ANIMALS 24-7 founding board member
KNOXVILLE, Tennessee––Vicky Crosetti, for 19 years executive director of the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley and a founding member of the ANIMALS 24-7 board of directors, died on January 22, 2020, after a multi-year fight against lung cancer and a variety of other serious health issues.
Crosetti would have turned 67 on January 26, 2020.
Victoria S. Krishock, ROTC cadet
Born Victoria S. Krishock, the eldest of five siblings, raised in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, Crosetti arrived at Niagara University in New York for the 1971 fall semester, intending to major in Spanish and sociology.
Informed that she would have to take a physical education class, Crosetti enrolled in “military science,” on the probably joking recommendation of a fellow student.
This put her, unawares, into the U.S. Army Reserve Officer Training Corps at the height of the Vietnam War. U.S. Army ROTC had previously admitted only eight women, all of them at Temple University in Pennsylvania in 1969, who officially arrived due to “an error in the academic advising office.
“The rifle doesn’t stay on my shoulder like it’s supposed to, and sometimes I turn right when I should go left. You’d think I’d know my right from my left by now,” Krishock told Associated Press in November 1971, after two months of drilling with 142 male students, in civilian clothing because the program had no uniforms for woman.
As to the rifle itself, Krishock said, “I’m not sure if it’s an M-14 or an M-16, but it weighs 10 pounds. I’m not military-oriented,” she added, and women’s lib has nothing to do with it.”
Managed McDonald’s restaurant
Still Vicky Krishock, she relocated to Nevada, where the Henderson Home News of November 20, 1977 reported, with a photograph, that she was managing a McDonald’s restaurant in Henderson, near Las Vegas. She often called that job the best possible preparation she could have had for running a humane society.
“Vicky was an executive recruiter when I met her, in 1980,” her former husband David L. Crosetti told ANIMALS 24-7. She specialized in placing executives who worked in consumer product sales. She placed me at All American Bottling Company, an RC Cola franchise company where I worked for six years. I started with them in Oakland, California, and then we relocated to Nashville, Tennessee.
The 10-year marriage to David L. Crosetti, four years her elder, first cousin of longtime New York Yankees shortstop and coach Frankie Crosetti, gave Vicky the name she used ever afterward. Diana Crosetti, her former mother-in-law, remained among Vicky Crosetti’s close friends to the end of Diana’s life.
After the marriage ended, Vicky Crosetti worked for a time as an executive recruiter in Franklin, Tennessee, wrote David Madison of the Knoxville publication Metro Pulse in July 1999.
Thought Chihuahua was a rat
“While in Franklin, Crosetti says her career in animal care began when she stopped at a convenience store one afternoon and saw what she thought was a rat run across the parking lot,” Madison recounted.
“It turned out to be a Chihuahua, whom I took home,” Crosetti told Madison. “At the time, I was very discouraged to find out that the animal shelter where I was living was inadequate, to say the least.”
Wrote Madison, “Not long afterward, Crosetti enrolled in a two-year veterinarian’s assistant program in Columbia, Tennessee. She then moved back to San Francisco, where she managed a pet emergency clinic and [in 1987] founded the Valley Humane Society, in Pleasanton, California.”
“It started out with eight people in my living room,” Crosetti recalled.
San Benito County SPCA
First, however, Crosetti accepted a position as state-appointed humane officer for the then one-year-old and now long defunct San Benito County SPCA.
Crosetti, founding San Benito County SPCA president Janet Santone, and her husband and fellow humane officer William Santone in September 1987 all resigned in protest when the board of directors allegedly failed to vigorously pursue a criminal prosecution against a woman named Elizabeth Blodgett, who was repeatedly accused of keeping as many as 225 dogs at a kennel north of north of San Juan Bautista without adequate food, water, and space for exercise.
Crosetti may have imagined that forming the Valley Humane Society would allow her greater leeway to prosecute cruelty and neglect cases.
The Valley Humane Society was a success, now claiming $2 million worth of facilities and an annual operating budget of more than half a million dollars a year.
Pursued hoarding case against Gladys Sargent
But Crosetti did not remain involved for long. Instead, she pursued an animal hoarding case against California humane lobbying legend Gladys Sargent (1899-1996).
A minority shareholder in the Oakland Raiders football team, Sargent was credited with winning passage of legislation to reform slaughter methods, prohibit selling dyed baby chicks at Easter, outlaw killing bears with steel-jawed leghold traps, prohibit vivisection by school children, make dog theft a felony, and keep greyhound racing out of California, after then-state attorney general Earl Warren in 1939 closed the seven-year-old El Cerrito Kennel Club. Warren was later noted for his pro-civil rights votes as 14th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sargent in 1946 went on to found a statewide organization called Pets & Pals, which from 1955 to 1975 operated a spay/neuter program in Contra Costa County, California, had advocacy branches in San Francisco, Sacramento, Stockton, and Los Angeles, and supported shelters in Galt and Lathrop, California. The Lathrop shelter still exists.
