Chamber

A voice for the animals

Published 10:11pm Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Being the type of person who likes to stay in the background doesn’t work out so well when you’re passionate about something.

Such is the case for Kay Hurley, the communications director for the Suffolk Humane Society. She had become an expert on avoiding publicity or notoriety of any kind until the organization formed in 2007, and she was one of its first members.

Kay Hurley has been the public face of the Suffolk Humane Society almost since the group's inception.

“I had to get involved with that,” she said. “The first year, there were four of us, and we did a lot.”

Before she knew it, Hurley found herself the co-chair the first year of Mutt Strut, now the society’s signature fundraising event. She also became responsible for the public relations position, which requires talking to the media regularly for stories about society activities and humane education.

But before she was the point person for all things animal in Suffolk, she was dealing with a different type of education — human education.

Hurley was a teacher at Forest Glen High School for four years. She then went to Old Dominion University for her master’s degree and later spent another two years in front of the classroom, this time at Norfolk Catholic High School.

She then moved to association work, spending 20 years at the Tidewater Builders Association. That work meshed well with another interest of hers — renovating older homes.

Hurley first went to work on her parents’ old farmhouse in the Holland area, knocking out walls and doing all manner of other refurbishments after a tree damaged the home during Hurricane Isabel.

“My options were to fix it up or let it go,” she said. “At the time, it was probably a pretty crazy thing to do.”

But she couldn’t bear to let go of the tranquil estate where she first cultivated her love for animals.

“Growing up on a farm, there are no neighbors,” she said. “I played with my pets, and I read a lot of books. I can’t remember not having a dog.”

Hurley finished working on her parents’ house, and they died in 2005. She still owns the house, where she and her husband sometimes go for weekend getaways and family get-togethers. She has a 31-year-old stepdaughter.

But in addition to her human child, there are plenty of others to keep her busy.

“I have never chosen a pet in my life,” she said. “They’ve always chosen me.”

Her dog Gracie, a 13-year-old terrier, was found as a puppy near the Midtown Tunnel on Christmas Eve. Peanut was fostered from Suffolk Animal Control, and wound up getting adopted. Millie, a beagle/basset hound mix, was discovered abandoned on the Eastern Shore. Sadie, a beagle, was inherited when Hurley’s brother passed away in 2009.

The couple also has four cats — Bighead, Kayla, Romeo and Racing Stripe, who was acquired when neighbors moved and left the cat behind.

It is that kind of thoughtlessness that Hurley and the Suffolk Humane Society are working to fight against.

“Animals cannot do it for themselves,” she said. “They are completely helpless. I truly believe however we treat the most helpless — children, the elderly, the sick — says everything about us as a community.”

That’s why Hurley, and the humane society, have listed humane education among their top priorities.

“Children have to understand compassion,” she said. “Companion animals are such amazing creatures. They’re intelligent, they have personalities, and dogs are so incredibly loyal.”

Hurley says she is trying to move more into the background at Suffolk Humane while newer volunteers pick up some of the workload. But her pioneering leadership will be remembered by dogs and cats all over Suffolk.

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