The Cat's Meow
The Moore County commissioners don't agree on many things these days, but Angela Zumwalt charmed them into unanimous agreement on -- of all things -- special funding.
It was not charm altogether, however, nor was it her precise diction with an English accent. It was, instead, her skills of organization and efficiency that had the commissioners purring with praise by the end of her presentation.
Cat lover and community servant, Zumwalt was lobbying for county financing to get a spay/neuter program started as a means of solving a pet overpopulation crisis.
"I've always had an interest in animals," says Zumwalt, a British transplant, now a resident of Whispering Pines.
Zumwalt grew up in an urban environment and had dogs as pets as a child. She recognizes that many North Carolina residents grew up in a rural setting, closely attached to the natural world around them.
"There's a lot of nature around here," she says. "There's a mystery and an attraction, and you want to protect it because you didn't always have it,"
Zumwalt, who was born in the Chelsea region of London and grew up near Wimbledon on the outskirts of London, credits her Christian faith as guiding her to care for all of God's creatures.
"My faith has a lot to do with it," she says. "My faith is really a guiding light for me and really a backdrop for all I do -- how I treat other people and how we treat the world and treat all the creatures. I consider that a responsibility.
"I know the human need is overwhelming, but sometimes I wish the church paid more attention to caring for other creatures."
At first glance, she appears a strange choice to chair a committee dubbed the Moore County Citizens' Pet Responsibility Committee.
But it turned out to be a good decision. Zumwalt has pulled together representatives of several diverse animal groups, including a few that were at war with each other at times. In addition, the committee has launched an innovative spay/neuter program, initiated educational efforts in the public schools and in communities and carried out a successful adoption program.
Zumwalt did not merely ask for money. She regaled the board with a series of accomplishments and goals of her committee, along with plans to keep on keeping on. Not least of her winning points was the potential saving of taxpayer money when it comes to handling and disposing of thousands of unwanted dogs and cats every year.
As for the committee, she directed its work with such diplomacy that formerly disagreeing animal groups are now working together to educate the public about the issue of "overpupulation" and to develop problem-solving strategies.
Life Took a New Turn
Her story began a half century ago in Chelsea and continued with her enrollment at the University of Southampton on the southwest coast of England, where she earned a degree in Spanish.
From there she entered the University of Leeds in the north of England, here earning a post-graduate certificate in education. The equivalent of a Master's degree, the certificate granted her teaching privileges in Great Britain.
Her first teaching position was that of Spanish-English foreign language teacher at Marymount School in Wimbleton, a girls' boarding school largely attended by the daughters of diplomats or professionals working in Saudi Arabia, Japan, Iran or India.
In some ways, it was an American school, because it gave students the same grade structure required for entrance into American universities.
In 1979 she moved to the United States and accepted a teaching position at a boys' high school in Summit, N.J.
"It was very challenging to me," she says. "I had come from a girls' boarding school in England, and this was quite a different teaching environment."
She decided that teaching was not really her field.
Still, Zumwalt says she likes Americans and decided to stay in this country. She had come to know a number of Americans in England and had joined American friends in New Jersey.
"I liked the positive attitude of Americans," she says. "I liked their enthusiasm and their lack of any cynicism. The English can be quite cynical and sarcastic. In fact, cynicism is the basis of much of their humor. I found it very refreshing here."
Life took an entirely new turn when she learned of an opening with IBM in New Jersey. She secured the administrative position, launching a 24-year career that offered broad opportunities for advancement and travel around the world.
From administration, she moved into such fields as engineering and sales and finally ended up in marketing. In her last year with IBM, she served as director of marketing strategy for technical support.
Zumwalt liked the final position for more than one reason. In addition to experiences with people around the world, the job enabled her to work out of her home, in Moore County.
She has many reasons to appreciate IBM.
"It gave me a lot of opportunities," she says. "It enabled me to travel all over the world, and I really enjoyed it. I developed a lot of different skills," she says.
Maybe best of all, that's where she met husband Bob, also an IBM employee. He retired in 2001, and she resigned in 2003.
'Wanted to Give Back'
It was early retirement, but both Zumwalts decided it was time to give back, not just make a living.
"We wanted to give back," she says. "We wanted to make a difference, not just make money. We downsized in order to do something worthwhile."
For years they had supported the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the Humane Society of America and other animal advocacy groups, but there had never been time to do more.
Zumwalt decided to leverage the skills learned in the corporate world to help locally in the animal welfare arena. IBM had given her people skills, management, marketing and sales experience, and it was time to put those skills to work in a different area.
An article in The Pilot spurred her to contact the director of the Moore County Animal Center and talk about ways to form a coalition of animal welfare groups. The Pilot article had described the work of these diverse organizations.
The concept was not to join one group but to work together on joint projects. The result was formation of the Central North Carolina Animal Welfare Coalition, a collaboration of 10 groups into a multi-county organization. Member groups come from Lee, Montgomery and Hoke counties as well as Moore.
For two years the coalition met monthly. In 2004 the first coalition project focused on adoption of older pets.
