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Top Five with Laurie Garrison, PhD ’92 & BA ’84

Senior director of applied research, ASPCA

illustration of a dog pile.

Illustration by Lucy Engelman

 Laurie Garrison with her dog Mr. Bumpus.

Laurie Garrison with her dog Mr. Bumpus.

Laurie Garrison loves all animals. But she has a soft spot for one particular kind: big, furry dogs. “The furrier the better,” says Garrison, who in 2012 left her position as CEO of the Monmouth County SPCA in New Jersey to take her “dream job” in the Shelter R&D Department at the ASPCA in New York City.

Despite a lifelong desire to “save every stray animal that’s crossed my path,” Garrison began her career on a completely different trajectory, using her PhD in cognitive psychology to help develop the voice technology in the iPhone at AT&T Labs. She began volunteering at the Monmouth animal shelter after adopting a blind dog named “Mr. Bumpus,” then joined its board and ultimately became its top executive.

In her current position, Garrison conducts research to give animal shelters the tools and information they need to do their work better. “I love that I can use my research background to help save the lives of animals in shelters across the country,” she says. We asked her to dispel five commonly held misperceptions about animals in shelters.

Five myths about shelter animals:

1. They’re bad to the bone

Most pets waiting for homes were loved family members, not “bad” dogs or cats. The most common reasons people give up their pet are housing or personal issues—nothing to do with the pet!

2. They’re the runts of the litter

The majority of shelter pets are healthy. While they may have minor issues, such as kennel cough because of their stay at the shelter, most are already spayed/neutered and vaccinated.

3. Mutts abound

Shelters typically have a wide variety of pets, and approximately 20 to 25 percent of those waiting for new homes at shelters are purebred.

4. It’s raining cats and dogs

Your local animal shelter likely has rabbits, guinea pigs, parakeets, hamsters, you name it. Most animals are there for the same reason: Their humans ran into personal problems and now these pets need a new loving home.

5. Instructions not included

An animal shelter is a great place to learn everything you need to know about your new pet. Talk with the knowledgeable staff and there will be few surprises.