BROOKSVILLE - Joanne Schoch responds quickly when asked what she's most proud of during her time at the Humane Society of the Nature Coast.
"That's easy," says Schoch, sitting on a picnic table on the shelter's grounds, with dogs barking in the background. "The board of directors, the staff and the volunteers."
Schoch, 61, told board members of the nonprofit earlier this month that after 10 years as executive director, she would step down in February.
Schoch said she is retiring on the advice of her doctor, and plans to spend more time with her husband and their six cats and four dogs.
"I'm going to take a little break ... get my health where I want it to be ... but then come back as a volunteer," Schoch said.
"I'm taking it one step at a time, and right now it's still taking care of the shelter."
Schoch began volunteering at the Humane Society in 2001, spending time in the cat cottage and working on the organization's newsletter, and later was asked to become a board member.
One of the biggest differences in - and challenges of - the Humane Society at the time were the responsibilities board members took on.
Schoch said board members had to volunteer a certain number of hours at the shelter. While the hours spent feeding animals, cleaning cages and facilitating adoptions showed their love and commitment, Schoch said the members were worn out and didn't have time to focus on fundraising or community engagement.
"Board members have a bigger responsibly to an organization; they have to ensure financial security," Schoch said. "And if you're doing the hands-on, nitty gritty, everyday (things) it doesn't leave a lot of time for garnering the financial support you need for doing what you're doing well and to grow so you can do more."
When Schoch became a board member, she used her background in marketing and contacts she made through private animal rescue to engage the community to create a refreshed and rejuvenated board.
After joining, the new team realized it only had a budget to keep the shelter open for 30 days. Schoch said she contacted media outlets and the Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce and let them know if the community didn't help, it was going to lose the Humane Society.
Volunteers and donations started pouring in, Schoch said, and after the shelter had enough money to operate for about six months, the organization began investing in its education program.
One of Schoch's dreams has been to see all animal welfare groups in the area cooperate with each other, and to that end she co-founded the Coalition for Animal Welfare of West Central Florida. When a young pit bull named Zeus was euthanized less than 15 minutes after arriving at Hernando County Animal Services in 2012, Schoch was a strong voice in the discussion about the state of animal rescue in the county.
Months later, county commissioners approved $245,000 to reorganize animal services, and hired a full-time veterinarian and more staff.
As her retirement approaches, Schoch is working toward one last goal - raising the $150,000 to $200,000 needed to erect a new building on the existing 7224 Mobley Road property and break ground on 11 acres of land at 7220 Mobley Road bought in 2011.
"Acquiring the land was a big accomplishment, but I've wanted more room for more animals; that's always been my underlying goal," Schoch said. "I'm going to beg everybody I know."
When asked what's she is most proud of accomplishing on her own, Schoch jokes at first that she only can see the things that still need to be done.
Then she gets conceptual, describing herself just as the "face" of the Humane Society. The board of directors is the "head," Schoch said, the staff the "arms and legs" and the volunteers the "heart."
"I am very, very proud to just be a small part of that body that has turned the Humane Society around to really be a knowledgable organization," Schoch said. "My tenure here is the highlight of my life."
And, Schoch said, the philosophies, procedures and drive to grow are not changing.
"The Humane Society is just going to have plastic surgery."