Much of the coalition work has been carried out in cooperation with PetSmart, a retail business with a store in Aberdeen. PetSmart sells small pets, such as hamsters and goldfish, but does not sell dogs and cats. What the store does do is offer services enabling animal lovers to find adoptable dogs and cats. It's a generous but shrewd sales strategy because the new pet owners come back to buy pet food, other supplies and equipment from PetSmart.
One special service is PetSmart's Cat Center, in which animal groups alternate weeks in which they provide adoptable cats for display and adoption at the store. A week later, those cats are either adopted or returned to the sponsoring group, and another group provides a supply of adoptable felines.
"Last month Animal Advocates did a wonderful job," she says. "They adopted out more than 100 cats at the Cat Center just in one month."
PetSmart favors coalitions, rather than individual groups, and the company has provided three different grants to support Animal Advocates' adoption efforts.
On behalf of the Citizens' Pet Responsibility Committee, Zumwalt has applied for a PetSmart "Rescue Waggin'" grant, which would enable the committee to match up with communities in other states that have a shortage of pets available for adoption.
Unlike Moore County and North Carolina, many communities across the country do not have a pet overpopulation problem and are willing to take overflow from other places. Such communities also accommodate animals that are homeless because of hurricanes or other natural disasters.
Two cats, both adopted through volunteer groups, now grace the Zumwalts' home on Airport Road.
Three-year-old Cassie is a friendly cat adopted through Corky O'Connor's Humane Society connections. Whitney, a more sedate 12, came from a rescue organization in Durham.
All Have Same Goal
Zumwalt says different groups form for different purposes, but all have the same goal: to help animals. For some, the focus is hunting, for others it is breeding or advocacy or adoptions.
"A lot of times people get caught up in extreme elements of their cause, and the public hears only about the extremists in a group," she says. "Each group has its own niche, its own philosophy, but they all have in common the same goal to make it a better world for dogs and cats. They are my heroes. They are the ones who care for these creatures on a daily basis. It's physically and emotionally grueling. But it has its rewards."
Zumwalt says she is using her time and skills to do the things that these volunteers don't have time to do. They don't have time to handle communications, to strategize and to bring groups together to cooperate toward common goals.
When diverse groups could not agree on an approach for solving the county's pet overpopulation problem, the commissioners did not know how to appease everyone.
One set of groups advocated stringent laws and regulations requiring licensure or spay/neuter procedures, or both. On the other side were groups that feared that this would encroach on their rights and special interests and would be so costly that enforcement would be prohibitive.
When more than 60 volunteered to serve on a study committee, the commissioners knew the committee would be too big and too diverse to work.
Commissioner Michael Holden came up with the idea of appointing a smaller, more select committee representing all different interests. He recommended that Zumwalt be the chairwoman.
When she presented the committee's first report to the commissioners early in September, the results of six months of work netted a $16,300 grant from the county to serve as seed money to initiate a spay/neuter program until another nonprofit program can become operational next summer.
"She's one hard-working woman," said an admiring Holden during that meeting.
Zumwalt says the committee works because members work hard and because everyone is appalled by the large number of dogs and cats that must be euthanized to make room for more abandoned, lost or abused animals.
Groups that don't often agree with each other are now working together to educate the public, to communicate the need, and to raise funds for spay/neuter services. Financial assistance is important because many people say they cannot afford to pay for spay/neuter procedures, which are surgeries and more costly than the legally required rabies shots.
"We are very optimistic and enthusiastic," Zumwalt says.
Continuing the Work
Bob Zumwalt admits he is the one who introduced his wife to cats. They started out with a kitten, and the rest was easy.
He grew up in San Jose, Calif., now part of Silicon Valley, and in his youth there was plenty of room for dogs to run and for cats to enjoy themselves.
"It's great that she's using her skills and talents to kick the ball forward in this committee," he says.
But he's helping out behind the scenes. Her husband puts up signs, helps the clean-up crew and the set-up crew and helps with her presentations.
The couple has been married eight years, and as he puts it, "Angela and I are used to working together."
After all, they both worked for IBM many years.
Bob Zumwalt has two grown sons by a previous marriage, and they have three grandchildren.
After retirement, they spent some time caring for one of those grandchildren and found that to be a "very rewarding part of life."
Both are active members of Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines, where he is an elder and she co-chairs the long-range planning committee on the future of the church. She also runs the Advent Fair every year.
"For me, Brownson provides a very supportive community," she says. "It fulfills a very important role in my life."
Angela Zumwalt has family members in this country and in England. After her stepfather died, her mother moved to Durham, where she now works at Duke University. Her father still lives in England with her stepmother, and when they visited in North Carolina last year, her father volunteered with Bob Zumwalt at the U.S. Open in Pinehurst.
What's next for animal advocacy?
She plans to keep her members and herself busy. Committee plans call for a spay/neuter emphasis in Robbins in coming months, for intense education programs through the public schools and a Pet Responsibility observance next April.
No problem seems insurmountable. Earlier this year, when the committee was planning a special event in Robbins, the decision was made to print brochures in English and Spanish, the latter to reach the strong Hispanic population in Robbins.
No interpreter was needed. Zumwalt put that degree in Spanish to work and translated the message herself.
Angela Zumwalt will make sure no one forgets the needs of the four-footed friends who enrich our lives every day.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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