Name: Dr. Apryl Steele
Marital status: Married, Kim
Children: Four legged only
Career: President and CEO, Dumb Friends League
Where she lives today? Trailmark near Chatfield Reservoir
Dr. Apryl Steele, the new president and CEO of Dumb Friends League has her capable hands very full. Founded in 1910 and headquartered in Denver, the Dumb Friends League boasts a 100 percent placement rate for healthy cats and dogs in 2017. In actual numbers, the Dumb Friends League found homes for 15,497 pets in 2017. The Dumb Friends League, in partnership with local law enforcement and through the Dumb Friends League Equine Center, also took in 303 equines and adopted out 77 of those.
Steele is currently overseeing a $40 million renovation and expansion of the main facility, which will allow the Dumb Friends League to provide top-notch shelter to its animals and significantly expand the organization’s ability to treat the pets for medical and behavioral conditions. A practicing veterinarian and a veteran of the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, Steele intends to guide this Colorado treasure with compassion and strong leadership in the foreseeable future.
What surprises people about you?
I come across as being kind and collaborative. But I have a strong backbone and can make hard decisions with dignity.
How do people describe you?
Intelligent, kind, creative, supportive, adventuresome.
Who do you most admire?
I admire Ralph Johnson, he was the CEO of Colorado Veterinary Medical Association. He was so collaborative, respectful and kind.
Favorite Denver metro restaurant?
I like Mizuna, on 7th Avenue in central Denver. It’s expensive, but so good.
What was the last great book you read?
Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. It really sticks with me because the writing is so descriptive.
What is your biggest fashion faux pas?
I don’t have any fashion, so I can’t have a faux pas.
What is one thing that you absolutely can’t live without?
Humor. Yeah, but I suppose water and air are important, too.
What was your last major purchase?
A build-it-yourself hot tub.
What gadget can you not live without?
What are your hobbies?
I love to ride my bicycle. My partner and I rode from Denver to Virginia. I also like puzzles and building projects.
What is your most memorable Colorado experience?
Going through East High School. Maybe the half marathon in Steamboat. I was dying but it was so beautiful.
What one word describes Coloradans to you?
What is your favorite spot in Colorado to visit?
I enjoy my cabin down by the Royal Gorge near Texas Creek.
Are you involved with any charities?
Colorado Humane Society, Colorado Federation of Animal Welfare Agencies. I’m president-elect of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, and we also support Habitat for Humanity.
What took you down this career path?
I had no idea I would come down this path. I started with a veterinary practice, then started my own. I loved healing and running a team. Bob Rohde came to me and told me he wanted me to be his successor at the Dumb Friends League. He really wanted a successful succession. At first I declined. But I spent some time soul-searching. I really wanted to advocate for animals. This organization is so incredibly impactful to so many animals and I couldn’t turn that away. I took a job here doing many things and then took over as CEO.
What did you do for the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps?
Initially I was a food inspection specialist. Even before I was a vet. A friend convinced me to enlist with her and go through basic training in 1989. I showed up for basic training, but she never did. I got activated for Desert Storm and then stayed active in the Army Reserves including going to Panama caring for animals.
Why did you give up private practice for this?
I kept ownership of my private practice for about a year and a half just in case. But there was no way I could make a bigger difference than being here at DFL.
Did you grow up with pets?
I grew up with cats mainly. My best friend growing up was a cat named Thumbs. She literally had extra thumbs.
What is the hardest part about being CEO of Dumb Friends League?
Everyone wants something but you can’t make everyone happy all the time. People don’t always understand the difference between passion and compassion. Passion is about the self, and compassion is how we care about others. We all get passionate about animals, but being compassionate may lead you in another more essential direction.
What does the DFL Harmony Equine Center do and why is it so unique?
It was built to take care of neglected and abused horses that local law enforcement had no place to put. It’s now 168 acres, where we monitor animals, take evidence for law enforcement, hold and care for animals. We are a resource for law enforcement, but we don’t take a penny from the government. And then we want to re-home horses, rather than just house them. So we train horses to be what they are built for (such as trail riding or working). Last year we provided a home for about 300 horses.
Do you have a most heartwarming story at DFL?
Last year hikers heard a dog whining, and they found this dog tied to a tree. It was emaciated and had a face full of porcupine quills. They brought the dog here, gave it medical attention, and found it a fabulous home. Now it is one of the happiest dogs you could imagine.
Is there a favorite adoption story?
We had a cat named Phoenix who had been burned over her whole back. She was adopted by a woman who had also been severely burned. The bond was incredible and immediate.
What is the “Puppy Bowl” at Denver International Airport, and is it successful?
The intention is to bring happiness and joy to travelers and to bring attention to our organization. The puppies also get adopted, but the puppies always get adopted.
You brought in animals from Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria. How did that come about?
We got called by the Humane Society of the United States. We were able to reach out to all the shelters in the area and together we were able to bring in over 100 animals into Colorado. We also have a sister shelter in Puerto Rico now.
You are overseeing a $40 million expansion and modernization. What new capabilities will it allow you?
We are in phase 2 of 5 phases. The best place for animals is in good homes, but until that happens they need a safe and comfortable place to be. Right now, we are building a new adoption center and admission center to accept the nearly 60 animals that come to us on an average day. We will be doubling our veterinary space so we can treat extensive medical and behavioral needs. We never euthanize an animal because of time or space, we make that decision only if the animal is suffering or unsafe for the community. We receive 20,000 animals every year. We are also so thankful for Leslie and John Malone who have matched $20 million in contributions.
What has been your biggest challenge with the expansion so far?
Renovating an existing space is very difficult particularly because of the challenge of making the old space safe and shored up before we move on.
Where do you hope to see the DFL in 10 years?
I hope to increase our ability to be more collaborative with the community and employ a holistic approach to all animals in the community that need help, not just the ones that make their way to us.
How can Coloradans help?
Keep adopting, and as importantly, keep financially supporting your animal welfare organizations.
Scott S. Evans is a father of two, a business litigation attorney, writer and high school lacrosse coach living in Centennial. Scott’s favorite pet was his Vizsla, Vica. Scott has freelanced for various publications including The Wall Street Journal and The Military Law Review.
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