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On Island Profile: Connie Joseph

Dec. 22, 2006 — Connie Joseph has her dream job: As manager of the Animal Care Center of St. John's shelter, she gets to play with all the cats and dogs she wants.
"I've always loved animals," she says as a black cat, Gabriella, urges Joseph to pet her head. "When I was a kid, I'd see a dog, put a rope around it and take it home." Sometimes, she adds with a laugh, it turned out the dogs she brought home had owners.
Joseph also has 15 cats, four dogs and two puppies at home, and often brings home from the shelter animals that need temporary homes.
Now 56, Joseph moved to St. John from her native Florida when she was 14. She got married at 15 and had three kids. Luana Powell, 39, and Ross Ortiz, 37, both live on St. John, while Frank Ortiz, 35, lives in New York.
Joseph spend 17 years working at the long-closed Upper Deck restaurant, managed Larry's Landing bar for a dozen years and worked at a laundry for a couple of years before she saw the newspaper ad for a part-time job at the Animal Care Center's shelter. That job segued into the manager's post.
Now married to Emanuel Joseph, she spends her rare free time on family activities, helping out her mother, Annabelle Apple, and caring for her pets.
Joseph has heartbreaking tales to tell about how some people treat their animals. One man neglected to change his dog's collar as it grew from puppyhood. Eventually the collar grew into the dog's neck.
"They had to operate to remove it," she says.
After she promised not to prosecute the owner, Joseph says, he let her take the dog to the shelter.
Another man tied his dog on the side of a hill. As the dog grew, his downhill legs grew longer than those on the uphill side.
Then there was the kitten found at a basketball court. Apparently someone used the kitten as a basketball, because all its bones were broken and it was paralyzed.
"We had to put it down," she says.
Joseph chalks up a lot of the abuse found on St. John to ignorance, and says that in her two and a half years on the job she has seen some progress — thanks in part to a kindness campaign in the schools run by Bonny Corbeil.
Thanks to the the Animal Care Center's ongoing spay-and-neuter program, Joseph says, she has also seen the number of feral cats reduced significantly. In 2004, she says, the center paid to neuter about 380 cats. In 2005 the number was less than half that figure.
When the cats are neutered, Joseph says, they also get treated for worms and receive preventative vaccines. Those efforts have helped improve the health of the feral-animal population, she says.
"You don't see that many sick cats out there," Joseph says.
Center volunteers also run feeding stations around the island to make sure those that get fixed receive enough to eat. Those that can be socialized get put up for adoption.
When asked about the challenges she faces on the job, her sister and volunteer helper, Debbie Apple, chimes in.
"Not taking them home for adoption," she says of the many animals that arrive on the shelter's doorstep.
Keeping all the animals well poses challenges, because when one animal gets sick the others follow, Joseph says.
It would help if more people volunteered in the morning, she says. Most people prefer to comie in at midday, Joseph says, but she needs help earlier in the day when it's cool enough to walk the dogs.
Some have criticized center members for helping animals rather than people. Joseph has a quick answer: "You've got to start somewhere."
For more information about volunteering, adopting or caring for an animal, call the Animal Care Center at 774-1625 or click here.
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