Monday, June 1, 2015

Musings: Taking Responsibility

While perusing plants at the nursery, I noticed most were root-bound, eager to leave the confines of their small plastic pots and stretch out in a bigger space. It was almost as if they were all saying, “pick me, pick me,” like the dogs at the animal shelter when you walk among their kennels.

The Kauai Humane Society has been much in the news lately, with disgruntled employees publicly leveling charges both petty and profound against director Penny Cistaro. Most recently, I saw a “bullet points” document from the Kauai Coalition for Animals that takes direct aim at Penny from cover of anonymity.

It was written — with no disclosure of its author or the people behind the Coalition, which I’d never heard of — after the KHS board reviewed the documents that supposedly indicted Penny and opted to solidly stand behind her. 

Why aren’t the instigators putting their names behind their words, especially when they make such serious charges? That seems pretty cowardly, and it’s difficult to assess the credibility of their claims when we don’t know who is leveling them.

When the  petition to oust Penny first hit the news, a friend texted me a link to the “exclusive" hawaiinewsnow piece with the comment, “What a drama prone org.”

Indeed. The KHS has always been wracked with drama, in part because its mission requires people who love animals to kill large numbers of them. Add to that the fact that many folks chose to work with animals because they aren’t so good with people and you’ve got a recipe for constant conflict.

I know, because I did grant writing and public relations for KHS between 1997 and 2000, raising money for the new shelter. I saw the Board of Directors, under then-President Laura Wiley, hang Director Sherry Hoe out to dry, resulting in my resignation along with much of the staff.

Sherry was crucified for allegedly inflating the numbers of euthanasia, while Penny is now being fried for supposedly under-reporting them.

Nobody likes the idea that some 70 percent of the animals that come into the shelter are euthanized. Most of these are feral cats, which are not very adoptable. 

Even Pierce “plant the beach in front of his TVR” Brosnan piled on, saying the shelter should focus on more adoptions and innovative spay-neuter programs.

Like he apparently doesn’t think that’s what the shelter has been trying to do for years. But what he and others either don’t know, or won’t say, is how Kauai veterinarians have long fought free spay-neuter programs because they cut into their profits.

And does anyone really believe that folks on Kauai can adopt any more pets? Most people are already maxed out on dogs, though I’ve seen volunteers taking dogs to the farmers market in Lihue in an attempt to find them homes, and some dogs are sent to shelters on the west coast.

Still, there’s an abundance of dogs and cats nationwide, which is why so many animals are put down all across the country.

Part of the antagonism toward Penny comes from the cat caretaker groups who want to keep caring for feral cat colonies, even though they prey on native birds and their feces contain a bacteria that has caused at least one monk seal death. Others are mad because KHS does euthanize animals, and they want a no-kill shelter.

While no-kill shelters sound great and we’d all love to see unwanted animals find a home, there’s an ugly truth to the concept, and it’s this: no kill shelters can exist only because other shelters do kill.

Anyone who doesn’t spay-neuter their animals contributes to this over-population, along with all the folks who encourage breeding by paying big money for specific breeds.

In the TV news clip, KHS enforcement officer Mana Brown also ragged on Penny, saying cages aren’t being cleaned — perhaps because workers are bitching about the boss instead of working? — and “a lot of things are being left undone.”

I think most of us can remember Mana’s own very public failures, since he was the field officer who failed to intervene in two long-standing dog abuse and neglect cases — one in Wailua and the other in Puhi — until animals were found dead. A friend also detailed her inability to get Mana to take action in a horse abuse case in Anahola.

So maybe Mana should focus on improving his own work habits before he impugns his boss.

And that’s the underlying message to the disgruntled workers and those who left comments on The Garden Island articles trashing Penny because the shelter hasn’t done this or that.

Go volunteer at the shelter, and/or make a donation. They have way more needs and demands than their budget can ever fulfill. Money and bodies are always needed. It’s so easy to point the finger at Penny, but she’s got to have one of the hardest jobs on Kauai. No doubt things could be improved there, as at any nonprofit, but does it really serve the best interest of the animals to have a revolving door for directors and a surly, disgruntled staff?

Caring for, and euthanizing, animals rejected and/or mistreated by society is a painful and ugly task, with a high burnout factor. We can all do our part to reduce the need for this sad service by being responsible pet owners. 


Anonymous said...

KHS has always had the hard task of "animal control" and euthanasia is a part of this.
I agree Sherri Hoe got the real dog bite when she got the poop scopp. After she and her husband had nurtured the KHS and built a first class facility then they get kicked out. Such is life.
KHS will work their problems out. Disgruntled employees are everywhere, in every business and there are even disgruntled Commenters on this Blog. Being disgruntled is a part of life.
Ms Cistaro, in her interaction with the sharp toothed Council always has been clear. If Kauai wants Dog/Cats controlled the KHS needs money.
And the feral Cat lovers should stay away or else the cats, like the Chickens and Wild Pigs will dominate our properties.
I contribute to the KHS, appreciate the hard work they do and DISRESPECT the way our Garden Island Paper has been executioner for Ms Cistaro.
One recommendation I have for the workers at KHS, try to smile a bit and say Thank you when a customer brings in a big fat donation check. Giving a check to a grumpy faced grunting employee leaves a sour taste. Support the KHS.

