An article in the March issue of More Magazine motivated 2 women, who never met before, to take action. I was one of those women and Christine Hennessey from Pittsburgh was the other.
The article profiled the founder of Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary who rescues abused tigers, cougars, lions and many other animals. After reading the story, Christine and I both sent off emails to the sanctuary hoping to learn even more. Our emails led to fascinating phone conversations with the founder, but that's where my similarity to Christine ends and her Never B4 adventure begins.
One week after the call, Christine jumped on a plane to Mississippi to visit her first wild cat sanctuary and meet Kay McElroy, the founder of Cedarhill. I had the opportunity to interview Christine recently and learned how this Never B4 visit fueled her passion to incorporate the well being of animals into her growing business.
CB: What was your biggest expectation about this Never B4 visit to the sanctuary and how did your visit live up to that expectation?
Christine: My biggest expectation was of the facilities themselves. I imagined the staff and physical layout and animal “homes” would be top-notch. Both exceeded my expectations.
CB: Did you have hesitations or doubts about reaching out to Kay
or visiting a sanctuary like Cedarhill for the first time?
Christine: Around the time I read the More Magazine piece about Kay & Cedarhill, I had also decided to begin pursing work that appealed to things I am passionate about. The article touched a few of my passions – the proper care of animals, opportunities for women as independent business/non-profit owners and the satisfaction that can come from following your interests in life. What followed was an email introduction I sent to Kay offering her pro bono PR assistance. I thought there might be a 20-30% chance she’d reply. I was pleasantly surprised when she did. Shortly after receiving her reply, we spoke by phone. About 20 minutes into the call, I committed to traveling to Mississippi the next week to meet her and see the sanctuary. It was only after the call and making travel reservations that I paused about my decision. I recognized that it was a bit impulsive after only a brief introduction. However, my strong intuition was telling me this was a good thing. Over the years, I’ve learned to trust my intuition because it rarely fails me.
Christine: It was a behind-the-scenes tour with a big dose of Southern hospitality, charm and rich conversation.
of the policies Cedarhill Sanctuary has in place is to only allow
donors and invited guests to tour the sanctuary and visit the animals.
Did you get the impression that this policy impacts the sanctuary or
the animals in any way?
Christine: The Cedarhill policy reflects Kay McElroy’s desire to not put the animals on display. At its core, Cedarhill’s mission is to provide a place where abused and abandoned domestic and exotic animals come to live out their lives in care, comfort and peace. I believe the policy minimizes disruption for the animals—many of whom have come from extreme, abusive situations and have a limited trust of humans. Kay and her staff have worked to gain the animals’ trust through loving, expert care and an almost sacred presence…a sacred co-existence with one another. The policy underscores the respect Kay and the Cedarhill staff have for the animals.
CB: I imagine it's common for visitors to an animal rescue sanctuary to leave with the urge to do something to help. Can you tell me a bit about what you're doing to help the Sanctuary and how you went about proposing your unique "donation"?
Christine: I launched my own business, Hennessey Consulting, in October 2008. It is my first entrepreneurial effort after spending nearly 20 years in corporate America. In life and business, I take inspiration from many places. With the freedom of being my own boss and having full control of my schedule and time, I am jumping at the chance to follow my passions and hope it leads me to new things in life and business. The More Magazine article did a great job at illuminating Kay’s strong life/career story. After meeting her, I realized there is even more to her story that is very rich, deep, varied and inspirational. She runs Cedarhill as efficiently and successfully as any CEO would run a successful business. Everything she does for the sanctuary, her staff, her donors and her animals is well-planned and executed with the best care money can buy. In my heart and in my experienced PR mind, I am certain I can help attract more media attention to Cedarhill and help achieve its goal of creating an endowment for a sustaining future.
Now that you're home and are hundreds of miles away from Cedarhill, is there one moment or mental image that stays with you stronger than others?
Christine: Kay graciously invited me to stay in a guest cottage on the Cedarhill grounds. It’s a lovely little red cottage decorated in a safari theme. The interior walls and floors are wooden—giving the rooms a rustic feel like a cabin in the woods. When it came time for Kay and I to discuss PR, we spent a few hours each day at the desk in the cottage.
Behind where I sat was a glass-paneled door leading to a porch that overlooked one of the tiger’s pen and two other pens for four of Cedarhill’s pooches. There with mid-day sun shining through the door, Kay told me about her life. A life that took her from Oklahoma, to Carmel, Calif., to inner city Los Angeles, back to Oklahoma and then Mississippi and through college, teaching, painting, a psychology PhD program, a consulting career and now a sanctuary founder and director. Her openness not only led to additional ideas for the PR plan but it helped me fully understand her passion and dedication. She has lived a very full life. I’m honored that she shared her story with me. I’ve earned her trust and she has earned mine—an imperative part of any successful venture.
Christine Hennessey is a spirited, 41-year-old Chicago ex-pat now living in western Pennsylvania. In the summer of 2007, she adopted an eight-week old yellow Labrador retriever whom she named Citizen Sugar Cane. Sugar, as he is most commonly known, has opened her heart to the joy and magic of animals. Through her love and understanding of this mischievous canine, she is becoming an advocate for the proper care of animals. Click here for more photos of her visit to Cedarhill, all of which were graciously provided by Christine. To contact Christine, email her at email@example.com.
Would you follow your instincts like Christine did and sponteneously pursue something that feels right? Post a comment to share your thoughts.