Even at age 88, Sargent remained a formidable foe. Decades and many dozens of hoarding cases later, Crosetti continued to remember Sargent’s home as one of the worst such cases she ever investigated, but Sargent beat the rap.
Crosetti, under pressure, moved on again, landing at the Gulf Breeze Zoo in Alabama as caretaker for a Colossus, a western lowland gorilla the zoo bought from Benson’s Animal Farm, a notorious roadside attraction in Hudson, New Hampshire, that folded in October 1987.
After spending 20 years housed alone in Hudson, and then another five years alone at the Gulf Breeze Zoo, Colossus was transferred to the Cincinnati Zoo in 1993 as a prospective mate for three female gorillas. Colossus did become the dominant silverback of the family, helping to raise several gorilla babies, but died at age 50 in 2018 without siring any himself.
Williamson County Animal Shelter
Crosetti, however, in 1989 returned to Franklin, Tennessee to head the Williamson County Animal Shelter, the same facility she had found “inadequate, to say the least” about seven years before.
Crosetti lasted about six months there before being fired for what she later recalled as “all the right reasons,” specifically for expecting staff to learn how to do their jobs properly and then do the work conscientiously.
Knox County Humane Society
That fiasco, however, brought Crosetti to the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley as executive director on October 1, 1990.
Founded in 1885, the organization, then called the Knox County Humane Society, occupied a World War II-vintage Quonset hut with offices in a trailer. The chief function of the humane society was providing animal control sheltering service to Knox County and the city of Knoxville.
Crosetti inherited, along with the dilapidated buildings, a dispirited staff, a depleted donor base and budget, and the sad task of having to euthanize nearly 11,000 animals in her first year as executive director, from lack of alternatives.
Early in her tenure, Crosetti became known to some critical media as “the dragon lady of the humane society” for––as in Franklin––demanding that her staff learn to do their jobs and then do them well, taking pride in performance.
Despite the unavoidably high euthanasia rate, Crosetti ran into her first major controversy after euthanizing a six-month-old German shepherd named Freeway whom she deemed too dangerous to rehome in January 1992. This decision saved another dog’s life, but infuriated a prospective adopter for the German shepherd.
The episode made influential enemies who dogged Crosetti to the end of her tenure, but her concern for public safety over personal popularity made friends, too, and put her in position to do some hard bargaining with both Knox County and Knoxville in May 1992 budget negotiations.
When the city and county balked at adequately funding the shelter, Crosetti pressured them to adopt differential dog licensing, meaning that the owners of unaltered dogs paid higher licensing fees––a measure already in place for decades in much of the rest of the U.S.
Crosetti at the same time began diversifying the Knox County Humane Society fundraising base by opening a shelter boutique, initially featuring fashion items donated by artist Laurel Burch.
North Shore Animal League America
Also in 1992, Crosetti began lowering Knox County Humane Society euthanasia rate and boosting adoptions by partnering with the North Shore Animal League America, of Port Washington, New York, to send adoptable animals north for rehoming.
A now common practice, relocating animals to enhance their adoption prospects was then almost unheard of. The North Shore Animal League America had been accepting and rehoming adoptable animals from nearby animal control shelters since 1969, but had only begun extending outreach to shelters outside the “tristate region” surrounding New York City in 1990.
Crosetti was introduced to the North Shore Animal League program by Warren Cox, who headed more than two dozen humane organizations between 1952 and 2012, and remains involved as a senior advisor to many, including ANIMALS 24-7.
“Initially there was resistance from several of our board,” Crosetti told ANIMALS 24-7. “The comment I heard most often was, ‘It sounds too good to be true. Something is going to go wrong.’ Nothing went wrong. The simple fact is that we got in far more puppies than we could place. With North Shore help, they left our property in a van headed for Long Island instead of in the back of a pickup truck headed for the landfill.”
Soon, Crosetti recalled, she “got a couple of calls a month from other shelters asking if I thought North Shore would take their puppies too.”
The North Shore Animal League America also was “very generous about sharing techniques for screening adopters, increasing adoptions, and efficiently following up on adopted animals,” Crosetti added, helping the Knox County Humane Society to double adoptions from 1,767 in 1991––slightly more, actually, than the organization rehomes annually now––to 3,404 animals in 1994.
Horse Haven of Tennessee
As well as making some friends in local media and public safety agencies, and in Port Washington, Crosetti befriended neighbor Nina L. Margetson.
Recalled Margetson on the Horse Nation web site in 2015, “I moved to Tennessee in 1979 with my husband from New York state. In 1991 a new neighbor moved in next door to us in South Knoxville, and she was the new director at the Knox County Humane Society.
