Tell me a little about yourself and your family.
My name is Kristen Elrod. I’ve lived in Nashville now for about five years now with my boyfriend Kennedy. He is an engineer at IC Thomasson. He’s been there for about five years now. And together we have our four fur kiddos−our dogs, Cooper and Moby, and our cats, Moony and Winnie. Both Moony and Winnie were adopted from the Nashville Humane Association.
What part of Tennessee do you live in?
We live in West Nashville. We were originally drawn to it because it was a good area that met our budget, and it’s accessible to everything. But we’ve stuck around because we really love the community here. I feel like Nashville as a whole, especially west Nashville, has grown so much since we’ve lived here, but it still feels like a small community and everybody here is really charitable. I’m always amazed, how much everybody is just always willing to donate their time and/or their money and support local businesses and organizations, especially nonprofits. We’ve just grown really attached to it.
What brought you to Nashville?
Actually, it was law school. I came here to go to Belmont Law School and then along the way, I realized I wanted to go into animal welfare. So, I finished my degree, but then I started my new career.
Towards the end of law school, I had interned at the Pedigree Foundation and I continued to work there after graduating. I got to know some people at NHA because the Pedigree Foundation did a lot of work with other shelters. I found I really had a passion for the shelter work that was being done, and I wanted to get more involved in that. When the opportunity presented itself and I jumped on it!
What is your role at NHA?
I am the Volunteer Coordinator. I have been for the last year and a half.
Tell us a little about NHA.
NHA is a local private shelter, so we bring in animals that are in need and we shelter them, give them care, and find them loving homes. We get to work a little differently than a lot of other shelters because we’re not a municipal shelter, which means we’re not open admission. Being a private shelter gives us the opportunity to help a lot of our open-admission shelters nearby when they need us. We also get to do a lot of transports from shelters all throughout the Southeast and beyond. Our reach goes far beyond county and state lines even though we’re located in Nashville.
How has the coronavirus affected your work?
As a whole, it was definitely a challenge for the entire shelter just because the situation was unprecedented, and we had never had to do anything like this before. We rely so heavily on volunteers to help take care of the animals, we weren’t sure what we were going to do. Our volunteer program normally is very focused on volunteers being in the shelter or out in the community. The virus turned that on its head. We had to focus a lot more on ways the volunteers were able to help remotely and from home. It was a challenge at first, but it really ended up teaching me a lot about ways that volunteers can really do meaningful work remotely and still make a huge impact on our organization.
We realized the best way to go about things, was to make sure we could get as many animals as we could put into foster, so they would have the best care possible until we were able to take the next necessary steps. The Foster Coordinator, Erica, and I always work closely together, but this was an instance where she had a sharp increase in fosters needing supplies and things fast. So, in addition to becoming fosters themselves, many volunteers started delivering supplies to fosters. It was a lot of things like that, where I just had to kind of work with my coworkers to figure out ways where volunteers could still help the staff and animals in areas that we needed without being onsite. It was really cool. We really all came together and were able to help the animals in the best way possible.
Why do you think it’s important for you to continue your work right now?
We’ve been hit with a bunch of things all at once recently, because right when we thought we were rebounding from the tornadoes, the virus hit. We were really concerned about how it was going to affect animals. There was also a concern that people would stop adopting, or that maybe people would surrender their pets if they couldn’t afford to keep them, and animal welfare never stops. Even if the world’s been kind of turned upside down, you still have to figure out how you’re going to keep up with that need. Regardless of what else is happening, there will always be dogs and cats who need homes. There will always be owners that need an extra hand with providing their pets with food, supplies, or pet education. That just gets harder when you’re dealing with a pandemic and natural disaster on top of everything else. But even though we were concerned, things actually ended up working in a surprising way.
More people were at home, so they were able to give fostering a try and see the benefit of having a pet. So although it was a lot more work on our end to keep things moving smoothly and we were worried that it might have a negative impact on animals at first, I think it actually ended up helping the animals. It brought a lot of dogs and cats into homes where they might not have ever been.
We’re just so lucky that our staff, our volunteers, and our entire community is very willing to come together in these situations and help us get the work done. Everyone has stepped up with donations, food drives, and in so many other ways to help care for these animals. We’re very fortunate for that.
What about your work makes you the most proud?
The part that makes me the most proud is that I get to bring all these other animal-loving people in to help the animals that need us here. My personal goal is always to make the world a better place for animals. It’s just very meaningful to me and makes me very proud that I get to work with other people who share that same goal. Nashville is full of animal lovers, I’ve realized, so we’re in a very good place for that.
What do you think is the hardest part of your job?
I think that whenever you’re really passionate about the work that you do, you just tend to tie yourself to your work in such a personal way that it can cause a lot of stress because you want your work to be perfect all the time. I think that’s something that everybody in animal welfare struggles with, just learning how to take a step back sometimes. It’s something that we all acknowledge and definitely have to make a priority, but it’s all worth it. So it’s okay. It’s stress, but it’s worth it.
What do you like to do outside of work to relax?
Anything with my dogs, especially hiking or taking them to local breweries. Painting. When things go back to normal, I really want to start traveling again. I cannot wait. I don’t even know where I would want to go yet. We’re usually pretty good about taking regular vacations because I have to take a step back and breathe at times. Traveling is my way to do that. The fact that we don’t know when that’s going to be able to really happen again has been frustrating, but we’ll go anywhere. Wherever Southwest will take me for the cheapest, maybe!
What advice would you give people right now?
I would say just do anything, even if it’s small, that you can do to give yourself any sense of normalcy during all of this and that makes you happy and makes you feel like you’re not trapped at home. For me, that was definitely just getting out and walking my dogs every day. It just made me so much calmer and more at peace with my situation.
Who do you think is most responsible for you being the person you are today?
I would have to say it’s a tie between my two aunts, one on each side, one my dad’s sister, one my mom’s sister, Robin and Alleta. They were both big time animal lovers. They definitely instilled that in me from a very young age. I was always raised around all of their pets and saw how much they adored them. Alleta has since passed, but they were both very compassionate and nurturing women, and they were not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. I always just really admire that in them.
Who are your personal heroes?
Anybody who’s out there making the world a better place for animals. I really admire people who work with wildlife protection, any sort of animal rescue, or work on our legislation and policies that desperately need to be changed, and those fighting climate change. Any of the people who are working on that, I applaud them, and I admire them a lot.
We already think of you as a superhero Kristen, but if you could choose one superhero power, what would it be?
I’ve always wished that since I was little, that I could talk to my animals. So partially that because it would just make my little child animal-loving heart happy. Also, I do feel like it would be really incredible to give animals a voice where people could understand them. I would just hope that would make a difference for them. But really, I would just love to be able to talk to my pets. Kennedy and I have had this conversation and he always made fun of me for choosing that. But I’m like, come on, that would thrill you if you could hear Cooper say, ‘I love you,’ though! It’d be great!
Thank you for all that you do and taking the time to talk with us today Kristen. Stay safe and have a good rest of your week.
For sacrificing her time and doing all she can to help protect and care for innocent and loving animals, we’re proud to award Kristen with the Hardin’s Heroes title, certificate, and a donation of $500 to her chosen charity: Nashville Humane Association.