By Maria Saporta
Friday, September 9, 2011
The 138-year-old Atlanta Humane Society is about to begin a whole new chapter in its history.
The organization has selected its board chairman — William Shaheen — to become its new president effective Jan. 20, 2012, when the current president — Carl Leveridge — plans to retire.
And later this year, it will double in size and expand its offerings when its new Mansell Road campus in North Fulton opens on Dec. 1.
For Shaheen, 48, it also is a second professional chapter in his life. He has been president of Shaheen & Co., a second-generation, family-owned real estate development firm.
And although he will continue to work with the firm in a strategic capacity, Shaheen is following his passion by becoming president of Atlanta Humane Society.
“I’ve always had a love for animals,” said Shaheen, whose first dog was a St. Bernard.
A well-known Atlanta veterinarian, David Forehand, recognized that love and asked Shaheen in 2000 if he would be willing to serve on the board of the Atlanta Humane Society.
“I came on the board in 2000 and went on the executive committee in 2001,” Shaheen said. “I couldn’t say no to anything they asked me.”
So Shaheen became board chair in 2005 for a two-year term. And then he was asked if he would be willing to serve as board chair in 2011.
During his 11 years on the board, Shaheen has led several initiatives for the organization.
He advocated for the North Fulton expansion and chaired the site selection committee for the new campus; served on the building committee for the renovation of the existing Howell Mill Road campus; petitioned to establish a dedicated spay/neuter clinic, and served on both the finance and strategic planning committees.
“This is truly my passion,” said Shaheen, who currently owns two Rottweilers — Cain and Hannah — and begins his day taking them for a run or walk. “The more I got involved, the more rewarding it was for me. It truly was a case where you get back more than you give.”
That’s a trait Shaheen inherited from his parents — Dorothy and Shouky Shaheen — who were named Philanthropists of the Year in 2010.
“Both of my parents have been role models for me in terms of philanthropic work,” Shaheen said, remembering that when he was growing up, his mother had two desks piled high with her nonprofit activities.
And Shaheen’s passion has become contagious with his wife, Frances, volunteering at the society two days a week.
Until the early 2000s, the Atlanta Humane Society also operated Fulton County’s animal control facility.
Since then, the society’s policy is that it does not euthanize animals for space. The only animals that are euthanized are those that are seriously ill or vicious.
“By county law, we can’t take a found cat or dog,” Shaheen said. “We can only take animals from a shelter or through owner surrender.”
The Atlanta Humane Society currently has room for 130 animals — 32 large dogs, up to 60 spaces for puppies and about 40 spaces for cats.
Every year, the society is able to provide homes for 5,000 to 6,000 animals.
When it opens its Mansell Road facility, it will double the Atlanta Humane Society’s capacity and adoptions.
“Tragically, the last few years, approximately 30,000 animals have been euthanized in the five-county area each year,” Shaheen said. “We felt by opening another facility, we felt we could adopt another 5,000 to 6,000 animals.”
The Humane Society bought the 7.3-acre Mansell Road facility, a former car dealership, for $5.8 million. It has cost another $2.8 million to convert the 32,000-square-foot facility into a top-quality place for animals in need of loving homes.
Shaheen also said the Atlanta Humane Society plans to expand its spay/neuter clinic to be open two days a week as a way to help reduce the animal population and the number of dogs and cats that are euthanized each year.
Given Shaheen’s deep involvement in the organization, the transition of leadership could be a model. Leveridge joined the organization in 2007 following Bill Garrett, who had run the organization for 30 years.
“Over the past decade, William’s contributions to the Atlanta Humane Society have been marked with excellence in leadership,” Leveridge said in a statement. “He has adopted our mission as his coat of arms and expanded our vision to include new possibilities.”
So when Leveridge told the board this summer he wanted to retire in January, it was only natural that several board members approached Shaheen to ask if he would be interested in becoming the new president.
And Shaheen had never learned to say “no” the Humane Society, agreeing to transition from board chair to president over the next several months.
“The search committee really was looking for someone with roots in the Atlanta community,” Shaheen said. “Because I’ve spent so much time at there, a lot of the day-to-day staff already knows me. I come in as a known entity to them.”