“Vicky Crosetti encouraged me to pursue my dream of working to help horses in need. I worked with the humane society from 1991 to 2003. One June day the call came in that there were four horses in need in Roane County, from a cruelty confiscation, and they had no place to take them. They asked if Vicky could house them, because there was a seven-acre pasture type area at the shelter in South Knoxville. She came to me and asked me if I was ready, and the rest is a blur.
“Hit the ground running”
“I hit the ground running in June of 1999 and haven’t slowed down since.
“I’ll never forget what Vicky told me in the early years of Horse Haven of Tennessee when I would get discouraged,” Margetson wrote. “She said if Horse Haven could make it through our first five years and get past the criticism and negative remarks and remain focused on our mission, we would survive.”
Horse Haven of Tennessee is now “the state’s largest and oldest equine welfare organization,” Margetson finished, having rescued and rehomed more than 800 horses to date.
Hearts of Horse Haven
Stepping down as executive director in December 2015, Margetson remained with Horse Haven of Tennessee until October 2016.
“My future plan was to remain on staff and serve in other areas using my expertise and credentials until retirement, at which time I would become a foster and volunteer as long as physically able,” Margetson later posted on LinkedIn. “Instead I was informed October 21, 2016 by the new executive director there was no longer a place for me there and I was fired.”
Margetson in February 2018 founded Hearts of Horse Haven, “not to take the place of, but to enhance current services offered across the state.”
Meanwhile, between organizing a March 1993 protest against the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus which was without precedent in Tennessee history, and fighting an August 1993 rabies outbreak with a vaccination campaign, Crosetti resumed her campaign against animal hoarders.
Within a few years Crosetti was a frequent speaker at regional and national conferences on the hoarding phenomenon and how to conduct hoarding raids so as to obtain convictions of the hoarders, with long probationary sentences that enable animal control and humane agencies to keep them under supervision.
(See Handling hoarders.)
Anna Sandhu Ray
Among the more memorable hoarding cases that Crosetti handled in Knoxville was the 1996 prosecution of artist Anna Sandhu Ray McBee, who in October 1978 married James Earl Ray, the imprisoned assassin of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., divorcing him in 1992.
Summarized Associated Press, “Officers were called to the home of Anna Sandhu Ray to investigate a report of an injured person and found Ray with a large cut on her face. Ray, 49, refused medical treatment, became unruly and was arrested, police said.
“In her home, officers found 15 dogs, four cats and six kittens, in addition to the dead animals. The structure was condemned by city codes enforcement officers.”
Lawyers needed a sense of humor
Anna Sandhu Ray, who became McBee through a later marriage, sued Crosetti, Crosetti recalled, “because she said we took away her artistic inspiration when we seized her animals.”
Said Crosetti, “Thank god that through the years I’ve had wonderful and generous attorneys who also possess a sense of humor.”
In addition to the Ray case, Crosetti recalled, “I was sued for wrongful termination when a couple of girls exposed themselves at work and we did not have in our employee manual that staff must remain fully clothed. I was also once sued for millions over chicken sperm.”
The “chicken sperm” case originated on June 30, 1993 when police seized five gamecocks from one John Brown, of Corbin, Kentucky, after stopping him for alleged speeding.
As was routine practice at the time when gamecocks were impounded, and because the Knox County Humane Society lacked facilities to hold gamecocks, Crosetti and operations manager Debbie Clark euthanized the birds. Brown sued them for $2.1 million, claiming they were valuable breeding fowl.
“We prevailed each time but it does get a bit tiring,” Crosetti laughed.
Crosetti responded to the “chicken sperm” lawsuit in August 26, 1997 by reinvigorating a campaign––still underway––to reinstitute the felony penalty for cockfighting that existed in Tennessee until a stealth repeal in 1990.
Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley
Crosetti in December 1999 also initiated an investigative instruction course in humane law enforcement, attracting sheriffs, police, and humane officers from four states––who learned from visiting experts how to investigate and prosecute animal fighting, as well as cruelty and neglect.
The Knox County Humane Society became the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley in August 1996, a name change that Crosetti hoped might expand the donor base.
That idea may have backfired, however, by making the organization sound bigger than it was, making it no longer the perceived underdog in what had become annual budget battles with Knox County and the city of Knoxville, and––almost a decade later––giving the opportunity to use the Knox County and Knoxville names to at least two upstart no-kill rivals.
Clashed with Humane Society of the U.S.
By then Crosetti had already been criticizing most of the major national humane organizations since early in her Knoxville tenure, especially the American SPCA and Humane Society of the U.S., for fundraising mailings implying that they operated shelters or in some other manner directly helped the animals of the local community.
