The Herald Bulletin

January 1, 2014

Animal advocate Stringer 2013 Person of Year

Animal shelter director promoted tougher animal protection ordinance

By Kelly Dickey The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON — Sitting in a crammed, narrow office she shares with other employees and a dog at 613 Dewey St., Maleah Stringer recalls how she ended up in charge of Anderson’s animal shelter.

It’s far from the animal sanctuary Stringer imagined as a little girl. Back then, she didn't realize the importance of money in helping animals.

“It was never in my vision to be the shelter director of Anderson,” she said. “That was not something I thought, ‘Oh gosh, that’s the job I want.’”

Stringer said being the executive director of the Animal Protection League is one of the hardest jobs she’s had. Since taking over management of the Anderson Animal Shelter in 2009, she has worked closely with animal advocates, abusers and donors, all while constantly searching for money to aid the cause.

Because of her hard work and advocacy for animals, as well as the key role she played in initiating a tougher local animal protection ordinance, Stringer has been selected as The Herald Bulletin's Community Person of the Year for 2013.

The award, along with a check for $1,000 to a charity of the award-winner's choice, is given by The Herald Bulletin’s editorial board, which considers nominations from readers. Stringer chose the Animal Protection League to receive the $1,000 donation.

Her love of animals was nurtured during her childhood, much of which was spent in Anderson. As a child, she had a cat, a dog and rabbits. She witnessed animal abuse and neglect and vowed to do something about it.

Stringer graduated from Madison Heights High School and Indiana University, with a degree in English/liberal arts. In 2003, she founded the Animal Protection League, and in 2006 she directed the Indiana chapter of the 2nd Chance at Life greyhound program in five prisons.

When the City of Anderson had management and operations problems at its animal shelter it turned to her in 2009 to manage the facility. Two years later, the Animal Protection League, with Stringer as director, assumed operation of the shelter.

Under her guidance, the APL has initiated several programs, including foster pets, pet adoption at the Correctional Industrial facility at the state penitentiary in Pendleton, the establishment of outside adoption sites and fund-raising events.

Crystal Armstrong is one of two readers who nominated Stringer for The Herald Bulletin's Person of the Year honor.

“Beyond the love she shows to the animals, she also educates people about animals and how to care for them, and the importance of human relations to and with animals,” Armstrong wrote in her nomination email. “Without this key element, many people are unaware of the issues that the community faces.”

Greg Graham, who was deputy mayor when Stringer was hired to run the Anderson shelter, noted that she is hesitant to take credit for improvements at the local animal shelter.

“With Maleah, it’s all about the issues; it’s all about the animals,” he said. “As long as she’s succeeding to bring compassionate care to the animals, that’s all she cares about.”

Stringer, who writes a weekly column about animal care for The Herald Bulletin, gives credit to volunteers and the people of Madison County. She was especially touched by the community's commitment after authorities found 165 emaciated animals clinging to life on a farm in Summitville last spring. The case drew national attention.

“I don’t know that anybody who was there is going to forget those images,” Stringer said. “On the flip side, what was really outstanding to me is that within six hours we had 165 animals placed.”

Stringer said it was overwhelming to see the animals surviving in feces-filled structures among the rotting carcasses of 171 other animals who had perished.

“I’ve said it before, but it was easier for me to look at the dead bodies than it was for me to look at the live ones,” Stringer said.

Daniel and Carrie Ault, who are co-defendants in the case, were charged with 96 counts of improper disposal of a dead animal, a Class D felony; 15 counts of cruelty to an animal, a Class A misdemeanor; and two counts of neglect of a dependent child, a Class D felony.

It's hard for Stringer to fathom how anyone could expose animals to such miserable conditions, and more difficult yet to know that animals are living in similarly inhumane conditions elsewhere. But the experience on the Ault farm has also given her hope.

“Because we were able to do something that was that huge and seemed that impossible and that overwhelming ... that we were able to come out on top of that, it kind of took my limitations off of my possibilities.”

Stringer said she’s always amazed by the kindness of others. She’s often surprised by monetary and supply donations the shelter receives. That support helps her deal with the emotional trauma of seeing animals suffering from abuse.

“I think it’s real easy to put yourself in the negative, because that’s what you see,” she said. “But almost every day we have somebody do something nice.”

Graham said Stringer’s leadership skills and passion brought people together and helped rehabilitate the shelter’s image.

Before she took over, Stringer said, people who loved animals had a hard time coming to the Anderson shelter because of the conditions there and only went to the Humane Society of Madison County facility. Now, people go to both shelters.

Stringer joined with others in the aftermath of the Ault animal farm rescue to push for stricter local animal protection laws. As a result, county commissioners signed a new ordinance in October that more clearly defines the responsibilities of those who own or board animals. The new ordinance also established more severe punishments for those who run afoul of the law.

Now, Stringer's main focus is continued improvement of the Anderson animal shelter. Her childhood vision of a sanctuary for homeless animals still burns brightly in her mind.

“I think I’ll end up having my vision,” she said. “I’m not sure how, but I think I’ll have my sanctuary just like I wanted.”

Like Kelly Dickey on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @KellyD_THB, or call 640-4805.

About the APL shelter Specifics about the non-profit Animal Protection League Shelter, supported by and serving the City of Anderson: Founded: APL established in 2003. Took over management and operations of city shelter in 2011. Director: Maleah Stringer. Salary $42,000, no benefits. On call 24/7 Animals served in 2013: About 3,000 cats and dogs Budget: About $200,000 is budgeted for the shelter by the city. Donations: As of November, about $238,000 received this year through November. Policy: The low-kill shelter must accept all animals brought to it from within the city limits and contracted areas. Paid employees: 2 full time, 13 part time Source: Maleah Stringer