If the pups and kittens of Dayton were able to cast their vote for who they want to see chosen as Daytonian of the Week, we think this is who they would’ve picked.
Nora Vondrell, Executive Director of SICSA Pet Adoption Center in Kettering, has been commander-in-chief of the safe haven for homeless animals in Dayton for six years. Vondrell’s adult life has been dedicated to working for change, and to giving a voice to those without one.
Her heart’s capacity for compassion and her leadership has grown SICSA to the 1.4 million dollar non-profit organization it is today— truly fulfilling her passion and giving a voice to the animals who can’t speak for themselves.
What was life before SICSA?
I grew up in Clark County, between Columbus and Dayton. I graduated from Wright State with a bachelors in social work and my first job was working for Montgomery County Children Services. In my head, I thought I would always be in child welfare.
I was then recruited to Daybreak Youth Center for eight years. During that time I met my husband, moved to St. Anne’s Hill and we had our son there. St. Anne’s Hill is just a wonderful neighborhood, full of very lovely people. Very much front porch living. Now we live in Washington Township, our kids, 16 and 14 years old.
[I] got my masters in public administration at UD ... I’d been working very hard to make change on a micro level for many years and felt like I could move closer to a macro level.
Did you have pets growing up?
I did not have pets when I was younger and always wanted them. In addition to working here, my family is a foster family, and I just brought back five puppies that we have fostered over the last two weeks. So I thought, you know what, I want to count and see how many fosters we’ve had, and we’ve had over 36 fosters in our home.
You have to pick, are you a dog or cat person?
I don’t know if I could choose! Cats and dogs just tend to be so different ... they certainly bring different things to your life.
What has been the most rewarding time for you here?
We see tiny little miracles every day. I remember one of my first ‘oh my goodness’ moments was when I was an employee and I did a rescue.
They were rescued dogs from a breeder up in Shelby County. They had raided a facility and they were asking everybody around the network to help. We went to the Shelby County Fairgrounds, and you go in there and there was over 100 dogs in all kinds of conditions. Our vets said, ‘Nora, only take eight, maybe 10,’ I think the deal was. We got there and the condition of these animals were just horrific. You see those conditions of a puppy mill and you’re so angry, you’re so mad and you just want to take them all. We came back with 16 to 20. And it’s just because we knew we were gonna be able to give them a better life.
How does adopting an animal change someone’s life?
There are scientific statistics across the board that say having an animal reduces anxiety, lowers blood pressure, increases your positive mental health — we know those effects. We used to go to a cancer center because there were stats that said when patients receive their treatment, being able to pet an animal makes it a more positive experience for their body to accept the medication and the treatments.
Is it sometimes hard to not get too attached to the animals at SICSA knowing they’re going to leave?
You do get attached to them, but I also know if I took every one of them home, they would not be able to get the attention that they will get if they go home in one or two animal families.
We did this whole bucket list on Rembrandt, a hospice adoption, or an animal we know won’t be around for very long. He was adopted by the sweetest couple who had another dog with the same disease, and they crossed off their bucket list together. He lived for two years with his family before he passed away and I swear it was because this family loved him and just worked really hard to give him the best time.
What mood would you say that you’re in when you come into work in the morning?
This is a 1.4 million dollar organization. The lives of 1,700 animals and the jobs of 40 employees and all the other services we provide. So of course it’s going to be stressful. But is it a heck of a lot easier to go in and get to have a ‘kitten break’ or a ‘puppy break’? Yeah, that makes my job a heck of a lot easier.
What are some of your favorite Dayton spots?
I love my Saint Anne’s neighborhood. I think all the efforts going into the Metroparks Riverfront plan, that’s just fabulous. Of course I love Deed’s Point Metropark, they have the only dog park in Dayton, so of course that’s one of my favorites. [Old] Scratch Pizza is my new favorite downtown Dayton haunt. I just love their pizza. I could go on and on and on.
What do you love about life in Dayton?
Dayton has a spirit. I haven’t lived very many places, but Dayton seems to have a spirit that no matter what comes our way, we don’t let it hold us down. We’re small but mighty. People always say that ‘Dayton is the smallest big town that I’ve been in.’ Everywhere else it’s six degrees of separation; here it’s like two or three.
Yeah, we have some struggles ... It feels like a lot of people aren’t just whining about it, they’re doing something about it, and that is amazing.