Not surprisingly, the Humane Society of the U.S. in particular jumped on Crosetti after University of Tennessee professor Edward Ramsey published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association the findings from research he did at the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley in 1996 and 1998 to improve the sedation protocols for cats who were to be euthanized.
“We don’t think this is something a humane society should be doing,” Humane Society of the U.S. companion animal programs director John Snyder told Associated Press writer Duncan Mansfield. “It undermines the whole theory of sanctuary, safety, shelter.”
“If we can find a kinder, gentler way, we should”
Responded Crosetti, “We are forced to euthanize thousands of animals. If we can find a kinder, gentler way to do this, then I feel we should.”
Said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals cruelty case worker Ali Morris, “Homeless animals should never be used for experimentation for human medicine or when it involves creating illness in otherwise healthy animals. But we understand where the researchers and shelter were coming from in trying to alleviate suffering in animals during euthanasia.”
Versions of the protocols developed at the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley are now standard throughout the U.S.
Crosetti thereafter stayed out of further controversy for nearly ten months, probably a personal record.
Golden retriever case
Then, seven years after the episode involving Freeway the German shepherd, a Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley staffer following the shelter’s written selection guidelines on May 10, 1999 killed a young golden retriever mix who had been found as a stray by Donna Christensen, 39, of Farragut. Christensen had been the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley’s top “Bark in the Park” fundraiser for two years running.
As the dog kept jumping her fences and appeared to be teaching her other dogs how to do it, and as young golden retrievers and retriever mixes are generally considered easily adoptable, Christensen took him to the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley.
However, because the dog was technically an owner-surrendered large mixed breed, with the least likelihood of being reclaimed or adopted, his holding time ran out after just eight hours of availability. Christensen was not given the chance to take him back.
Stepping up to take the heat for the staffer’s judgement, Crosetti used the case to educate the public about pet overpopulation.
Gave up animal control contract
Crosetti was successful in converting public outrage into political action: a year later, on May 22, 2000, Tennessee governor Don Sundquist signed into effect a state law requiring that all dogs and cats rehomed from animal shelters be spayed or neutered. More than 20 other states already had adopted similar legislation, beginning with California in 1990.
Already enforcing a sterilization-before-release policy at the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley for 30 months, Crosetti had seen a 10% drop in shelter animal intake, mostly of owner-surrendered puppies and kittens.
But Crosetti, who had attended two of the first four national No Kill Conferences, in 1995 and 1998, also decided that the time had come for the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley to return the responsibility for animal control sheltering and killing to Knox County and the city of Knoxville––especially since the animal control contracts were paying the humane society just $49 per animal handled, about half the actual cost of euthanizing an animal and disposing of the remains, and about 20% of the then-average cost of holding the animal, sterilizing the animal, and arranging an adoption.
Refocused on spay/neuter
Board president Mark Siegel on July 1, 2000 announced that the Humane Society of Tennessee would sell the existing animal control shelter to a newly created city and county animal control corporation.
Instead of spending $154,000 a year to subsidize animal control, the Humane Society would fund more dog and cat sterilization surgery, humane education, anti-cruelty, and adoption programs, and would continue to run a satellite no-kill adoption center that Crosetti had opened several years earlier.
The shelter sale did not occur, as the city and county agencies elected to build and share their own new shelter. But the Humane Society of Tennessee did relocate to smaller premises, and for about five years enjoyed relatively uncontroversial growth as a spay/neuter provider and animal adoption agency.
“End Sex In The City”
That ended when Crosetti, playing off the popularity of the Home Box Office television series Sex In The City, initiated a spay/neuter advertising campaign called “End Sex In The City”––and was sued for it by Home Box Office.
“It just never occurred to me,” Crosetti told ANIMALS 24-7, “that an idea I dreamed up while half asleep listening to the news would result in the likes of HBO coming down on our small and extremely poor humane society. My goal was simply to prevent the death of innocent animals by preventing their birth in the first place. That’s what our Fix-A-Pet clinic was all about. It was located in Seymour, Tennessee––sort of a wide spot in the road most people travel to reach the mountains and Dollywood. It was a small house we rented. Nothing big or in the least bit fancy but we altered thousands of animals a year there. It, like the rest of the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley, operated on a very short shoestring.”
The HBO lawsuit was eventually dropped, with the intervention of Sex In The City director Dennis Erdman, an animal advocate who knew nothing about the case until alerted by ANIMALS 24-7.
Meanwhile Crosetti and the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley took a leading role in helping to re-situate refugees from Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans and did extensive damage from Florida to Texas during the last days of August 2005.
Even Knoxville was struck by the tail of Katrina, causing some local flooding. Mostly, though, Knoxville was flooded by desperate people who drove north with nothing to return to and nowhere to stay.
