Board Members

Jennifer Kirkland – Executive Director, a Staunton resident, is Associate General Counsel for Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA.  Jennifer is also a professional musician, and has appeared locally and regionally in various musical settings.  Jennifer has put her passion for animal welfare into service on the boards of Cat’s Cradle and The Mosby Foundation, focusing on grant writing, spay/neuter financial assistance programs, pet food pantry programs, pet retention initiatives, and other issues related to animal welfare. In 2013, she was honored to receive The Bravo Award from The Virginia Federation of Humane Societies, in recognition of her service to the field of animal welfare.

Donna Whitley-Smith – President is a life-long animal lover and began her involvement with rescue as a child with her father, moving box turtles off of busy streets in Northern Virginia.  For the last 40 years she has been a teacher and administrator for Page County Public Schools, where she currently serves as Superintendent.  She holds a B.S. degree from James Madison University and a Masters degree from the University of Southern Mississippi.  Over the years, Donna as been involved with the Page County SPCA, Page Paws, and currently serves as President of the Cat’s Cradle board.  She has fostered both dogs and cats, and currently has two rescue mutts and a street kitty as part of her family.

Renee Clark – Vice President a Staunton resident, works as a biologist assessing environmental impacts and obtaining environmental clearances.  She is a graduate of Mary Baldwin College with a degree in Biology and attended VNRLI at UVA for environmental mediation and negotiation.  Renee has actively volunteered with Cat’s Cradle for numerous years and can be found on Saturdays at adoption events, providing vaccinations and medical care to fosters, or transferring animals out of local pounds and shelters to safety.

Terry Elia – Secretary, a Fishersville resident, is a graduate of Bridgewater College with a BS degree in Business Administration. In 2014 she was inducted in to the Bridgewater Athletic Hall of Fame. She retired from the Virginia Department of Corrections in 2011 and until recently was employed at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women as a Part Time Human Resources Assistant.  Terry has been a volunteer with Cat’s Cradle for numerous years in addition to fostering, assists with adoption outings, transport and various other duties.  Terry is a member of Waynesboro Chapter No. 105, Order of the Eastern Star serving as Secretary and is Grand Representative of New Hampshire in Virginia.

Elizabeth Ralston – Treasurer, a Staunton resident, is the Deposit Operations Officer and BSA Officer at Frontier Community Bank in Waynesboro.  She started her banking career in 1998 with Rockingham Heritage Bank, working her way from Proof Operator to Deposit Operations Officer during her nine years with the bank.  Elizabeth began fostering for Cat’s Cradle in 2005 and has played healer, helper and host to numerous cats and kittens over the years.  She began duties as Cat’s Cradle Treasurer in 2015.  Elizabeth and her husband Jeremy are proud pet parents to several cats, including four failed Cat’s Cradle fosters, and a German Shepherd mix who loves every kitty that comes through the door.

Elizabeth Ihle, a resident of Mount Crawford, is an emeritus professor of James Madison University where she taught education and women’s studies courses and served in various administrative positions.  She received her bachelor’s degree from Brenau College, an M.A. in English from Penn State, and an Ed.D. from the University of Tennessee.  A lifelong cat lover, Elizabeth has been a note-writer and pet counselor from Cat’s Cradle for many years, fosters cats, and is serving her third term on the board.

Barbara Barath, a Harrisonburg resident, has worked in the not-for-profit financial services industry for 25 years. Originally from the Northern Virginia area, her passion for animal welfare began when she was a small child and has continued throughout her lifetime. She is a long-time supporter of Cat’s Cradle, and was invited to begin serving on the Board in 2014.

Tom Dawson is President of Valley Building Supply, which has businesses in Staunton & Harrisonburg. Valley Building Supply is a full service supply store for building needs.  Tom and his wife DeeDee are very active in the Rockingham/Harrisonburg community and love the JMU Dukes.  Tom is an animal lover, building cat shelters and donating to those in need.  Tom also serves the voice for Cat’s Cradle public service announcements.

Diana Black serves as an adjunct faculty member with JMU, where she teaches Critical Reading and Writing. After earning her M.A. in English in 2013, Diana worked as a professional storyteller, creating award-winning programming for the Staunton Public Library and honing her grant-writing skills. A seasoned performer, she is almost constantly involved in local theater. She is proud mama to four rescue cats, three of which she obtained on purpose.


Matt Chan – Adoption & Volunteer Coordinator, graduated from VCU with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications.  Matt began his career in animal welfare in 1999, and previously worked with the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA and the Augusta Regional SPCA.  As a coordinator with Cat’s Cradle, Matt and the volunteer team assist with driving adoptions through utilizing special promotions, social media, and web presence.  He also trains and coordinates volunteers on many skills including adoption counseling, pet retention & rehoming counseling, and fundraising.

Sherri Heishman – Marketing, lives in Fishersville, is a Professional Photographer and owns Twist & Snap Photography.  Sherri is also a Dale Carneige High Impact Speaker and Certified Sales Trainer.  Sherri uses her creativity to design the Cat’s Cradle marketing and promotional materials.  She writes the newsletters for Cat’s Cradle and most recently photographed and designed the “Men Who Love Cat’s” Calendar.  Sherri’s also volunteers as a foster home for Cat’s Cradle.   Sherri graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in Animal Science.

Christy Tabor – Veterinary Technician, serves as the Intake and Foster Home Coordinator for Cat’s Cradle, starting her position in 2013.  Christy attended Blue Ridge Community College and is a Licensed Veterinary Technician.  Christy previously volunteered for Cat’s Cradle for many years while working at Woodworth Animal Hospital and as a teacher of Veterinary Assistance at Massanutten Technical Center.  Since joining Cat’s Cradle’s team, she has been instrumental in expanding Cat’s Cradle foster home and transfer network.  Christy can often be found providing training to foster homes, facilitating medical treatment, or working with local municipal pounds to transfer animals to safety.  Christy is a lover of all animals, including cats, dogs, chickens, and goats.  Christy enjoys yoga, running, and chocolate in her free time.