Humane society’s new director up for challenge

Animal lover will tackle fund-raising, running shelter

Gary Willoughby, an Ypsilanti, Mich., native, holds an adoptable dog at his former job in South Carolina.
Gary Willoughby, an Ypsilanti, Mich., native, holds an adoptable dog at his former job in South Carolina.

Gary Willoughby is an animal lover who walks the talk.

The new executive director of the Toledo Area Humane Society has spent the last 20 years as a volunteer or board member for various South Carolina and Florida-based animal welfare organizations including the Animal Refuge Center, Friends of Strays, Saint Bernard Rescue, and Great Dane Rescue of Florida.

“I grew up with animals and always loved dogs, cats, just about any animals,” he said Wednesday during his first interview with The Blade.

His step-grandfather had horses in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he spent summers as a child.

“I rode his Morgan horses every summer,” he said. “My real grandfather was a farmer, and he always had cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits, and a dog or two on the farm.”

The Ypsilanti, Mich., native has family in the Upper Peninsula, as well as downstate Michigan, and is looking forward to being closer when he moves to Maumee. His first day at the local humane society is March 20.

Prior to moving to Aiken, S.C., in 2007 to take the helm at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Aiken, he created and ran the largest home-delivered meals for pets program in the state of Florida. He also created an online college course on pet therapy for Florida Gulf Coast University.

Mr. Willoughby, 43, and his wife, Meghan are both vegans, which means they don’t eat animal products. They have no children, unless you count the four-legged variety, he said.

Mr. Willoughby’s next two weeks will be spent figuring out where in the Toledo area to live and packing up his menagerie. He and his wife “are down to” three dogs and two cats after losing both a dog and a cat to old age recently.

The two feline residents at his home are Roger, a black and white senior who will be 13 years old in May, and Gracie, a one-eyed brown and black tabby that he rescued from a hoarding situation after she had been attacked by another cat.

Althoughly previously the owner of a Great Dane and a St. Bernard, the little dogs are currently ruling the roost: an 11-year-old Scottish Terrier named Conner and two Chihuahua mixes.

Sandy, weighing in at 17 pounds “probably has some Basenji mixed in, along with who knows what else,” he said. She was adopted from the SPCA in Aiken in 2008. The other Chihuahua, Oliver, is mixed with Yorkshire Terrier, and also was adopted from the shelter, in 2010.

“I love giant dogs and will probably have another one at some point, although working at the shelter, there have been plenty of Heinz 57s I have fallen in love with,” he said.

While running the shelter in Aiken, Mr. Willoughby headed a capital campaign that resulted in the construction of a new building in September, 2012.

He said he will be leading a similar charge in Toledo, where the humane society has been struggling for more than a year to raise enough in large donations to take the campaign out of the “quiet” period and into a large-scale public fund-raising effort.

Mr. Willoughby said he learned a lot during the experience in Aiken, which was similar in that the struggling economy made fund-raising difficult.

“It’s an exciting challenge, the opportunity to help build another shelter,” he said. “I think I can do an even better job this time around.”

Teresa Beebe, chaiman of the Toledo Area Humane Society board of directors, said Mr. Willoughby was one of four finalists for the position, which pays $90,000 annually.

“We were especially pleased with the high caliber of applicants that applied,” she said. “All four finalists were executive directors at animal welfare organizations currently or previously. All were incredibly passionate about animal welfare.”

The selection process went easier than she thought it would, other than the timing.

“I would have liked to have someone hired sooner,” she said. The position had been open since the previous director, John Dinon, left in September.

Ms. Beebe said Mr. Willoughby’s 14 years of nonprofit management experience and his proven success at fund development were among the qualities that made him the most attractive candidate.

“Also, his 20-plus years of volunteer experience with animal welfare organizations,” she said. “He really understands and appreciates volunteers and volunteer programs. We could not do what we do without our volunteers.”

Contact Tanya Irwin at: or 419-724-6066.