“One real phenomenon I’ve seen,” Crosetti told ANIMALS 24-7 at the time, “is that even though we have tons of boarding kennel space, available for an extended period of time, and plenty of foster homes, the people who got out with their animals are not ready to be separated from them right now.
“This will not be practical for long as these people search for jobs, homes, etc., but I have seen no need to point that reality out to anyone right now. The reality they are facing is harsh enough and their animals are providing comfort to them.
Big exotic birds
“So for right now,” Crosetti said, “I’m just handing out business cards and telling these people to call if they need us. Otherwise, we’re giving out heartworm and flea/tick meds, food, crates, etc. We will also do veterinary surgeries if needed, and the University of Tennessee vet school will take care of animals who are sick or need special monitoring, like diabetics.
“Fortunately,” Crosetti added, “many hotels and motels are waiving their ‘no pets’ or ‘small dogs only’ policies.”
The Knoxville Zoo helped Crosetti to find appropriate caging for one refugee who escaped New Orleans with a carload of big exotic birds stuffed into small dog and cat carriers.
City/county shelter killing toll went up
Under Crosetti, the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley had managed to reduce shelter killing to 19 dogs and cats per 1,000 residents per year as of 2000––a little better than the then-national average, and markedly better than the rest of the South.
During the first five years after the animal control contract was returned to city and county management, however, the shelter killing rate rebounded to 30.8 per 1,000 residents.
“It maddens and saddens me that I can do little about the complete mismanagement of the county shelter,” Crosetti emailed to ANIMALS 24-7. “It’s really dirty, more animals are dying, and the money being spent with poor results is outrageous.”
Pit bull proliferation
The biggest problem was obvious: pit bull proliferation.
Even before the April 2007 arrest of football star Michael Vick on dogfighting-related charges turned the Best Friends Animal Society, American SPCA, Maddie’s Fund, and Humane Society of the U.S. toward all-out pit bull advocacy, about 16% of the dogs arriving at the Knox County public shelter were pit bulls, which was at the time about five times the rate at which pit bulls were represented in the local dog population.
Less than 3% of the incoming pit bulls were adopted.
On November 12, 2007, four pit bulls fatally mauled West Knox resident Jennifer Lowe, 21, in her trailer home.
Knoxville and Knox County in January 2008 appointed a task force to draft a stronger dog ordinance, but rejected breed specific bans or restrictions out of hand.
Sought law mandating s/n for pit bulls
Crosetti took the opposite view, endorsing a bill introduced by Tennessee state senator Tim Burchett which would have mandated that pit bulls be spayed or neutered––an approach which had already sharply reduced pit bull shelter intakes and other pit bull-related incidents in San Francisco.
“This would be an excellent first step in protecting our community and particularly our children from dogs who can and frequently do maim, cause serious injury, and cause deaths,” Crosetti told Marti Davis of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
“We need to outlaw these damned dogs”
“If you are on government-assisted health care,” Crosetti added to ANIMALS 24-7, “ it will pay for initial costs and even hospitalization, but not cosmetic [restorative] surgery. I’ll never forget a little boy whose face was basically removed by a pit mix, for whom we worked hard to find a gratis surgeon and other related health professionals. Or the woman who had a dog virtually remove a breast, who could not get reconstructive surgery, and she was very young. Just another reason we need to outlaw these damned dogs. Pit bull victims never seem to have good insurance and the owners never seem to have any kind of liability insurance and no resources to sue for.”
The Burchett bill failed. Shelters throughout Tennessee––and the U.S. as a whole––now annually receive two to three times as many pit bulls as in 2007, more than half of the total U.S. pit bull population is homeless at some point during each year, and two-thirds of the dogs killed in shelters are pit bulls.
Assertive, female, and a “Yankee”
Crosetti’s position on pit bulls, besides infuriating pit bull owners and breeders, further fractured her relationships with most of the major national animal advocacy organizations
Crosetti had also made influential enemies by dropping veterinarians who did not comply with normal procedural and accountability requirements from the list of vets recommended by the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley.
Crosetti annoyed anti-vivisectionists by serving on the University of Tennessee Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, to see to it that the Animal Welfare Act was enforced.
Crosetti irritated some people just by being assertive, female, and a “Yankee,” albeit from the Pennsylvania coal country not far north, differing from Tennessee more in accent than in prevailing culture.
Many of Crosetti’s foes coalesced into a mob, calling her at midnight with death threats and from whom she eventually received police protection, after she raided and prosecuted two alleged animal hoarders who called their facilities no-kill shelters, one of whom had prior convictions for mass animal neglect.
Oak Ridge Animal Shelter
Then the Oak Ridge Animal Shelter, at the time impounding about 4,000 dogs per year, with a 70% euthanasia rate, on September 15, 2009 began charging rescue organizations $25 per animal taken.
