Cats, and dogs, and Chandra – oh my! A Q&A with the Executive Director of Safe Harbor Humane Society

Cats, and dogs, and Chandra – oh my! A Q&A with the Executive Director  of Safe Harbor Humane Society

For the past four years, Chandra Riberich has been the Executive Director at Safe Harbor Humane Society, an open admission shelter and 501(c)(3) non-profit organization serving the Kenosha County area. For more information, visit their website at, or call the office at 262-694-4047.

What is Safe Harbor Humane Society’s Mission Statement?
We are here to support the animals and the community in which they reside. Through our adoptions, fundraising, and community education; we are able to improve the lives of pets and their families.

What is a typical day like for the Executive Director of Safe Harbor Humane Society?
There definitely is not a typical day for me, or the shelter for that matter. We are at the mercy of when animals in need come through our doors. We have some control over animals surrendered by their owners by requiring scheduled appointments for re-homing, but police and animal control can bring stray or seized animals to us at any time 24/7/365.
For example, my day started with an on-call emergency phone call this morning at 6 a.m. Animal control was bringing us an injured dog that was hit by a car. In these situations, we have trained staff that respond and meet Animal Control at the shelter to assess the dog and discuss what our next steps are to care for the animal within our legal and financial resources. Today this animal was thankfully microchipped with up to date registration, and we were able to contact it’s owner who came to reclaim it and take it directly to their vet for medical attention.
After lunch, I taught a new foster family member how to syringe/bottle feed a one-week-old kitten that was found orphaned and brought to our shelter before heading into an interview for our open Animal Care Attendant position.
The rest of my day is spent managing all of the animals in our care, managing the staff at Safe Harbor, responding to any situations that may arise, completing bookkeeping, ordering, and administrative work to keep the shelter operating, and keeping the Board of Directors informed of any necessary information.
One of the reasons I love my job so much is because every day is different and busy.  I am never bored and every day goes by so very fast.

When did you realize you wanted to work with animals?
I have always had a love for animals and found ways to work with or have them around me. I went to school and obtained a master degree in accounting and my certificate in public accounting. I pursued this career for 13 years but never felt as satisfied and fulfilled as when I was volunteering for local animal rescues. I very quickly decided to start my own rescue. As the rescue grew and demanded more of my time, I went part-time in my account job and then after a few years decided it was time to figure out how to make animal welfare my full-time job.

Did you always love animals?
Always – I was the child that begged her parents for a cat over and over until they caved in and got me one for Christmas one year.

How may pets do you currently own? 
Over the years I have owned or cared for many, many pets. I have fostered cats for over 14 years and as with my owned pets I tend to focus on the ones that have special care needs.  Currently I have three dogs and one cat. My youngest dog, Ruckus,  was adopted from Safe Harbor three years ago. Ruckus was one of the 52 dogs that came in as part of a hoarding case in November, 2017. He was the last dog from that situation which we were able to handle and he did not adjust well to the shelter environment. Due to the unfortunate situation he came from, he needed a lot of dedicated work to gain his trust and manage his habits. These days, he is my shadow and very rarely leaves my side. If you visit the shelter you will most likely see him with me in my office.

Tell us a crazy pet story.
I have an orange cat named Charlie who loves food he’s not supposed to have, much like a famous cat we all know and love.  My cat Charlie will sit and watch us eat and wait for his opportune moment to pounce in and steal anything he can get his paws on. One night while we were eating spaghetti, out of the blue he jumped up on to the table and grabbed a huge bite of noodles in his mouth and jumped off the table. I reacted and so did my dogs. As we all chased Charlie down the hall, he quickly chewed and swallowed as much of the noodles as possible as he was running.  From behind it was a pretty funny picture to see a cat with noodles streaming on either side of his head as he was running down the hall being chased by two dogs and a person. By the time he stopped running to finish off the remaining noodles there wasn’t much left to be shared with the dogs.

