved community,” she says. “There is not even one supermarket, and there is very little in the way of public transportation.”
But despite lacking services, the community is strong and works to help its residents.
“Cherry Hill is a great model for neighborhood activism,” she says. The schools have a “resource Wednesday,” and Kaitlyn attends every one at the elementary school that is just across the street from BARCS.
“My job is to be a connector,” she says. “I connect people to services.” She has discovered that by connecting one person, that person lets their neighbors know, and before you know it, she is able to connect a whole neighborhood.
“I have handed out more business cards than I can count,” she says, “but I know by reaching out to as many people as I can, those folks will let their friends and neighbors know about our services.”
A case in point of just that is when Kaitlyn organized a grooming clinic. The clinic was just supposed to last a couple of hours and she had appointments for five dogs. Needless to say, word got out and many more dogs than those five were groomed, and the clinic lasted until 5 pm.
Kaitlyn has found some of her greatest partners in helping the community have been the staff of Baltimore City Animal Control, who share a building with BARCS and work closely with staff.
“The staff at Animal Control are so supportive of this work,” she says. “They are out in Baltimore communities every day, and they work with me to help people with their pets.”
Recently, this partnership led to the completion of a project Kaitlyn hopes is the first of many more. A woman’s dogs kept escaping through her broken fence, and her neighbor complained to Animal Control. Rather than Animal Control impounding the dogs, Kaitlyn and a crew of volunteers fixed the fence. The woman’s dogs are now safe, not in danger of getting loose, and everyone is happy.
Along with helping with fencing, Kaitlyn is looking forward to recruiting volunteers to work with her on community outreach. “It is work that might not suit everyone,” she says. “Along with being an animal person, you’ve got to be a people person.” She hopes to hold a meet and greet with current and potential volunteers to let them know what is involved. For those interested, she will train and work with them.
And while she is a “data nerd” and a people person, Kaitlyn says she had learned the most about doing this job from—you guessed it— dogs.
“Dogs have taught me unconditional love and how to live in the moment,” she says. “I am able to enjoy my time with every person I meet.”
If you are interested in learning more about the program or volunteering, you can reach Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.