After rescuers used to receiving animals free of charge complained, Oak Ridge police chief David H. Beams told Oak Ridger reporter Beverly Majors, she wrote, that “The fee applies only to the Knoxville-based Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley. Beams explained that this policy change is because, in the past, HSTV representatives have picked Oak Ridge Animal Shelter’s most adoptable animals––which were given to them free of charge. The HSTV then provided these animals to individuals or families to adopt at a cost of $150 an animal, he said.
“Dogs no one wants”
Said Beams, “In the past, HSTV would come weekly and ‘cherry pick’ puppies and small dogs,” taking as many as a dozen animals at a time.
“It has an adverse effect, leaving us with a limited amount of animals to adopt,” Beams complained. “We end up with older dogs, big brown or black dogs, dogs no one wants.”
Several other local rescuers responded, pointing out that preparing a dog for adoption, including spaying or neutering the dog, typically cost considerably more than $150, and that all Beams’ money-grab was likely to do was further increase the Oak Ridge euthanasia rate.
Crosetti, however, was uncharacteristically silent, and did not return calls. The Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley eventually announced that operations manager Debbie Clark had been promoted to interim director, but did not say what had become of Crosetti.
In fact, her health had failed under the constant stress of her job. Crosetti had then been laid off.
“I ulcerated and ruptured my intestine, spent eight days in the hospital, and then another six when the wound got infected,” Crosetti disclosed to ANIMALS 24-7 in an email sent in January 2010. “Only have a little insurance time left. Very scary. My arms and legs look like twigs. I even ate a little broccoli and a few blueberries––things I normally would not eat unless there was a gun to my head. I never thought I’d have to worry about being too thin but apparently it’s a real problem in wound healing. There is not enough extra flesh for the wound to draw together.
“The doc mentioned a possible skin graft, but I really don’t want to undergo a fourth surgery and anesthesia. There is a real risk of infection with a skin graft, which is particularly dangerous right over the intestines, and I no longer have insurance.”
Never fully recovered
Crosetti eventually did undergo many further surgeries.
“I have good friends who are thankfully coming to take care of the litter box and bird feeders, as I really can’t bend or lift,” Crosetti emailed in August 2010.
“The hospital and all personnel are great folks but I’d rather see them at a party or on the street rather than from a bed. For my big post-surgical treat, I’m ordering Szechuan eggplant and garlic noodles delivered.”
Several other animal rescue organizations expressed interest in hiring Crosetti when and if she could return to work, but Crosetti never again felt up to holding a full-time job. By 2017 she was battling the lung cancer that eventually claimed her life.
Opting to remain in Knoxville, Crosetti started a small merchandising business, buying salable items at estate sales and store closeouts, selling them via Ebay and Craigslist, living on her slim income from that and Social Security, spending much of her non-working time gardening.
“She was a good friend”
Crosetti retained an active interest in humane work, serving on the ANIMALS 24-7 founding board, stepping down for health reasons in 2018. Having often forwarded local news items of possible interest since 1992, she continued to do that until October 19, 2019, and enjoyed frequent telephone conversations with ANIMALS 24-7 editors Beth and Merritt Clifton.
Jayne Vaughan, longtime executive director of the Sevier County Humane Society, notified ANIMALS 24-7 of Crosetti’s death, followed a day later by her brother Dave Krishock.
“She and I have been feeding and getting needs for homeless people & families, especially children living in condemnable motels,” Vaughan posted to mutual friends via Facebook. “Just days before she died she arranged for all the needs of a new baby at a motel, and hygiene items for the women. Losing her is very hard for me. We’ve shared & been through a lot together, including our challenge with cancer,” which Vaughan has been fighting since 2010.
Tributes to Crosetti’s memory were soon flying on social media, but Warren Cox put it all most succinctly: “She was a good friend.”
Jamaka Petzak says
Ms. Crosetti’s loss will be sorely felt by everyone who truly loves and advocates for animals. May her example be an inspiration for many to continue this work. My heartfelt condolences to you both for the loss of your good friend.
Hazel fulbright-shepherd says
Merritt & Beth Clifton, this is wonderful!!
I remember almost all of the events you mentioned.
The golden retriever story is particularly heart breaking.
The day the lady brought the dog in- a tornado had just passed over the shelter. We could actually see the funnel cloud over the trees as it came toward us.
When the lady came, she drove down the small road leading to the gate that was peppered with tree limbs. She parked at the closed gate; squeezed thru the small opening, stepped over downed electrical wires laying across the long drive way, and climbed over a downed tree. I said to the manager, “Can you believe someone wants to surrender their dog so badly that they just came through all of that ?”
I told her I’d meet her in the back.
