From Wall Street to the air, Joanne O’Connell is striving to bring the love of pets to those in need. She was born and raised in New York City and is now in-transit and companion animal director for The ARK at JFK, the world’s first privately owned animal reception terminal and quarantine facility.
Joanne manages all aspects of the operation, client relations and finances for The ARK Pet Oasis, which is a 24/7, 365-day facility for in-transit companion animals, and works closely with federal agencies including the CDC, Customs and USDA as well as airlines to service the needs and promote the welfare of companion animals traveling as live cargo. At The ARK Pet Oasis, Joanne has seen a diverse range of animals, from a capybara (native to South America and the largest living rodent in the world) to anteaters, porcupines, baby pigs, an otter, the rare Pallas cat and much more.
In 1996, Joanne started volunteering part-time for Make-A-Wish, visiting children at a hospital. Joanne became inspired when she met a gentlemen with two Golden retrievers and saw the impact the therapy dogs had on the kids, realizing that she wanted to train her own dog to become a therapy dog. Every Friday for five years, Joanne and her white German shepherd, Shadow, would visit the New York Psychiatric Hospital. Doctors were amazed with the effect Shadow had on the patients—the nonverbal connection Shadow was able to make was stronger than any verbal communication they could ever achieve.
As Shadow grew older and stopped working as a Therapy Dog, Joanne decided to retire from a decades-long career as an engineer and management professional in Wall Street finance and the corporate sector. She started volunteering in 2008 at the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, a not-for-profit organization with the mission to provide guide dogs and training free-of-charge to those who are blind or visually impaired, including veterans, just like its sister organization America’s VetDogs.
Joanne has helped to raise six puppies, three of which graduated to become guide dogs for the blind, two became service dogs for veterans with disabilities, and the final puppy, Aiden.
During her time at the Guide Dog Foundation, Aiden tore his little meniscus and was going to be released from the organization. Once they found out the news, Joanne and her husband quickly decided to adopt and raise him. Aiden is their fourth puppy-in-training from the Foundation. Today, Aiden is a certified therapy dog, visits nursing homes and children’s hospitals in the area, and serves as an ambassador for The ARK at JFK and the Guide Dog Foundation, making public appearances at schools, clubs and fundraising events. Aiden also helps to raise other puppies-in-training, many of whom have graduated to become service dogs for America’s VetDogs.
Joanne received a certification from the NYC Department of Health Training, IPATA Pet Shipping and TSA Certified Cargo Screening Facility, where she is trained to inspect cargo for dangerous goods.
She now lives in Valley Stream, Long Island, with her husband and Aiden.
Content and images courtesy of The ARK at JFK.