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In Memoriam: Darlene Wohler Larson

November 2, 2022, Todd Cramer

Todd Cramer pays tribute to his mentor, Darlene Wohler Larson, a long-time animal welfare leader who passed away in October.

It was Spring 2004, and I had just been hired by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals National Shelter Outreach Team. I was thrilled. Having grown up poor in a small upstate New York town, and not having gone to college right out of high school, being hired by one of the most recognized national animal welfare organizations, which also had its own television show, was reaching the big time.

As I planned my first trip out of town to attend two conferences and meet my colleagues, I was nervous. I was the first man on this developing team, the youngest by an average of almost 20 years, and the most inexperienced. I was new to animal welfare, so to say I was “green” was an understatement. By the second conference, my nervousness had grown. As I sat around a table listening to long-time animal welfare professionals, whom I recognized from articles they’d written and workshops I’d attended, talk about various animal welfare topics I didn’t understand, I felt completely out of my league. I called a friend and said, “I need a backup plan. I am fired within 30 days. There are so many acronyms – NACA, SAWA, PACCA…I don’t know anything!”

The next day, as our group walked along the boardwalk, I heard a soft, kind voice say, “Do you want an ice cream?” That voice belonged to Darlene Larson, and I knew at that moment it was going to be ok. From that day forward, whether I was delivering a workshop at a national conference or in a departmental strategic planning meeting, all I had to do to combat feeling nervous or uncertain was to look at her. She had the unique gift of providing a sense of calm, just by being present. Darlene taught me how animal control functioned and several other lessons, but it is her kindness that stands out for me. Even after I moved on from the ASPCA and the distance between us grew, she made sure I knew she was still out there, often with just a kind comment on a Facebook post. She just seemed to know when she was needed.

Nearly 20 years later, I am a long-time animal welfare professional at the table because of the mentorship and support given to me by so many colleagues, including Darlene. Thank you, Dar, for being my friend and mentor.

She taught me well, and now I try to do the same for others who may need it. So if you see me at a conference, please don’t be shy–say hello. I’ll buy you an ice cream and tell you what NACA means.


Photo: The author and his mentor, Darlene Wohler Larson, 1944-2022

About Todd Cramer
Todd Cramer is Chief Mission Officer at the Potter League for Animals. Prior to joining the Potter League, Todd was President & CEO at the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society (MHHS) in New York’s Capital District. Prior to joining MHHS, he was the Senior Vice President of Community Engagement & Chief of Staff at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in New Jersey. Todd has also served as the Senior Program Manager, Adoptions, at PetSmart Charities, and Director of Community Initiatives at the ASPCA, where he also served on their Field Investigations and Response teams responding to natural disasters and large-scale cruelty cases. Todd is a popular speaker delivering workshops on animal welfare topics at regional and national conferences, including Best Friend’s National Conference and HSUS Animal Care EXPO. He has also written articles for Animal Sheltering Magazine on the topics of open adoptions and pet friendly housing.