When I got to the back door, three employees were in the small office. Two ( who were later fired for behavior unbecoming) were sitting on the floor with their legs spread out – leaving no room to walk through. Another employee, a new hire, was helping the lady fill out the kennel tag. She was telling her to check “owned” because “he can be adopted sooner.” She saw me and said, “Ain’t that right? A dog like this will get adopted quick. They won’t kill a dog like this will they? Will they? No. They won’t! Mark it owned.”
I was shocked by the entire scene. I looked at the lady and said, “You need to mark stray- it’s not your dog. Someone could be looking for him.”
The new girl once again said, “Mark him owned. He will get adopted tomorrow probably!”
I said, “You never know that. It depends on how full we are, who’s marking, and a lot of things.” The girl said, “Here, I’ll mark him owned! That’s stupid! He don’t need to sit back here for three days!”
I said, “You’re messing up. Once he’s dead you cant bring him back. I’m off tomorrow and I won’t be here to tell them hes not really owner-surrendered if they mark him down.” She said, “You worry to much.” The lady left and I went back to the front.
I did intend to tell the managers what happened, but the one still there was busy clearing the tree and talking to the workers about the downed lines. He didn’t have time for a complaint––he made that crystal-clear.
Two days later I returned from my days off to find out the dog had been euthed. I was angry and heartbroken.
That was the beginning of the end.
Thank you for sharing this. It’s simply wonderful
Kathy Stone says
Thank you so much for this. Vicky had a good heart and it is comforting to know she followed her passion and had such a positive impact on so many.
Mary F. Alford, DVM says
Thank you so much for this hugely informative and memory-filled article.
Vicky inherited me as the shelter vet for the Knox County Humane Society when she took over the directorship from Jim Tedford. I took dinner to her little house on Coffman the Saturday she moved from Nashville. I think I was probably her first friend here.
As the vet during her reign I was privileged to attend national meetings, learning about early spay and neuter and implementing the practice in Sevier County in the 1980s, much to the consternation of the local vets. I examined the North Shore puppies before they got on the bus, all those little chow crosses who could/would not be put on the floor for adoption in East Tennessee.
As a member of the DART team and secretary/treasurer of the KVMA, my task was to run the medication dispensing operation for the pets of refugees at the church on Kingston pike. The whole Katrina animal rescue/care effort was a magnificent example of cooperation of the invested parties––KCHS, DART team, KVMA, UTCVM, local veterinarians, local hotels and boarding kennels and concerned and motivated individuals.
During my tenure as shelter vet, I was called upon to accompany animal control on a number of animal cruelty/hoarder investigations. I wonder if those you name were among those I was part of.
After Vicky left the humane society and suffered with so many ailments, I became reacquainted with her as a friend. I am grateful for the times we shared, most especially in the garden. I became designer, workhorse, consultant and maintenance crew the season she was so sick and in and out of the hospital.
So many questions I have for her now and would so love to hear her voice again. We always think there will be time.
Thank you again. I am not sure I will ever find closure for the void that such a larger than life presence left behind in the lives of so many.
But “talking” helps.
Daniel Krishock says
Thank you very much for the great article you wrote about my sister, Vicky. Although Vicky and I spoke often over the last five years, there was a span of 20 years when I lived outside the US and our contact was more sporadic. Your article filled me in with many details of what Vicky was up to during her time in Knoxville.
Your article was so well written and really captured Vicky’s spirit and commitment to a cause she believed in.
It is unfortunate that some people’s accomplishments in life are not fully recognized until they’re gone. Your article is a great service to seeing Vicky’s are recognized and the memory of them preserved for many years to come.
Dave Krishock says
Wendi and I were blown away with y’all’s bio of Vicky.
There is no way I can thank you both enough.
And Vick would be so thrilled to know you shared with all her animal lovin’ friends.
Vick’s dogs, Jo and and Buddy have been welcomed into new homes and both seem to be adjusting as well as can be expected.
Vicky was cremated earlier this week and with agreement from all my siblings, her ashes were placed in a clean 2 liter Diet Pepsi bottle. I hope none of you think that was too crass; however, we all know how addicted she was to DP and we all thought it most fitting. Vicky definitely would have a chuckle if she saw the name tag on her ashes…. they labeled the bottle Victoria Susanne Crosetti, when we all knew her as Vicky and her legal middle name was Suzanne.
Merritt Clifton says
Anyone who knew Vicky would know that she would howl with laughter and delight at her ashes being placed in a clean 2-liter Diet Pepsi bottle, & wish she had thought of it herself. There wasn’t much she liked better than Diet Pepsi. Beth & Merritt
Alan Fambrrini says
Thank you for making this tribute article available to me.
I knew some of the story but not the most horrid details of her many campaigns.
Over the past year, Vicky would call me late at night because she feared to sleep.
