Difference Makers: Charlotte Craig has been a champion for health care, area animals

Charlotte Craig
Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer

Editor's Note: The B Magazine Difference Makers series is sponsored by Executive Property Management and your local Edward Jones Financial Advisors. Read more stories at www.semissourian.com/DifferenceMakers.

ďI jokingly tell people, ĎIíll take care of you as much as Iíll take care of a hurt dog.í And itís true. And Iíve proven it,Ē Charlotte Craig said.

Craig has been a nurse for almost 60 years, served as executive director of the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center for 38 years and is one of the founding members of the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri (HSSEMO) that began in 1978. She has been taking care of humans and animals in Southeast Missouri for the majority of her life.

ďItís in my DNA. Thereís no choice,Ē she said about her career in health care and with the Humane Society.

Craig said it is hard to separate the health department from HSSEMO because they are so intertwined. The Humane Society has reduced the number of dogs and cats on the street, given them a better quality of life and reduced rabies and animal bites in humans.

What really cements her work is the human-animal bond. She said that when animals and humans treat each other the right way, both can improve their mental and physical health and will have a better quality of life overall.

After seeing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and how pets were treated poorly during the crisis, she served on the Regional Homeland Security Oversight Committee and secured funds to provide emergency disaster trailers and disaster teams for animals. She said it was the first of its kind in the area and inspired other communities to do the same.

During her time at the health department, she improved access to health care by increasing the number of immunizations provided, development of an environmental service division, access to HIV testing and more.

In 2012, Craig made the tough decision to retire from her position as executive director. She had lost her husband, a brother and a sister in a span of 18 months, and the losses made her realize she had limited time herself. It made her focus on the very important goal of creating a new building for the Humane Society.

Even though she still works two days a week for the health department as a nurse, she has spent much of her time planning out the new shelter and raising money.

The new building, next to the current location, will be five times the size of the 2,600-square-foot space it has occupied since the early í80s, which was built in the í50s.

She said while this project has been thought of and planned for more than a decade, it finally clicked and made headway with the most recent board members and CEO of Penzel Construction Phil Penzel.

Craig said about the project, ďIím on the high diving board, bouncing the board up and down and getting ready to jump in. Thatís how close we are. So thatís how I feel. I feel wonderful about it.Ē

The new building currently has a structure, walls and a roof, but work is continuing on the interior. Considering organization officials have been fundraising during the pandemic, Craig is happy to report HSSEMO has reached 73% of their fundraising goal.

Shelter leadership recently announced the facility is now no-kill for dogs and cats, something they have wanted to achieve for years. Craig said when they struggled in the past, 20 to 30 animals were put down in a week. Now, thatís not the case.

Looking back on her involvement in public health and with the Humane Society, she doesnít see a lot of her own effort but everyone who helped along the way.

ďItís taken all these people,Ē Craig said.