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.

Chase Martin is a Human Resources Generalist for the City of Harrisonburg. He is a graduate of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina with a B.S. degree in Business Administration – Finance and a M.B.A. – Human Resources. Chase has over five years of professional human resources experience along with volunteer experience at other non-profit organizations while living in South Carolina. Chase’s love for animals brought him to Cat’s Cradle to help promote a safe and compassionate community for cats – even though his current lease doesn’t allow him to have a kitty of his own!

Susan Hagen is a Programmer Analyst for the Commonwealth of Virginia, working at Western State Hospital in Staunton.  Susan is a graduate of the University of Virginia with a B.A. degree in Psychology, and has completed graduate work at James Madison University in Software Engineering.  Susan enjoys native plant gardening, singing, and is a layperson in the Episcopal church, in addition to being a cat lover and Cat’s Cradle volunteer.

Susan Bennett works for the Waynesboro office of the Shenandoah Valley Department of Social Services and has been a long-time volunteer for Cat’s Cradle in almost every capacity there is, from fostering to caring for a feral colony, assisting with client counseling, managing adoption events, trapping and transporting ferals for spay/neuter, and training new fosters.

Michael Hickman is a writing instructor at James Madison University specializing in modernist literature.  He is a “triple Duke” having received a B.A. in English and Religion, as well as an M.A. in English, from JMU and now teaching there!  At JMU, Michael is also faculty advisor to the Hip-Hop Collective and a member of the first-year writing committee. He is one of the singers making up The Valley 7, a chamber choir in the Shenandoah Valley, a Beatlemaniac, and a lover of cats.


Christy Tabor – Licensed Veterinary Technician/Intake and Foster Coordinator, started her staff position in 2013.  Christy received her Associate’s Degree from Blue Ridge Community College, is licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia as a veterinary technician, and in January 2018 will receive her B.S. in Leadership and Organizational Management from Eastern Mennonite University.  Christy volunteered for Cat’s Cradle for many years while working at Woodworth Animal Hospital and teaching Veterinary Assistance at Massanutten Technical Center.   Since joining the Cat’s Cradle staff, she has been instrumental in expanding Cat’s Cradle’s foster home and transport network.  Christy can often be found providing training to foster homes, facilitating medical treatment, or working with local intake shelters to transfer animals to safety.  She is a lover of all animals, including cats, dogs, chickens, rabbits and goats.  She enjoys yoga, running, and chocolate in her free time (even though she has no free time!)

Jennifer Ybarra – Adoption and Outreach Coordinator, started her staff position in July 2017.  Before joining the staff, Jennifer had volunteered for Cat’s Cradle photographing our foster kitties to promote online adoptions and leading our rehoming program.  Jennifer is also an entrepreneur specializing in costume design, with her own small business since 2010, following in the footsteps of two parents who are also small business owners and artists! Jennifer’s love for animals goes back to her childhood.  She began volunteering in animal welfare in her teens at a wildlife sanctuary.  Before moving to Virginia, while living in Mexico, she and her husband, along with some friends, set up their own grassroots program to facilitate the spay/neuter/vetting and adoption of 37 cats and 8 dogs!

Patty Hardy – Volunteer and Community Services Coordinator, started her staff position in July 2017.  Patty has a B.S. degree in Biology from James Madison University, and worked as a chemist at Merck & Co. for 38 years.  Before joining the staff, Patty was a long-time volunteer for Cat’s Cradle.  She loves all animals, especially cats.  Patty enjoys walking, working out, reading, and working in her yard.

Lindy Suster – Trap Neuter Return Coordinator, joined the Cat’s Cradle staff in the spring of 2017.  Lindy had volunteered for Cat’s Cradle during all four of her years as a student at James Madison University, graduating in 2015 with her B.S. in Biotechnology.  Lindy’s love of chasing cats began when she used to bring strays home as a child.  Her mission is to change the misunderstood feral cat community!  In her spare time, Lindy enjoys playing roller derby – – she plans to use the support network and friendships she cultivates through roller derby to increase awareness and support for Cat’s Cradle.

Matt Heineck – Animal Care and Cleaning Specialist, is a math major at JMU and has an Associates of Arts and Sciences from Blue Ridge Community College.  All of the cats he’s had have been rescues or re-homes, so Cat’s Cradle was the next step in caring for the animals he holds so close to his heart. In his free time, Matt likes to do Live-Action Roleplay and Medieval Combat Reenactment as well as sing with his friends.

Sherri Heishman – Publicity/Marketing, is Philanthropy Manager for Augusta Health Foundation.  Sherri is also a professional photographer and owns Twist & Snap Photography.  Sherri is a Dale Carnegie High Impact Speaker and Certified Sales Trainer.  She uses her creativity to design much of Cat’s Cradle’s print media, including our newsletters, and some of our online promotional and marketing materials.  Sherri photographed and designed the 2015 “Men Who Love Cats” calendar, and designed the space and layout for Cat’s Cradle’s Downtown Center in Harrisonburg.  Sherri also volunteers as a foster home for Cat’s Cradle.  Sherri graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in Animal Science.