Member Spotlight: Get To Know Matt Chan

Santa Barbara Humane Society’s Matt Chan is a reminder of why we do the work we do. Need some inspiration? Give this a read. Spoiler alert–guaranteed smile forthcoming: This article includes a photo of a cat walking on the beach. On a leash.

Name: Matt Chan, CAWA
Member of The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement since: 2017
Organization: Santa Barbara Humane Society
Title: Shelter Manager

Q & A with Matt Chan

The Association: What do you want other members to know about your organization? 
Matt Chan: 2020 has been an exciting one for us. In February of this year, we merged two organizations: Santa Maria Valley Humane Society and Santa Barbara Humane Society. We are now better able to provide animal welfare services throughout our immediate service area of Santa Barbara County. 

Our merger came at an unprecedented time, as Santa Maria Valley Humane Society (SMVHS) was in desperate need of funding. On Day 1 of the merger, Santa Barbara Humane Society absorbed all of the employees, debts, and obligations of SMVHS—just weeks before COVID-19 impacted our service areas and caused the closure of our dual campuses. Yet even in the face of crisis, the merger has brought us a stronger outlook and plan for the future, and a greater opportunity to help more.

The Association: What do you think is the most important part of your job?
MC: The most important aspect is that we think and perform holistically: that we make decisions and programs for the betterment of animals and people, as a whole. Conversely, that we not make decisions or programs at the expense of animal or human health and safety, as a whole. As Shelter Manager, ensuring that we succeed in this is the most important part of my job.

The Association: What’s the biggest challenge your organization is facing right now? 
MC: Prior to COVID-19, we were treating approximately 7,000 community-owned animals annually between our two veterinary clinics. During the state-mandated closure of our clinics, there were approximately 800 spay/neuter surgeries we needed to reschedule across our second quarter. We still have not yet been able to maintain 50% of our pre-COVID surgery capacity, so this has impacted both our community-owned animals, and our ability to take in larger transports of unaltered animals.

Thankfully we, as well as our partner shelters, have not been receiving the same influx of animals we did pre-pandemic. However, we are still looking forward to the time we can better assist our community members with their own animals for the veterinary services they need, especially spay/neuter, and assist our partners when they need it most. Even so, our Medical Team is keeping our head above water.

The Association: Share a success you/your team has had this year.
MC: I’m so proud of how my team has responded to all of the many changes we’ve had to adapt to during COVID. We’ve maintained our prolific adoptions and expeditious length of stay, while also utilizing this time to engage in increased learning opportunities. 

Our Medical Team has adapted, following the ability to be able to perform services again, and we are still helping our community’s animals with high-quality/low-cost spay/neuter, vaccinations, flea treatment, dewormer. 

Going through a crisis together creates some of the deepest bonds you’ll ever build. When we all come out of this one day, we will be such stronger animal welfare professionals. Not simply because of how much time has lapsed, but because of the crisis that we’ve surmounted, the weight that we’ve carried, shoulder to shoulder.

The Association: What is keeping you healthy and resilient these days?
MC: I am not done until my purpose is accomplished. I don’t get tired, down, worn out, depressed. There are too many animals whose very lives depend upon my impact, the actions I take every day. They may feel tired, down, worn out, depressed. But I cannot. No matter what’s happening in the world, they are counting on me. Even if they don’t know it. I know it. And I will give all I have. Every day. Until my purpose is accomplished.

That’s all I need. 

Matt with his cat Mercedes, at
Folly Beach, South Carolina
Photo by Jeanne Taylor

The Association: What’s one thing—industry-related or not—you learned in the past month?
MC: The increased focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion has been both illuminating and gratifying. It’s something that I always thought I knew—but it’s reminded me that it’s not enough to simply know something; you actually have to do something about what you know.

I’m a part of CASCAR (California Animal Shelter COVID Action Response), hosted by UC Davis, where we’ve been having weekly virtual meetings since COVID-19 began. We’ve used this time to discuss everything occurring in our communities, including societal justice, and how that affects how we can best serve our community, and better our organization. 

We’ve been honored to have been joined by James Evans, CEO of CARE (Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity) and Dr. Jyothi Robertson of UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, to discuss with us how we can better create a culture in our own organizations that fosters Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; it takes all three facets. Empowering and fostering just one or two of those has insufficient substance. When all three are present is where an organization achieves authenticity, and thus, impact.

The Association: What’s your hidden talent?
MC: Musicianship; I’ve been a guitarist and singer beginning in the mid-90’s. Hopefully, those talents won’t always be hidden—I hope to do some special things with them; and yes—for the animals!

The Association: If you could choose anyone as a mentor, who would you choose, and why?
MC: I’ve had the great fortune of already having been mentored by some incredible people, who have each had lifelong effects upon me. They are people I know I can still always reach out to for advice, for thoughts, or just to have someone who can listen. My most recent mentor is Joe Elmore, CEO of Charleston Animal Society. I spent a year with Joe (also a CAWA) as part of a Maddie’s Fund Fellowship, and working with him helped me hone both my leadership skills, and what I wanted to do with my unique skills and place in the world.

The other half of mentorship is paying it forward. I look for the opportunities I have to help people along in their own journeys. I can never have too many mentees, and I’ll always make the time. It’s one of the most important things I can do. I owe it to all of my own mentors to give the same that they gave to me, the same guidance that has carried me through life.

The Association: How have you benefited from your involvement with The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement?
MC: The greatest benefit for me has been achieving my credentialing as a Certified Animal Welfare Administrator. The preparation for it was very intense—it was like fitting several college courses over the course of one semester into a single final exam. It crafted my executive skills and elevated my animal welfare knowledge, and I am so thankful for that. 

CAWA credentialing also helped me attain my current job, and it’s something I will always carry with me through life. I encourage anyone who is interested in higher-level leadership to pursue the CAWA. You will jump miles ahead in your professional development and abilities.

The Association: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to who you were ten years ago?
MC: I’m proud of the journey I’ve been on over the past 10 years. I’m thankful for so many incredible people in my life over the past 10 years, including my many animal welfare colleagues. I’m thankful for all of the thousands of animals I’ve had the blessing of getting to know, befriend, and even help over this past decade. Every animal I have worked with has made me who I am today. I remember every success. I remember every difficult decision. Each lives with me.

As I think back to 2010, more than advice, more than anything, is thankfulness for a life and career where I can do what matters the most to me in the world.

Top Photo: “That’s me with one of our previously adoptable dogs Hunny (since adopted), at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria for a student welcoming event last fall,” says Matt. “We used the event to tell students about who we were and cultivate new student volunteers.” 

Connect with Matt

Matt Chan on Instagram



The Association

The Association is the only international society of leaders actively leading and managing community animal shelters/animal control agencies.


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