She suffered from terrible nightmares about the animals she put down during her career.
The small comfort I offered was in being able to talk her into slumber.
May God keep her now.
Avatar Meher Baba, ki jai !
Casa Fambrini Farm
David L. Crosetti says
There is no doubt that Vicky was a “type A” person. She lived her life in the fast lane and believed that people could, “Lead, follow, or get out of her way.”
We were married for 10 years and during that time, we did a lot of fun things together.
While we were living in California, Vicky revived Pets and Pals, an organization that Gladys Sargent had been involved with previously. Ms. Sargent was a woman who suffered from dementia. Her house in the Oakland Hills was a hoarder’s house. Newspapers stacked to the ceiling, the kitchen had been torn out to bare walls and there were dog feces everywhere. Vicky and her friends cleaned up the house and while they were organizing things for Ms. Sargent, they found a Superbowl ring in a boot. When they gave it to Ms. Sargent, her gratitude was shown by accusing Vicky of trying to steal the ring.
Vicky grew Pets and Pals and took over animal control for Alameda County and took over the responsibilities for animal control from the Alameda Sheriff’s department. She was nominated for the JC Penny Citizenship award for her work in animal control and was asked to run for County Supervisor as a Democrat in Alameda County.
But, we were transferred to Nashville with my job and we decided to move there.
We returned to California when I took a job with Coca-Cola. Once she got back, she began her activities with the humane society and animal control. We also fostered a number of animals over the next 5 years and found homes for all of them. We raised German shepherd dogs and showed them. Our main dog was Max, who was sired out of Lance of FranJo, a national champion.
Now, just for some background on Vicky. When she was in Las Vegas, she was food and beverage director for the Tropicana Hotel. Her job was to make sure that performing celebrities at the casino were happy. She became friends with a number of celebrities. When she moved to San Francisco, she worked for McDonald’s and ran a location on Market St in San Francisco. She met a fellow who taught at the California School for the Deaf and Blind, Bil Hawkins, and together they crafted a program for McDonalds that began the companies hiring of visually impaired people to work in their stores. Hawkins and Vicky were fast friends and participated in a documentary that was aired on PBS, that discussed their accomplishments.
Leaving McDonalds is when she went into executive recruiting. She was the top performer at her company and was allowed to work out of her home, rather than go into the office every day. When her bosses balked at the idea, she told them that she would go freelance and take all her clients with her.
Coke sent us to Pensacola and while things there were going well for us, Vicky began to miss the challenge of work and having a purpose in life.
She took the job in Franklin animal control and that lasted about six months, before she left. There were society types who saw animal control as a reason for parties and fund raisers, but who didn’t want to get dirty with the day to day operations of an animal control facility.
She ended up in Knoxville and she and I got divorced. Not because of any problems, but because we had gown apart from one another. She and I were both type A personalities and we thrived for being in charge of things.
We remained on friendly terms up until her death, even though I had remarried after leaving Coke for a different kind of lifestyle.
She could be thick headed. She was passionate about animals and her calling in life. There was no shades of gray with her, just black and white. She was driven toward success and she burned her candle on both ends.
I will miss her. I never had any doubt about her abilities to lead people to better things nor questioned her talent and ability. She was one of a kind and they threw away the mold when they made her. People like her are hard to find.
She never told me that she had cancer. She told me that she was ill and couldn’t work. I never told her that I have leukemia, but that I just couldn’t work anymore. I have been taking chemo therapy and doing everything I can to cooperate with my doctors. I need a bone marrow transplant, but I am not a candidate for that procedure.
So, in a blink of an eye, I will see her again, face to face. We will laugh, share a glass of wine, and have the chance to see our dogs, Max, Amy, Daphne, and Daisy once again and become part of the cosmos.
Have a blessed day.
Clara Landau says
Your website is great and it’s good to read the history of Vicky and the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley (formerly Knox County Humane Society).
I didn’t see mention, though, of Vicky’s commitment to humane education and her designating me (a volunteer at Knox County Humane Society during the years leading up to and including the transition to Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley) to create, promote and present a powerful humane education program.
It was a wonderful experience for me to bring that program into schools (all grade levels), UT and Pellissippi, adult civic groups, and anyplace in Knox County and contiguous counties where I could be invited! I presented humane education seminars for adults at the Candy Factory. I did my school program for ten years and have poignant, cherished memories and photos derived from that wonderful job.
When I resigned it was when schools were beginning to lock down for security reasons and I decided it was time for me to get busy again with my music. I had created a songbook for children that I sold at area bookstores … and I still have the original text and artwork for that booklet and a recording of the songs! I awoke this morning with “Teddy The Wolf” playing in my mind 🙂
You might want to add to your website history of Vicky the great and memorable value she put on humane education.
Thank you …