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Celebrating Black history-makers in animal welfare: Sheon Mallory

Posted on Monday, February 26, 2024

Black history is being made every day, and we are grateful to our Black colleagues, whose enormous talents make a difference for animals and the people who love them throughout our community. Today and every day, we celebrate their achievements and contributions, which include those of Sheon Mallory, who has dedicated two decades of her professional life to caring for homeless dogs and cats. Sheon recently sat down with our manager of employee engagement, Gray Miller, to share her experiences. 

If you’ve visited our humane center over the last 20 years, chances are you’ve caught a glimpse of Sheon working with our animals to make sure they’re comfortable, cozy and happy. Sheon began her career with the Richmond SPCA back in 2003 as a young adult.

Now in her 21st year of service as an animal care technician, Sheon has cared for thousands of homeless animals and made an impact on hundreds of fellow team members who have worked alongside her. 

Many thanks to our fundraising events specialist, Janae Jones, for suggesting the idea to honor and recognize Black history-makers and their contributions to our field during Black History Month.

A love of animals from the very beginning

Growing up, Sheon begged her mom for a dog or a cat. Sheon’s wishes for pets eventually came true when they added hamsters and parakeets — her “first babies,” as she calls them — to their family. 

While Sheon’s mother loved dogs, she didn’t like cats, which Sheon couldn’t understand — she saw all four-legged animals as creatures to be loved. Once they found an abandoned kitten, and Sheon begged to keep her (and named her Emerald because of her pretty eyes). After a few nights of caring for the kitten in their home, they decided to take the kitten to a veterinarian’s office with the hopes that the office could find the kitten a home. 

Eventually, Sheon successfully persuaded her mom and they welcomed a puppy into their family. Sheon named the pup Jordache, after the shoes that the dog loved to chew up. Unfortunately, not long after Jordache joined Sheon’s family, he escaped their home and was tragically hit by a car. 

We are so grateful to Sheon for all of the love and care that she gives our animals every day. And, we’re so glad that they give that love right back to her!

Jordache’s passing deeply affected Sheon. Already a very introverted kid who was bullied at school, she became depressed and missed her companion. As Sheon’s school graduation approached, her mom knew just what could help Sheon — a new four-legged friend. 

Chi Chi, a tiny Chihuahua, joined the family. Initially, Sheon was frustrated because Chi Chi behaved differently from Jordache. Her mom explained that animals are individuals with their own personalities, a learning experience that Sheon values to this day. Once Sheon realized that she loved and valued Chi Chi for her own unique personality, the fun really began.

Chi Chi went everywhere with them — tucked away in a little bag. Sheon describes Chi Chi as incredibly smart. She says, “[Chi Chi] realized, ‘Oh, when I go in a bag, we leave’ — if we put a purse down or a bookbag [she hopped in] … I almost took her to school one day when I left my bookbag on the floor and she was trying to get in it!”  

Job searching — and finding

In the early 2000s, adulthood was right around the corner for Sheon. She began thinking about her career, and what she’d like to do. Sheon had frequently combined her loves for art and animals, constantly drawing her beloved companions. She considered animation as a career path but found that it didn’t hold her interest.  

Because she loved animals so much, people frequently asked her if she wanted to be a veterinarian. But that path never felt right to Sheon. She started watching veterinary TV shows on Animal Planet to get a feel for the profession, but she couldn’t imagine performing surgeries and seeing the insides of animals that she loved day after day. 

In 2003, Sheon’s uncle asked if she’d ever been to the animal shelter across from The Diamond. She hadn’t heard of it, much less been inside, so together they visited the Richmond SPCA. Little did Sheon know that she would return — and keep returning for decades. 

Sheon was used to the idea of a shelter being loud and stressful. The Richmond SPCA had just opened the Hermitage Road location in 2002, and when she walked in, Sheon thought, “This is a shelter?!” She described the humane center as having a “new puppy smell” — in the very best way, of course. 

Sheon holds a tiny Chihuahua puppy who could fit in the palm of her hand!
Sheon feeds Kurt Cobain, a cat in our care in 2020.

