Pet Haven Welcomes New Executive Director

Pet Haven Welcomes New Executive Director

Fall is almost in the air, and that means change is afoot: new school-year routines, pulling out the fleece and putting away sandals, and getting ready for shifts in weather and daylight hours.

This fall also brings a significant change for Pet Haven with the introduction of our new Executive Director, Sarah Cheesman. Sarah’s first day as Pet Haven’s ED will be September 4, and we couldn’t be more excited to introduce her to you and step into the new month and season on such a meaningful note.

Although Sarah isn’t a born-and-bred Minnesotan, she might as well be, as she and her husband, Shawn, have been here for 25 years and feel like natives. Before landing in Minnesota, Sarah spent most of her childhood growing up with her sister Rachel, and family dog Gretchen, in Midland, Michigan, where both of her parents worked for the school district. Sarah went on to graduate from Central Michigan University with a B.S. in Management. Before she and Shawn were married, his employer transferred him to Minnesota; after some time living in different states, Sarah made the move here as well.

Sarah and Shawn live in Eden Prairie, where they raised their son Matthew. Matthew is a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is currently working for Emerson in Chanhassen. Sarah and Shawn have two rescue yellow lab mix dogs, Shelby and Piper. Pups Lana, Lexus, and Sadie, who have passed on, also found their homes with the Cheesmans; coincidentally, Sarah thinks Lana might have been a Pet Haven pup!

Sarah comes to Pet Haven with a wealth of non-profit experience, where she’s focused her career for the past 15 years. Sarah’s career started in the for-profit corporate world in sales and customer service roles; after Matthew was born, she made the decision to stay home with him, and supplemented her time as a mom with volunteer work in Eden Prairie. When Matthew was in third grade she decided to go back to work part-time, and decided to focus on non-profit opportunities. Her first non-profit role was as a development associate for the Minnesota Valley Humane Society in Burnsville. From there she worked in roles focused on communication, training, and project coordination with various organizations before stepping into the role of Volunteer Coordinator at ICA Food Shelf in 2013. In this role she supervised a staff of three and more than 95 volunteers to provide services to 900 families. Her responsibilities included managing daily expenses and incoming funds, strategic planning, and daily operations management. Sarah’s additional volunteer experience includes holding the role of President of the Eden Prairie High School Booster Association, and as a former board member of Retrieve a Golden of the Midwest.

With all of this experience, Sarah explained that she’s chosen to stay in the non-profit sector as she feels that the efforts she contributes have a direct impact that is tangible–you can do the work and see the results, which is incredibly rewarding. At the same time, she acknowledges that non-profit work brings its challenges. “I think one of the challenges non-profits face is that people don’t necessarily think about these organizations as still needing to be profitable, to have a positive balance sheet,” she explained. “They need to raise money because they are businesses and need to have income to cover expenses. Unfortunately, non-profits, especially smaller organizations, aren’t always viewed as professional business organizations.” She goes on to explain that one of the most impressive aspects of Pet Haven is “its sense of professionalism–people recognize that it’s a reputable organization, and it can only get better from there.”

In addition to the culture and operational professionalism of Pet Haven, Sarah is excited to lead an organization that is dedicated to the foster-based rescue system. As she explained, “To have the opportunity to support the foster-based environment and lead to successful adoptions will be incredibly meaningful.”

Sarah already has spent time working with out-going Executive Director Kate Mudge, as well as Director of Operations Ashley Marks, to begin to familiarize herself with Pet Haven’s day-to-day operations. When asked for her initial impressions, she responded that “The organization is in a great space and in great shape. We’re poised to work with the Board to determine what’s on the horizon for Pet Haven and take the organization to the next level.” She complimented the amazing work Kate has done to establish the organization’s strong foundation, and recognizes the importance and value of Ashley’s contributions in continuing the upward trajectory.

Stepping into the Executive Director role, and into Kate’s big shoes, can be overwhelming, so it’s important to narrow her initial focus. In Sarah’s first 90 days she wants to get to know all of the key players at Pet Haven, including Board members and operations staff, and get to as many events as possible to meet fosters, supporters, partners and sponsors. She’ll work closely with Ashley to get a sense of the overall operations and understand our processes so that she can have a working knowledge of the day-to-day and provide support to Ashley. She’ll then start to dive into the Pet Haven strategic plan and work with the Board to determine what’s rising to the top and begin planning next steps.

Sarah has been amazed at what she’s seen so far of Pet Haven’s operations: that there is essentially an entire operations staff, like you would find in a well-run business, but made up entirely of volunteers. She’s already witnessed the hours, time and dedication the volunteers put in to make Pet Haven successful, and the structure in place to support the volunteers behind the scenes. “There are so many layers of people involved on any one adoption,” she observed. “People outside of the organization don’t have any idea of the amount of time it takes to make sure one animal gets a home, and the number of people involved that are all working toward the same goal.”

As Sarah moves into her new role, she wants Pet Haven volunteers and supporters to know “I am here to support you. If you need someone to listen, to help, to ask questions, I am in your corner. I’m so appreciative of the work you’re doing, and always want you to feel you can come to me with both challenges and successes.”

Sarah is committed to keep Pet Haven moving forward as a leader in animal welfare in Minnesota, and to ensuring an excellent experience for volunteers, adopters, and donors. If you have any suggestions or questions, she would love to hear from you at

Welcome Sarah!