Anonymous said...

Drama prone is right. Twenty years of bickering and getting rid of what was once the best staff in the State.

Anonymous said...

Joan, I so agree with you on this. No one wants to see an animal put down. But the reality is that our KHS facility does not have the funding/resources to manage a "no kill" program. Like so many things on our island, we don't have the economies of scale to purchase the Cadillac we'd all like to have. I think the important thing is to look at the entire picture and determine if the scarce dollars and other resources available to KHS are being managed properly for maximum impact. I don't know all the details but my impression is that they are. Remember that KHS stepped to the plate to take on the barking dog ordinance enforcement with no additional resources. Their efforts in that arena will hopefully mitigate situations where someone may have to give up their dog because of bad behavior. I worked with Penny on the roll out of that effort and other issues when I was with the County and found her to be very willing to be of assistance wherever she could. Even if a new director is brought in, he/she will be faced with the same challenges and the same limited resources. They will be faced with the same tough decisions and I believe will come to the same conclusions about how to best manage KHS programs with the resources at hand.
Beth Tokioka

Robin Clark said...

The part I like is where the GI reports that people are not turning in their pets because they will probably be euthanized. Then why did they raise the frickin pet to begin with! Duh!! As for the disgruntled employees- why don't they just quit and go work at the new Jack in the Box in Lihue (where they can of course serve the product of euthanized animals)and probably be equally disgruntled.

I am a cat lover, but the feral cat people drive me crazy. Any feral cat that comes onto my property will not last long. Even my neighbors cat will get a stern warning! We had a baby shama thrush that adopted us a few years ago but disappeared one day. I can only imagine what happened to it.

I hope Ms Cistaro hangs in there but I would not blame her for leaving as it is no fun dealing with the crazies on this island. In the meantime we continue to provide contributions to KHS.

Anonymous said...

Say? Are these the same people as the GMO nuts? Same type of unrealistic thinking.

Rory Flynn said...

About 15 years ago, I was tasked to write a program review of the Hawaii County animal control program. It was a grim eye-opener. Dedicated staff at three Humane Society shelters were swamped with the arrival or more unwanted and abandoned animals. Daily, the task of euthanizing dogs and cats consumed much of the working day, with dead animals stored in freezers until they could be transported to county landfills. Back then, the islandwide count of euthanized animals was about 15,000 per year. That task alone precluded many services desired by the public, especially timely response to barking dog complaints. A follow-up audit by the National Animal Control Association confirmed our findings. The point is that before complaints are lodged at staff, it's best for everyone to appreciate that they do a tough and thankless job, a job made necessary by the neglect and whims of too many pet owners. Joan is on point. Help the shelter folks. They perform a remarkable service.

Anonymous said...

Sherri and the Hoe family were my friends and neighbors at Kahili back in the good years and year of KHS injustice. Joan is correct that anyone, who knew the intimate detail of that planned destruction of one of the most dedicated individuals you will ever meet, would agree it was a naked power play!
However, in this case, the board's support may be the correct action. Quite often, lower level employees and volunteers have no perspective on management. Easy problems are solved routinely at their level. What the top manager sees is usually nothing but one paradox after another. The decisions made regarding a paradox are always going to have dissenters; that's part of why it's a paradox. Dedicated people, like Sherri was, take those positions!
Pete Antonson

Anonymous said...

Putting the downed animals to the side, what else is offensive to the employees? And what does the petition language say. I'm not judgemental but I would like to see the facts.

Anonymous said...

One reason so many pets are abandoned is that few landlords allow pets. Rentals are high priced and rigidly restrictive. No pets. Friends who needed to move because a rental home had been foreclosed, had the rent raised too high, or been sold suddenly learn that they must turn in their pets to the h.s., euthanize them, abandon them, or be homeless with them. It's heartbreaking. They visit their pets at the humane society and hope for adoption instead of death.

Gayla McCarthy said...

What I know to be true: I work there part time as one of the trainers holding group classes on Saturdays, - classes that Penny re-started. I volunteer on the Behavior Helpline, - a program that Penny instituted. And I take my rotation turn doing 'adoption follow-up calls,' - a service that Penny provides by using volunteers because her employee 'doesn't have time.' As of this writing, all 5 of us involved in these programs continue to support her. None of us were included in their employee survey. And if we had been included, the ratio would be closer to 3 to 1 in support, versus 2 to 1 in support.
And what I believe to be true: If they had done a volunteer survey it would have been a landslide in support of her continued leadership.