“From then on, I wanted to work here. I asked how to apply and was told that they didn’t have openings at the time and to look online.” Sheon spent weeks refreshing the Richmond SPCA jobs page, patiently waiting for an opportunity in animal care. Finally, when an animal care technician position opened, Sheon immediately completed the application and asked her family to take her to the humane center to drop it off. 

Sheon enthusiastically accepted a job as a part-time animal care technician in September 2003. She spent her first day training in dog living areas with Carly Sgueo, another animal care technician, who had been on the staff for three months. (Side note: Carly is now our senior director of shelter operations.)

“I remember going home after my first day just buzzing.” Sheon had found her calling. 

Making connections at the Richmond SPCA

Sheon gives Madonna, a cat in our care, some extra cuddles.

When Sheon envisioned her ideal career, she knew she wanted to find a job that had limited interaction with people. “I was always introverted,” she says. “When I first started working here, I preferred to be around animals more than people.  

“Growing up, I was always bullied, and got beat up in elementary school.” As a result, she took her time getting to know new people.

After she had been fully trained, she would clean her assigned space and then stay in the rooms with the animals, rather than taking breaks and lunches with her coworkers. 

“And there was a lady here named Geraldine Thornton. When they introduced me to her, they were like, ‘This is Ms. Gee. If she likes you, she’s going to joke with you.’” Ms. Gee always seemed friendly to Sheon, but one day she interacted with Sheon as if they were the best of friends, and she never stopped. “So, every time I came in, she would seek me out and start talking. After a while, I was like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to train with this lady in Townhomes [a cat living space].’ Long story short, she ended up being a second mother to me.” 

Geraldine “Ms. Gee” had been with the Richmond SPCA as an animal care technician since 1981. She started in her role after a high school counselor recommended she explore opportunities at the Richmond SPCA. Ms. Gee had a 37-year career with the Richmond SPCA, retiring in 2018. 

“So, Gee was my first friend. Gee really brought me out of my shell. I love Gee. We still keep in touch today.” Sheon further explained that it made her feel good to see Ms. Gee around, especially since in her experience most animal-related workplaces seemed to be made up of predominantly white staff at the time.  

Geraldine Thornton, also known as Ms. Gee, became a mentor, friend and “second mother” to Sheon.

Sheon’s experience as a person of color at the Richmond SPCA

Sheon holds Seagull, a cat in our care in 2023 who was FIV+.

“[Ms. Gee] used to tell me how when she first started, there weren’t many Black people doing animal care work. Seeing her there, I was like, ‘Okay, well, she’s here, so I’m not alone.’ And there was another girl, too — another Black girl. I was like, ‘Okay! So, this is fine. I can do this.’” 

When asked if she thinks she’s fulfilled that role for other people, Sheon humbly said, “I think so.”   

Sheon has experienced both Black employees and Black members of the public seeking her out for her knowledge and support — noting that she believes they felt most comfortable coming to chat with her rather than another employee of a different race. 

“Even now, going into places when I am the only one — the first thing I’m doing is looking to see if there are any others like me. If there aren’t, it causes a little bit of anxiety.” 

Sheon often sees school and children’s groups taking tours around the Richmond SPCA. “I hear [Coordinator of Humane Education] Chanel telling people that I’ve worked here for a while.” Sheon hopes that these children see a Black woman with extended tenure as a sign of happiness. Happy people stay. That is, after all, how Sheon felt about Ms. Gee.  

“I’m happy to see more Black kids coming in and touring. I do like that a lot. I get envious because we never had that.” 

Over the 20 years that Sheon has spent with the Richmond SPCA, she has seen an increase in adopters of color as well — especially cat adopters. “When I grew up, mostly you saw that Black people had dogs and white people had cats. Now it’s very blended. I see a lot more Black people looking at cats. That’s changed over the years, from what I’ve seen.” 

Sheon snags a selfie with a pup in our care.

Sheon’s first shelter dogs of her own

Sheon told herself when she started working at the Richmond SPCA that she would wait a year before she adopted a pet. She can’t quite remember if she made it the full year before she met Paco. Even though her mom said they couldn’t have another dog in their house, she eventually softened, and Sheon’s grandmother helped her adopt Paco. 

