By Margaret Cate, volunteer writer

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Apryl Steele for the second time, nearly four years after she became President and CEO of the Dumb Friends League. She offered reflections on the triumphs and challenges she’s faced on the job since we first spoke in 2018.

What’s your proudest accomplishment since becoming CEO of the League?

It is very hard to prioritize one proud moment, as there have been so many. At the top of the list, I would have to put leading our organization through the pandemic while remaining open for every animal that needed us during this time. Our entire society has been challenged by the uncertainty, fear, and frustration of constantly changing information and mandates, and no one had the experience that would inform best leadership practices in such a novel situation. Our team members, both staff and volunteers, stepped up in impressive ways to ensure the vulnerable animals that depend on us had the resources they needed to thrive.

What’s been the greatest challenge about leading the League through the pandemic? 

Uncertainty. It has been challenging to make bold decisions with limited information, such as how to keep our people safe, how to adjust programs to serve animals while limiting risk, how to manage the stress and anxiety of our team, and how to inspire donors to continue to support our work despite all the uncertainties in their lives. Sometimes even good decisions needed to be changed because our realities were constantly evolving.

What’s the one thing you wish you would have done differently since 2018?  

With five facilities (and six as of January!), it has been challenging to connect with individual team members as much as I would like. I would have liked to spend more time getting to know our volunteers and staff members better.

What’s been the biggest surprise about the job?

I am continuously surprised that, because of my title, many people find me intimidating. That perception is not who I am or how I act, but it is simply because I am the CEO that some people react to me with apprehension. Sometimes I simply want to brainstorm with team members, but at times they are trying to figure out what I want them to say rather than sharing their experiences and ideas.

Looking back, what piece of advice would you give to your 2018 self?

It took me a while to figure out that one of the most important parts of my role is to make others as successful as possible. Understanding this has made me prioritize removing unnecessary barriers to the work we all do. So, the advice would be to understand what is holding people back and remove those barriers when possible.

Have your goals for the League shifted in the past three+ years? If so, how? 

The League underwent a new strategic planning process two years ago, and those goals are ones that I fully believe in. Being an employer of choice is about culture, transparency, and skill development, which is a constant priority for me. Making Colorado a Socially Conscious Animal Community will lead to even better outcomes for each homeless animal in Colorado, and it is powerful for a community to commit to a guiding set of principles.

Over decades, our IT solutions have evolved, but in a disjointed manner. They could be serving us better, and we are investing in IT to make our day-to-day work easier and our reporting more streamlined. Finally, our focus on keeping families whole is exactly what we need to be doing to support our communities. We define families to include four-legged members!

We chatted about the new Leslie A. Malone Center building during our first interview. What are the biggest ways it has positively impacted the Quebec Street shelter?

Most impressive to me is how dogs in the adoption kennels appear so much calmer and more comfortable. Also, by separating the pet admissions space, there is an enhanced opportunity to have compassionate conversations, and the night kennels no longer have terrified cats sitting in kennels above barking dogs. Our veterinary services space is wonderful; we can accommodate many more surgeries in a day, which was very useful over the last summer when our surgery lists often exceeded 200 animals. Finally, the LuLu Education Hall is a wonderful space not only for humane education classes but also to celebrate our donors.

What’s in store for the League in 2022?

Our biggest project in 2022 is the Dumb Friends League Veterinary Hospital at CSU Spur. We will be fully operational starting in January! The new year will also be a time to optimize the many new projects, programs, and even facilities that we began in 2021.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?

I am truly honored to serve our team and our community. The support I have received from our staff, volunteers, donors, and the greater community is a gift I couldn’t have imagined. Thank you.