How has Safe Harbor adapted to COVID 19?
At the beginning we, as many other businesses, were much more restricted.  We had to limit our public services, such as spay/neuter surgeries and low cost vaccine clinics, as well as not being open to the public to come in a view our animals.
Over the last several months, we have been able to modify our procedures and now we are operating by appointment for adoptions, we have limited the number of public spay/neuter appointments we are able to provide, and we scheduled our volunteers accordingly so that we don’t have too many people in our building at one time.
All of these modifications are to limit the number of people in our building so that we can practice social distancing to keep the public and our staff safe.  We do require that our staff and anyone entering our building wear a mask.

What other services does Safe Harbor provide?
Other than adoption and owner reclaim services, Safe Harbor also provides low cost spay/neuter and microchipping services.  The spay/neuter appointments can be booked through our website. They fill up very quickly so if you currently don’t see any available appointments watch our Facebook page and check the website frequently.  We post new dates monthly.  Microchip appointments can be scheduled during open hours by calling 262-694-4047.

You usually have several fundraisers a year, with all of these cancelled during the pandemic, how can people help support the Safe Harbor Humane Society?
With COVID-19 cancelling all of our traditional fundraisers for the entire year, we have had to adopt new and creative ways of generating the necessary income to keep the lights on and our mission ongoing.
To that end, we have engaged in many digital fundraising campaigns through our website and Facebook page with great success. Animal lovers who are interested in supporting our cause through this very unique and challenging year are invited to visit our website at and make a donation using our secure site. We are also happy to accept donations of tangible resources and supplies at our shelter location (7811 60th Ave), we have a donation bin set up outside our doors. One can also use direct shipment using services such as Chewy or Amazon.  People can also support our Capital Campaign on our website, or if they are looking to support in larger ways they can inquire about our naming opportunities. We would love to talk to you.

What is your Capital Campaign? 
Our Capital Campaign is a much needed fundraiser to support the renovation and expansion of our dog kennel area. The dog kennel area is the oldest part of our building.  It was considered adequate for the needs of the shelter and the dogs that the shelter cared for back when it was built in the early 1980s, but we are desperately in need of an upgrade.
By expanding our building into our back play-yard area, we will be more than doubling the size of our dog kennels so that they are appropriately sized for the large dog breed mixes that we typically care for.  It will also allow us to provide separate infirmary and intake areas away from the dogs that are available for adoption, which will decrease the stress on the dogs in our care and keep them healthier. The expansion portion of the project which is the first phase of the project and has a budget of approximately $1.3 million, and we are asking the public to help us raise this money so that we can continue to provide high quality housing and care to the dogs in need of Kenosha County and beyond.

How long has Safe Harbor been serving the community?
Safe Harbor has been around for over a century! It was incorporated in 1916 as a humane society for children and animals, Safe Harbor has taken on many forms. From a humane society with the purpose of preventing abuse, cruelty and neglect of both children and animals, to a city pound attached to the fire department, to the open admission humane society serving all of Kenosha County, Safe Harbor Humane Society has grown with our community.

How can people volunteer and/or become foster parents?
Prospective volunteers who are interested in giving their time to helping the shelter can email for information on the next available volunteer orientation. While we have currently put a brief pause to taking on any new volunteers due to COVID-19 limitations, we hope to begin expanding our ranks again very soon and help will be needed. Volunteers are most commonly used in help with walking dogs, socializing cats, and assisting in offsite adoption events.
If someone is interested in fostering our animals, they can apply through our website. Fosters are most commonly used for our youngest newcomers – puppies and kittens that are eight weeks of age or younger; who have developing immune systems, and benefit from being in the less populated environments of a home. We also utilize fosters for felines who need additional socialization in a quiet, friendly setting or animals who have specialized medical needs that would benefit from in-home care.