Soon after, the Richmond SPCA was low on kennel space and asked if anyone would be willing to foster a dog in their home. At the time, the organization had taken in 15-20 dogs from a hoarding situation. Among them was Huggies, “a Chihuahua/Pom thing,” according to Sheon, who was positive for both heartworms and hookworms. 

“She wouldn’t let anybody walk her. But she let me walk her. There was a special way you had to do it though — you basically had to treat her like a horse. She wasn’t going to walk in front of you — you had to leash her up and have her follow [you] out. No one else could figure it out.” 

Despite her mom again saying they wouldn’t be getting any more pets, she talked it over with her and they agreed to foster Huggies until she was ready for adoption. On Huggies’ first night in the home, Sheon found Huggies covered in popcorn, decorated like a Christmas tree. “I was like, ‘What in the world?!’ She was so shy and scared, but she had gotten into my Ukrop’s popcorn. And I couldn’t get mad at her because it was so hilarious.” 

Huggies accompanied Sheon on many Dog Jogs!

Sheon fostered Huggies for a while, and when Huggies was cleared for adoption, Sheon was asked if she planned to adopt. Surprisingly, Sheon didn’t intend on adopting Huggies. “We didn’t have a bond. But my mom, the one who said we can’t have another dog, said, ‘You can’t let her go. She loves you!’”  Sheon decided to adopt Huggies. She says, “Huggies became my best baby and I really bonded with her after some time.”  

Suns out tongues out at the Richmond SPCA!

Soon after, Sheon fell in love again with a small dog who was surrendered to the Richmond SPCA and adopted her, naming her Pica. “Pretty much all my babies got along — they just fought over who got what spot on my bed.” 

After that, Sheon hit her limit with four dogs, two cockatiels and a guinea pig. “We had a little teeny Chihuahua come in and my mom was like, ‘We can take her!’ But I was like, ‘No.’ I cut myself off.”  

Today, Sheon works exclusively with cats in our humane center, but she says, “I always tell people that even though I work with cats, dogs still have my heart. I’m a dog person.” 

Cat care extraordinaire

When she joined the team at the Richmond SPCA, Sheon’s only experience with cats was with Emerald the rescue kitten. Sheon had to learn how to handle and interact with cats. It didn’t take long, however, for Sheon to become the go-to staff member for cats struggling to acclimate to the shelter.  

“When people say, ‘She’s so good with cats,’ I always tell them, ‘Funny story, when I first started working here, I knew NOTHING about cats — like, zero. I had to learn.’”

Sheon gets creative with her cat handling!
Sheon snuggles Priss, a cat who was in our care in 2019.

Sheon’s favorite part of the job is “making [the animals] comfortable. I also like seeing them blossom. Some of them will come in looking really bad health-wise, or behaviorally, and then give it anywhere from a few days, weeks or months, and they’re a totally different animal.” 

Combining her passions of art and animals

Not long after joining the team in 2003, Sheon was promoted to a full-time position on the Animal Care team. Over the years, she continued to show her dedication to and expertise in making sure animals were comfortable and safe in our care, and now spends one day a week on our Internal Veterinary Services team, helping with the medical treatment of our sick and injured pets. Sheon has been encouraged to consider more of a leadership position in the department as they have become available, but she has always turned them down. She says, “I like to be able to do my own thing — and I don’t like meetings. I like consistency, and I also don’t get bored at all.” 

Sheon shared a lifelong desire to combine her two passions of art and animals. “I got to do that here,” she notes. Sheon is the featured artist on our Critter Camp T-shirts and has offered her artistic talents to numerous materials used in humane education programs.  

Sheon has shared her artwork with us over the years.

For 20 years, Sheon has been caring for animals in need at the Richmond SPCA, and we are so grateful to her for each and every day she has spent on our team, making a lifesaving impact on pets when they need help the most, and making our staff a better group to be a part of.

When Sheon isn’t at the Richmond SPCA, she enjoys hanging out with her family and friends, drawing and watching Asian dramas and anime.  

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