Joyce Cameron: A helping hand for animals and their humans

Joyce Cameron, the president and CEO of the Chittenden County Humane Society, never envisioned a career in animal welfare, but in retrospect, it seems like a natural fit.

As a child she used to bring home stray animals and beg her parents to let her keep them. Cameron shares her home with a Humane Society alumni cat named Poco.

“If I could, I’d have a house full of dogs and cats,” she said. “It’s an occupational hazard.”

Cameron has been at Chittenden County Humane Society since 2018. She has always been drawn to what she describes as mission-driven work and felt that her previous leadership experience in the private, public and non-profit sectors, as well as a strong desire to help animals and animal lovers, prepared her for the position. Prior to taking the job, Cameron was the executive director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, director of development and community relations for the Greater Burlington YMCA and executive director of the Kelly Brush Foundation.

Photo by Kelly Schultz.
Joyce Cameron enjoys the company of Humane Society residents including Barrett.
Photo by Kelly Schultz. Joyce Cameron enjoys the company of Humane Society residents including Barrett.

Cameron said there was a steep rise in animal adoptions during the first part of the COVID pandemic. “People found solace and comfort in the human-animal bond,” she said.

Unfortunately, the organization is currently seeing a rise in strays and surrendered animals. Cameron said the Humane Society tries to provide people with resources so that those affected by difficult life circumstances don’t have to surrender their beloved pets. This help is extended to all pet owners, not just ones who have adopted shelter animals.

Spring and summer are the busiest times at the shelter. The non-profit finds homes for approximately 1,300 animals each year with at least 25,000 people visiting the South Burlington facility on an annual basis.
While there may be fewer incoming animals in fall and winter, the shelter is very busy throughout the year with programs like their low-cost community pet clinic and their humane education program for children, which always has a waitlist for applicants.

For the last 15 years, Cameron has served as guardian ad litem, advocating for abused or neglected children through the legal system and believes the need for people to serve in that capacity has grown exponentially. She hopes others consider volunteering.

“It is simultaneously one of the hardest and most wonderful volunteer experiences I’ve ever had,” she said.

Cameron has lived in Charlotte for 39 years and has volunteered locally throughout that time. She started with the Charlotte Children’s Center board which led to her becoming chair of the Charlotte Central School Board.

She brought Kids Voting Vermont to the school. They set up mock voting booths and were visited by Sen. Jim Jeffords wearing an elephant costume, then-Representative Bernie Sanders and Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz, all of whom talked about the importance of voting. Cameron has also served as a student mentor and environmental learning for the future volunteer. She was part of the school system’s superintendent search and teacher negotiations committees and has been a substitute teacher at Champlain Valley Union High.

Cameron’s son Will passed away in 2013. He had worked at Mt. Philo after graduating from the University of Vermont, so in his honor, the family set up the Vermont Parks Forever Mt. Philo Fund which provides money for an internship program for youth who are interested in environmental stewardship and want to connect with nature and practice public service.

“It is heartening for me to witness the young interns that have gone through this successful program year after year on this magical hill that Charlotters call their own,” Cameron said.

In her limited spare time, Cameron bikes, hikes, plays racquet sports, meditates, supports other mothers who have lost children, reads, gardens, cooks, travels and takes part in local and statewide efforts to curb the scourge of addiction.

“I love Charlotte’s sense of community, it’s rural nature, our eclectic demographic, and the fact that you can disagree with your neighbor on just about everything but still find commonality sharing a cup of joe and a laugh with one another,” she said.

Animal welfare can be unpredictable and tough work, but she finds her job to be very rewarding.

“Fortunately, the programs and services that we provide and the impact that we hear that we make on animals and their families keep us motivated and engaged,” Cameron said, “Of course, our work would not be possible without the unwavering support from our donors and volunteers.”