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GTHS leader says farewell after 11 years as head of shelter

A kitten with a broken leg helped Sonya Reichel realize the change she needed to lead at Georgian Triangle Humane Society
Sonya Reichel, the executive director at Georgian Triangle Humane Society, has taken a new job with the Ontario SPCA .

The local animal shelter staff and volunteers may be used to goodbyes, but this week they’ve been a little extra tearful over one particular farewell. 

After 11 years, an adopted dog of her own, and more changes than seasons in a year, Sonya Reichel is leaving her job as executive director of the Georgian Triangle Humane Society (GTHS), a decision she said she agonized over. 

“It was one of the hardest decisions I think I’ve ever made,” said Reichel, who has accepted a job with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) as vice-president of shelter operations. 

“At the end of the day, it really simply came down to being interested in a new horizon, a new challenge, and seeing what I could take from the GTHS and help to spread out across our province,” said Reichel. 

Her work will involve overseeing 14 animal centres across the province. 

When Reichel started with the Georgian Triangle Humane Society in October 2011, it was as a shelter manager, and the first paid staff member in the organization. 

“We had about 500 animals come through in a year, and we had just opened the dog kennels,” said Reichel. “We were in survival mode … no one knew about us in the community or what we did.” 

In her early days as shelter manager she faced a ringworm outbreak and the average length of stay for animals at the shelter was 180 days for cats and 30 days for dogs. The operating budget was around $400,000 annually.

“There was a lot of work that we had to do, we had to build our reputation and our operation and our ability to streamline and standardize,” she said. “But then every year, we just started chugging along and helping more animals.” 

Some of the staff and volunteers who gathered for a farewell party for Sonya Reichel this week at the GTHS. Contributed photo

Now, there are 30 staff and 385 volunteers at the GTHS helping about 4,000 pets per year through a variety of programs and services. The shelter also has contracts with four municipalities to serve as the pound. The GTHS also opened a fully-accredited companion animal hospital, brings 2,500 teens and youth through an education program every year, and has a $2.3 million operating budget. The average length of stay for cats is now under 30 days, and for dogs it’s fewer than 15 days.

“It took a lot of trust in each other,” said Reichel, reflecting on the past decade of growth at the GTHS. She said there were decisions that didn’t work out, and others that were scary but worked out really well. 

Along the way, Reichel and the GTHS decided to focus on helping both pets and people. Through support from the GTHS and its animal hospital, pet owners can get food from the pet food bank, emergency boarding for extreme situations, financial assistance for emergency surgeries, and more. 

Reichel recalls a family coming to the shelter several years ago with a six-month old kitten that had broken its leg. The family sobbed in front of Reichel as they left their beloved pet behind because they didn’t have the money to cover surgery. 

“They were surrendering this kitten so that we could repair it and find it a different home … but that animal had a loving family,” said Reichel, noting she looks back on that situation wishing she could have offered what the GTHS offers now, which is help to keep the pet and its people together. 

“It’s a different conversation, and it’s around responsible pet ownership and resources and trust and relationships,” said Reichel. “Because … that’s what people need. They don’t need rules or regulations. They need to be able to have an open and honest conversation about the challenges they’re experiencing.” 

Reichel has found sources of motivation throughout her career with GTHS in the staff and volunteers around her and in stories of animals becoming (and staying) pets. 

“Every single person in this building, including myself, has experienced how pets get us through some of the most awful times in our life … and for some people in our community, they’re experiencing that every single day,” said Reichel. 

That revelation has spurred Reichel on in her work with the GTHS and will continue to motivate her at the OSPCA. 

Reichel is sad to be leaving the GTHS before she gets to see the completion of the 19,000-square-foot regional centre for pets and people on a five-acre property Sandford Fleming Drive. 

“That is probably my deepest regret,” said Reichel.

But she will continue living in Collingwood and volunteering for the GTHS, and she plans to be there for the groundbreaking and grand opening. 

The centre is slated to open in 2025 and cost about $14-$18 million. 

The GTHS, including the animal hospital, currently operates out of a 3,500-square-foot building on Tenth Street.

“I do think this team is in a position where they’re strong, and they’re stable,” said Reichel. “We’ve got incredible support from donors in our community and so a new leader is going to come up with new ideas and fresh perspectives.” 

She is grateful to the community, including Collingwood, The Blue Mountains, Meaford, Grey Highlands, Clearview Township and Wasaga Beach for their support over the years for the GTHS. 

Filling Reichel’s shoes will be Karen Marsh, who steps in as the interim executive director of GTHS. She was formerly the coordinator for the humane education programs and the animal centre manager. 

She thanked Reichel for her commitment and work with the GTHS and credited Reichel with growing the team of staff and volunteers united in values of compassion and transparency, and for building a strong and well-known reputation for the GTHS in the community. 

Reichel’s last day as the executive director at the GTHS is today (Nov. 24). 

For more information about the GTHS programs and services, visit

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 15 years of experience as a local journalist
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