PITTSBURG — Five Southeast Kansas Humane Society employees have called it quits, alleging leadership has been deaf to their concerns.
This week, SEK Humane Society Animal Caretakers Valerie Weilert and Logan Rink and SEK Humane Society Animal Welfare Director Catherine Geiger and two other employees left the shelter they say, because of a lack leadership and a dearth of policies concerning the safety and welfare of the animals, staff and community.
“Our intentions are not to incite a witch hunt,” Weilert said in a phone interview Thursday. “But to bring to light our concerns at the Humane Society.”
In response, Southeast Humane Society released a statement signed by Executive Director Kelci Cooper, Board President Mary Kay Caldwell and their primary care veterinarian Dr. Laura Moreland DVM.
“In partnership with our Primary Care Veterinarian, Dr. Laura Moreland and staff of Girard Animal Hospital, the safety, health and wellness of the animals at the SEK Humane Society has and will always be our top priority. We can't thank our community enough for the outreach and continued support during these times of growth and change and welcome you to visit our adoptable animals and construction of our new facility.”
Weilert said she doesn’t think there is one person at whom fingers should be pointed and said the issues predate her two years at the shelter.
“This is a very large problem going on,” she said. “It is been going on a long time by multiple people.
“We don’t want the place to go down, we loved working with the animals but we want to make sure the staff left there are not being taken advantage of.”
According Weilert any issues, comments or concerns by the staff are to be discussed up a chain to the direct manager — and not with the board of directors.
“The staff was discouraged to speak to the board members,” Weilert said. “The board would implement something and we would just be told.”
Geiger said staff had reached out to their immediate supervisor to state their concerns, which she feels were never heard.
“Either directly or indirectly, through our immediate superiors, through managers through our administration at the shelter, we have reached out about concerns,” she said. “I have voiced, ‘Hey I have never been taught by a vet how to do my job or even a vet tech — we would definitely prefer to have more training.
“We have reached out about safety concerns and numerous issues at the shelter to get things changed and try to make improvements and we don’t feel like they have been addressed or heard.”
Weilert said in the past, staff were allowed to adopt animals out to anyone without asking about other pets in the home, nor were landlord and vet checks done to make sure the right “forever home” was found — a policy was made, but with resistance from some of the board members.
“The board was concerned the policies could hinder adoptions if we didn’t adopt to anyone regardless of their circumstance,” Weilert said.
Despite being able to adopt out any animal to anyone, Weilert said over capacity remains an intermittent issue.
The facility has a limit set by the Kansas Department of Agriculture of 150 animals — allowing for 90 dogs and 60 cats.
Weilert said the shelter tried to avoid going over capacity but was encouraged to go over the limit.
“We were often pushed by the president of the board to go over that state limit,” Weilert said. “Because of that, at sometimes, illness ran rampant and it is hard to explain to the public.”
Weilert said medical care was an issue, particularly when it came to heartworm treatment.
“This is very serious — it kills animals all of the time,” she said. “The facility does not test for them.”
Weilert said the reason the facility does not test for heartworms is because the facility would have to pay for treatment in the event of a positive test.
“If you have to test the dogs for heartworm then they would have to pay $300 to $1,000 for treatment,” Weilert said.
According to Weilert, cuts in staff made it difficult to do their job in one full work day.
“They kept staff very few in numbers to keep costs down,” Weilert said.
Because of cuts, Weilert and Rink said, the staff had difficulty taking days off and were going overtime and Rink said she was told not to clock in for some hours.
“We have very limited hours and limited supplies as well as funding to do the things that needed to be done at the shelter,” Rink said “A lot of time, medical needs, behavior needs, health and sanitation were kind-of put on the back burner so we can get the bare minimum done within the hours we worked, and if we didn’t get the job done in the time we had, we were expected to work for free.
“We weren’t allowed to write down hours that we had to spend extra in order to finish our jobs, which happened really frequently.”
Retired Pittsburg State University Professor and Former Southeast Kansas Humane Society Board Member Linda Grilz said in the past, the shelter was run mostly by volunteers — having paid workers along with the expansion of The Doggie Bag, made expenses go up.
Rink said meetings were also not paid and, she said, there had only been one since April 2016.
Weilert said one thing that pushed her and her coworkers to resign was that they were told volunteers would eventually take over the costs — meaning paid workers.
Rink said most of the training she and the others did were on their own after the first day and any further knowledge, such as dog behavioral training would be at their own expense.
Grilz said she left in May, she is not one of the five who left this week.
She said Cooper and Caldwell both had passion for the job, but with the age difference and experience difference they had a hard time getting things done in management and day to day operation.
“They have different backgrounds and ideas about getting things done,” she said. “But they both feel passionately about the shelter — down to their toes.
“They look at things differently, that was the problem.”
As far as budget issues go, Grilz said she thinks an audit is a good thing for the shelter — she said in the four years she was a board member no one asked for one.
“It is a good place to start — in addition to building up the board and staff,” she said.
Grilz said she believes the year-round hard work and fundraising made finding time for audits and other changes difficult.
Grilz said she applauds the staff who have worked hard at the shelter.
“The jobs they do at the shelter is amazing,” she said. “The staff had a great team who worked together.
“It is unfortunate it has come to this — it is important to clear the table and build up from there.
(Editor’s Note: The Morning Sun will be continuing to monitor the situation at the SEK Humane Society and will be following up several of the issues outlined in this story.)
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.