What is the average number of pets you have that are up for adoption?
It’s difficult for me to give you an average number of animals available for adoption per day but I can tell you that we had 1,684 adoptions in 2019 which averages to a little less than 5 per day.
Through the end of July, 2020 we have had 981 adoptions which averages to a little more than 5 adoptions per day.

What is entailed in the adoption process?
The first step is to complete our short adoption application online through our website.  On the application they can list up to 3 animals they are interested in – all of our animals available can be viewed on our website. Our office staff will review the application and then call the applicant to inform them of the next steps depending on the situation of the animals they are interested in. Will then call them to schedule an interaction appointment with the animals. If they decide to adopt after meeting the animal there is an adoption contract, adoption fee, and then they can bring the animal home.

How have adoptions been during the pandemic?
Adoptions have been the one thing that have stayed very steady and reliable during this time of uncertainty.  I believe people have found comfort and companionship in pets during a time when they are in great need of hope and positivity.

Other than cats and dogs, do you have any other animals at Safe Harbor?
Currently we also have two guinea pigs, but we have had all sorts of domesticated pets come through our doors.  We have seen everything from reptiles to birds and even a couple of potbelly pigs.  We frequently have birds, turtles, and small animals like hamsters, rabbits and guinea pigs.

What should someone do if they find a stray animal? 
If it is a stray pet – not wildlife – they should first check to make sure that the municipality that they found the animal in provides animal control services.  If the animal is found in a municipality that is contracted with Safe Harbor, and it is found during our open hours, they can bring the animal to our shelter.  There is a single sheet of paper that has a few questions on it that help us match found animals up with owners that might be looking for them that we ask that they fill out, and then we will care for the animal from that point forward. If it is outside of our business hours, they can call the non-emergency number of their municipality and they will send out a community service officer or contracted animal control agent to pick up the animal and bring it to Safe Harbor.

Getting Personal with Chandra Riberich – online exclusive!

What is your favorite streaming service, or favorite way to watch TV? 
I don’t watch TV too often, but when I do I watch it tends to be Amazon Prime or Netflix.  Before Covid it was also TriathlonLIVE.

What is your favorite TV show? 
The West Wing

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a dolphin trainer or zookeeper. My mom says lions, tigers, and snow leopards were always my favorites – they still are!

Who is your favorite all-around band or musician?
This is tough I am not huge into music – on my Pandora, my Zayde Wolf station is being played mostly right now.

If you could be a superhero, which one would you be and why?
I would be Wonder Woman – She is strong, invulnerable and had the ability to converse with animals.

What local restaurant always gives you a great meal?
For a quick lunch break from the shelter I frequent Red Robin – it’s close and the server Lori there knows my favorites and I love their steak fries with ranch.  If we go out after work, I really like Iguana Wanna and 75th Street Inn.

Which domestic chore do you do better than anyone else in the home?
Well it’s just me and my husband and we share the chores pretty well – I don’t know if this is considered a chore but I am the one who always assembles items that come with instructions. 

Who do you look up to professionally? 
My Dad and my former coach Jon Brenner – They both taught me the values I live and work by and the drive to try to continue to be a better person and make the world better place for everyone.

What is your favorite movie?
Ocean’s 11 or 10 Things I Hate About You

Where is your favorite vacation spot? 
Visiting my parents either at their house in Florida in the winter or up at our family Cabin in the northwoods of Wisconsin in the summer.

What was the last gift you gave someone?
I gave blueberries to one of our staff members because it’s her favorite food.

Which Disney character would you be?
Ariel from the Little Mermaid

What is your most used emoji?
I use the smiley face a lot.

What is your favorite sports team?
Not a team but I follow the USA triathlete Katie Zaferes – Team would be the Green Bay Packers

Cat or dog person? 
I have fostered and owned both dogs and cats so its incredibly difficult for me to choose. 

This story originally appears in the print version of The Smart Reader, dated August 27, 2020.
Interview & photos by Donald Stancato

Edited by Jason Hedman