Q&A With Executive Director Meg Talbert
Meg Talbert was recently named Dakin’s executive director, following her position as chief development officer at Way Finders, an organization that increases the supply of affordable, high-quality housing in western MA. Prior to that, she was the executive director of Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers, a national service animal organization that provides in-home assistance to people living with mobility impairments.
With a solid background in non-profits, and having worked in the animal industry with Helping Hands, what do you find most rewarding about working in both sectors with your position at Dakin?
My favorite thing about being an Executive Director is how different every day can be. They say variety is the spice of life that’s certainly the case when it comes to being an E.D.!
I may start the day at an event representing Dakin, next, help one of the program teams develop a strategy to tackle a new challenge, and end the day working on a foundation grant. In between, I’m catching up with staff working in facilities, finance, and human resources to understand what’s new and how we can plan together. I also enjoy keeping our Board of Directors engaged and informed about the great work happening at Dakin and thinking about long-term strategy and sustainability for the organization.
Working for and with non-profits that recognize and celebrate the human-animal bond makes this work even more meaningful and exciting. There are a lot of different factors that come into play in supporting these relationships and the needs of people and animals alike. We have an amazing, capable team here at Dakin of staff and volunteers who make it all possible.
What led you to Dakin? Why did you want to work here?
I was aware of Dakin’s great reputation in the community even when I was working in Boston, and I learned even more when I began work at Way Finders in 2017. In fact, my first office at Way Finders had a window that overlooked Dakin’s parking lot and facility on Union Street and I’d often watch people and pets travel in and out of the building while I was on a phone call or working on my computer.
Meeting some of Dakin’s staff, volunteers, and board members during my interview process gave me a good feel for the knowledge and commitment of the individuals and teams I would work with every day. I grew confident that Dakin’s values and vision matched my own, including the belief that people are good and will make good decisions for animals when they are treated with kindness and understanding, and when they have enough information and resources.
Now that you’re settled at Dakin, in what direction would you like to lead the organization? Are there specific challenges you’d like to address?
I certainly look at Dakin’s work through a human-service lens. Assuring the comfort, care, and respect for animals will always be our top priority, but I also want us to think about our human relationships, the experiences and challenges that people in our community face on a daily basis, and how we can improve the lives of animals by helping people.
An important project for us to tackle after my first year will be the development of Dakin’s next Strategic Plan. This will be a great opportunity to reaffirm our mission, vision, and values in relation to the opportunities that will be before us in 2024 and beyond. Asking questions along the way like: What challenges are pets and people facing in our region? How can we best support our staff and volunteers in their work? And how can we inspire and motivate young people who might be considering a career in animal welfare or veterinary medicine? How are we cultivating our current partnerships and, at the same time, developing new and innovative opportunities with future partners?
What makes Dakin unique from your perspective?
A few things: first is our long and evolving history of service. So many people I meet, when they hear I work with Dakin, share a story of an animal they have adopted, or a friend who was helped through one of our services. I also think we are unique in our ability to adeptly serve both rural and metropolitan areas and respond to the varying needs of residents across our region as it relates to animal welfare.
Dakin is busiest during the warm weather months. In what ways do you see the staff and volunteers ramping up their efforts to help as many animals as possible in the months ahead?
As we anticipate a higher number of animals in care in the Adoption Center this summer, the team has been doing a lot of work thinking about our foster care program and how we can best support the volunteers who provide this lifesaving service for Dakin’s animals. This includes added training for foster caregivers to learn and practice new skills, opportunities for peer support, improving communication, and recruiting new foster homes, too. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a foster caregiver, or if you have fostered in the past and want to become re-engaged or learn new skills, please reach out!
Dakin continually expands its programs and services to address more community needs. In what ways do you think animals in our community may be most vulnerable? And how can people help?
Access to veterinary care and economic uncertainty for families and individuals are two major challenges in our community. The team at Dakin works tirelessly to help people access care for their pets when they have limited means and sadly, to provide compassionate support for an increasing number of people requesting intake of their family’s pets at Dakin because of job loss, housing, and medical or other emergencies. We are able to provide this assistance to people and pets because of generous donations from our donors and the incredible support of our volunteers.
Why do you love animals?
Let me count the ways! I have had pets all of my life and so many incredible experiences with other animals through my work, travel, and love of nature. My favorite thing about animals is how they connect us as humans. I love learning about people’s pets, seeing their pictures, and hearing their funny stories. It’s so cool to learn about how people experience animals in nature whether it is friends who have just returned from a safari, people who share my love of SCUBA diving, or a little kid who tells me all about their first whale watch. And, at the end of the day when I arrive home, I can hear my husband tell our dog “Mama’s home!” and Zoey comes racing around the corner to greet me with enthusiastic wiggles and tail wags.
What are some of your favorite hobbies?
I’m an early bird and I start most of my days at CrossFit or with an outdoor run. Exercise definitely keeps me centered and usually in bed by 9 pm! My hobbies are very outdoor-focused, especially all things in or on the water…ocean, lake, river, pool, you name it. I’m fortunate to live in New England because of the variety of outdoor fun and adventures we can experience year-round. Finally, I love to cook for my family and friends and scan lots of cooking-related articles and social media for new recipes to tackle each weekend. My bucket list trip is to go to Thailand where I can combine my passion for nature, water, and delicious food!
Do you do any volunteer work?
At present, I volunteer as a swim coach for the Special Olympics and also for an organization called One Worcester that matches volunteer consultants with non-profits that need help with projects related to planning, fiscal management, board development, or human resources. I’m also pleased to have been recently named as an Advisory Council member for the New England Federation of Humane Societies.
Any pets at home?
Our 10-year-old pitbull Zoey. People joke that I have made it over seven months without a new adoption from Dakin, but I know Zoey and although she is interested in and very gentle with other dogs and likes to romp around for a bit, she’d likely be stressed to have a permanent friend at home. She’s pretty set in her ways and wants 100% of the attention from her people so we’ll be a one-dog family for now.
Finally, is there one thing you’d like to tell our readers?
I’d like to say THANK YOU to our readers. Everyone I meet - volunteers, donors, partners, staff, and clients - have been so warm and welcoming. I look forward to continuing our work together and appreciate your steadfast commitment to Dakin and pets and people in our community!