While working as a network administrator at an East Coast banking firm, John Cicolella used his out-of-office time to pursue his true passion. He started an animal rescue called Rescue Pit in Rochester, New York, where he lived at the time. The volunteer-run and foster-based organizations focused on rescuing and rehabilitating shelter dogs with behavior issues. It was all good, but not enough. He was ready to transition into working with animals full-time and nothing but the best would do.
Cicolella turned to the Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV), which offers quality adoptions, affordable spaying/neutering, vaccinations, microchipping services, pet care services, and education programs to enhance the human-animal bond. Established in 1929, HSSV has placed more than 500,000 animals into permanent, loving homes. The organization was taking applications for an Executive Leader Fellowship funded by Maddie’s Fund, and Cicolella took a leap.
“Donating and volunteering are amazing ways to help the organizations that are already on the ground making change to further the mission you care about.”
It paid off: Cicolella was accepted and packed his bags to move across the country in early 2019. The 12-month fellowship is an immersive professional opportunity for animal welfare professionals seeking to develop and strengthen their skill sets in animal sheltering management and leadership.
Since joining HSSV as a fellow, Cicolella has been working to bring free spay/neuter services to targeted areas that contribute the highest number of dogs to local shelters. “These areas are underserved and have lower access to affordable spay/neuter services,” he explains. “I’m working on driving more exposure to the program through marketing and partnership building to increase the number of surgeries we provide, therefore decreasing the number of dogs from these areas that enter local shelters.”
He’s also tackling the issue of homelessness, working on projects aimed at helping homeless pet owners in Santa Clara County keep and care for their pets. “Knowing that I’m spending my time both at work and after hours addressing this problem has gone a long way to help me sleep easier,” Cicolella says.
In 2017, HSSV became the first organization ever to earn model shelter status according to the guidelines set forth by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians. As an independent nonprofit organization, HSSV does not receive funding from Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA, or state or federal government entities.
Today Cicolella lives in “animal heaven,” shadowing members of each HSSV department and learning about best practices in animal welfare, standards of care, and the importance of shelter medicine. He has also been mentored by HSSV’s leadership team, including President Carol Novello.
Cicolella’s advice to those thinking of switching career lanes? “Donating and volunteering are amazing ways to help the organizations that are already on the ground making change to further the mission you care about.”