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Guest View: Former GCHS vet raises concerns
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I was the veterinarian at the Green County Humane Society from June 28, 2004 to Sept. 15, 2007, when the board removed me from the schedule without notice "for financial reasons". (I charged below market rates, never raised fees, and didn't bill for some work I did.) I must express my grave concern over the disgraceful actions some board members have taken since taking over in July.

In July, there was a cohesive, experienced staff at GCHS. Some of us had been there for years. Finances were an issue, as at almost every shelter, but no treasurer's report had been submitted since Sue Grib's untimely death in March, so no one knew exactly what the finances were. A $20,000 grant was on the way.

Almost immediately the new leadership (who had no experience in animal sheltering) began to make drastic changes. They lied to the employees and treated them disrespectfully. It soon became obvious that dissenters would be targeted.

In just two months, the new leadership turned the shelter into an awful place to work, with a stressed, overworked staff who constantly had to look over their shoulders and watch every word they said. Several staff members quit, others were laid off, and everyone was miserable.

When questioned at the October board meeting, the only explanation the president had for her actions was "to cut costs." Yet even before Anita Disch was harrassed into resigning in late July (after almost three years as manager), her job had been offered to someone who just happened to be the president's close friend.

Anita, incredibly dedicated and hands-on, was replaced by someone with no experience and no knowledge of animal health. That didn't cut costs or improve animal care. The new leadership never gave Anita a chance.

GCHS now has no one who is qualified to determine when veterinary care is needed! A cat I adopted in October (who was perfectly healthy when I worked there) had ear mites, conjunctivitis, tapeworms, and fleas - and he was in the adoptable area! What is the health of the pre-adopt cats like?

Since I've been gone, a veterinarian occasionally comes to GCHS (the manager calls her "as needed"), but this vet works and has a family, and she cannot donate enough time to the shelter to ensure that the animals' health is monitored adequately. Some sick animals are taken to area clinics; almost all sterilizations are done elsewhere.

There is enough work at GCHS for a full-time vet, and GCHS cannot afford to take every sick animal to an outside clinic. Without a vet, GCHS no longer gets a 50 percent discount on feline leukemia/FIV tests. They can't order through their own accounts. They didn't even know what cleaning solution to use. Without my connections, they have much less access to grants and discounted or free specialty care. A $10,000 private grant was withdrawn because of the board's treatment of me and the staff. Now GCHS wants to stop testing cats - a step backward and below the standard of care.

Some board members say that the shelter shouldn't accept cats who are acting feral. I've worked with a feral cat rescue for more than four years, and I know that there is no way to determine whether a cat is truly feral, or merely scared, without observing it for at least several days.

Yet the board president said at the October meeting that feral cats are "wild animals" and should not be at the shelter; she wants to "let nature take its course." How is someone who finds a scared stray cat supposed to tell whether it is truly feral or just terrified?

If feral cats are not accepted, they are out there reproducing and worsening the overpopulation problem. How does this fit in with GCHS' mission of "promoting compassionate and appropriate treatment of animals" and "educat(ing) the public in the need for spaying and neutering ... to prevent further overpopulation"?

Anita and I had a feral cat program. Those cats were sterilized ASAP, vaccinated, dewormed and adopted to responsible outdoor homes. Now staff have been ordered to dump cats in the country, rather than take them to the shelter. That violates state law and the county contract, not to mention being inhumane.

As for GCHS' educational mission, Anita and I had an active education program, taking dogs and cats to schools and churches to talk to children about compassion toward and proper care of animals. (I did not bill for this; Anita was on salary.) Now there is no education program, and children were recently taught that throwing darts at a cutout of Michael Vick is an appropriate way to raise money for a humane society. What a way to teach "compassion."

Unfortunately, the GCHS bylaws are so inadequate that there is no way to remove board members who are dishonest, incompetent or destructive. This was brought up at the last two annual meetings and has not been addressed at all. The shelter may be stuck with some very bad apples until 2009.

The board claims that improving finances is a priority, but does almost no fundraising. Fundraising, NOT meddling in operations, is their main job. Why don't they do it?

There are some decent board members who are getting local businesses involved. Both the new-building committee and the Swiss Colony's help come from one new board member's connections. But despite his efforts, I must ask, will there even be a shelter to move into a new building? What would these businesspeople think if they knew what's been going on behind the scenes? What is happening to the animals who need care NOW? The destruction of the staff was unconscionable, completely unnecessary, and totally unrelated to finances. It was a power trip, pure and simple.

A repainted lobby with a couple of plastic chairs doesn't save lives. Proper daily animal care, regular veterinary care, and fundraising save lives. Some board members, in their zeal to exercise power and crush dissent, have lost sight of these simple truths, and the animals are suffering.

This shelter, which was one of the most progressive in the entire U.S., could have become a national leader in how smaller, rural communities can support no-kill animal control facilities (the wave of the future). Instead, it is in dire straits and in danger of being destroyed by some of its own board members, particularly the president and vice-president. The people, and especially the animals, of Green and Lafayette counties deserve better.

Editor's Note: Both Yvonne Schutte, Green County Board president, and Tonya Kelly, GCHS shelter manager, have told the Times neither they nor anyone else has ever ordered cats to be dumped in the country, as Ms. Douglas claims in her guest commentary.