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Leslie Rockey leaving shelter, though staying close at CMC’s Veterinary Technology Farm

Leslie Rockey with Sandy the ball python

This summer Leslie Rockey becomes the new animal resource manager at the Veterinary Technology Farm at Colorado Mountain College’s campus in Spring Valley. Rockey has been the director of the neighboring Colorado Animal Rescue animal shelter since it opened in 2000. Here she holds Sandy, the ball python. Photo Julie Albrecht

It is hard to imagine Colorado Animal Rescue without Leslie Rockey there. But come July 20, she will be leaving the directorship of CARE, a job she’s had since the shelter opened its doors in 2000.

Rockey has accepted an offer from Colorado Mountain College to become the next animal resource manager for the college’s veterinary technology program. She said she has mixed emotions about the transition, but is excited about her new position, which is based literally next door to the CARE facility at the college’s residential campus in Spring Valley, above the Roaring Fork Valley between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.

“I love CARE; it’s part of who I am,” said Rockey. “We have a wonderful crew, and I know they’ll deal with ease in the transition to a new director.

“Fifteen years is a good time to move on to something different,” she said. “It’s time for a change for me personally, and it’s good for CARE to have someone with new vision and new thoughts.”

Working with animals has always been Rockey’s passion. Before moving to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1996, she was an instructor’s assistant at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a seeing-eye training organization in New York state. Rockey then worked for the Aspen Boarding Kennel and Shelter, and at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona.

Rockey moved back to the valley, earned her Associate of Applied Science in veterinary technology at the college, successfully completed the Veterinary Technician National Exam and became a certified veterinary technician. She then became CARE’s shelter manager, then executive director, also teaching feline and animal shelter management to Colorado Mountain College vet tech students. The Colorado Veterinary Medical Association named her the Veterinary Technician of the Year in 2006.

Jeff Myers, doctor of veterinary medicine, heads the college’s veterinary technology program and will supervise Rockey in her new role. He said that during the seven-member selection committee’s search, it was clear Rockey had exactly the qualifications needed.

“We had a highly competitive pool of candidates who applied,” he said. “Leslie is a natural fit for the job. There’s a ton of crossover between CARE and CMC’s vet tech program, between managing a budget, working with the public, providing hands-on animal husbandry and dealing with governmental, education and regulatory agencies – plus she’s a joy to be around.”

Myers said that approximately 75 teaching animals live at the vet tech farm, including rats, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, several pythons, chickens, ducks, alpacas, llamas, sheep, goats, cats, horses, cattle and even a golden eagle. The animal resource manager oversees the daily care of all of these animals, guiding the vet tech students in learning how to properly care for them.

CARE resource for community

CARE and Colorado Mountain College are inextricably linked. The connection was initially fostered by Carbondale-based philanthropist Jim Calaway, who is an ardent CMC benefactor and founder of its advisory board of overseers. In addition to education Calaway is passionate about animal welfare, so when he learned that CARE was searching for land to build a shelter, he brought the two entities together. Today, CARE operates on leased land at the college’s Spring Valley campus, often interacting with vet tech students and faculty.

In the years Rockey has led CARE, the shelter has grown into an animal welfare resource for the community. Besides being a place to adopt pets, CARE goes into the schools and teaches kids about animal care. CARE advocates for low-cost spaying and neutering, and offers training classes.

“I’m very proud of what CARE has been able to accomplish, and that I’ve been a part of it,” Rockey said.

“Leslie’s solid leadership and passion for animals has created a very stable foundation for CARE,” said Susan Burr, CARE board president. “Although we will miss her, we are very excited about her new life adventure, especially since she’ll be only a few yards away! And, we know CARE will always be close to her heart.”

Rockey said the close partnership between the two entities, and interacting with CMC’s vet tech students, have been pluses of the job.

“CARE works with the vet tech program all of the time,” she said. “The shelter can x-ray animals, and do so much since the college is so close by. We benefit from the students. Many vet tech students who’ve graduated from CMC work in the shelter.”

‘We owe everything to Jim’

Mention Jim Calaway to Rockey, and she has to pause.

“The shelter wouldn’t be what it is without Jim,” she said. “He is so passionate, and so involved. He and I have become so close. We talk every day. He’s a part of my life; he’s a part of the shelter. We owe everything to Jim. He sealed the deal with the land. He praises the shelter constantly. He doesn’t have to do this, but he does. He’s an amazing force.”

For Calaway, Rockey will leave challenging shoes to fill.

“I so admire Leslie Rockey and all she has done for CARE,” said Calaway. “She came to the position as a new professional and has grown into an accomplished executive in the Roaring Fork Valley. She has also grown CARE from infancy to a thriving nonprofit, which during her tenure has housed and cared for over 12,000 dogs and cats.

“While Leslie is leaving one of my favorite organizations, she is joining Colorado Mountain College – another one that I love dearly,” he added. “I wish her the very best.”

“I’ll still be working with CARE,” Rockey said, “and will do what I can to help create a smooth and seamless transition to its new director.”

Burr said that CARE’s statewide search for a new executive director will start soon. “We are confident we will find the perfect person that can take CARE to the next level of greatness for providing shelter and finding forever homes for dogs, cats and ‘other critters,’” she said.

“Leslie will continue to be involved with our big 15-year anniversary event,” she added. ”After all, she is a huge part of why we can celebrate 15 years as a nonprofit animal shelter.”