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Community must step up for dogs, cats and KHS

One of the most difficult jobs on this island rests with the Kauai Humane Society. Why is that? It is the organization that handles thousands of stray dogs and cats that end up there each year.

All told, in the five years from fiscal year 2010 to FY 2014, almost 27,000 unwanted cats and dogs came to the shelter. They were found homeless on the streets or surrendered by their owner. Such numbers paint a grim picture. Where do they all end up? KHS has limited options. Best case scenario, they are returned to their owner or adopted by a new one. Dogs could be transferred to the Mainland, where someone may give them a home.

Sadly, many are euthanized. The number of cats and dogs that are put down at KHS, FY 2010 to FY 2014, totaled more than 15,000. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is.

Imagine having to put down so many animals. Few would be willing to take on such a task. And few really want to hear about it. It’s one of those things most prefer just goes on quietly, out of mind, out of sight.

Except for those who work and volunteer at the Kauai Humane Society. They know, more than most of us, the reality of what it takes to operate an animal shelter where dogs and cats don’t always leave alive.

It would be wonderful if they did. It would be wonderful if thousands of pets didn’t wind up homeless on Kauai, often the victims of being abandoned by their owners. It would be wonderful if everyone took responsibility for their pets, cared for them, loved them and played with them.

And many do. But there are those who do not. Too many. The result is, KHS ends up being responsible for thousands of animals on this island. In a sense, they do our dirty work for us.

Which is why the role of the KHS executive director is critical.

Recently, KHS Executive Director Penny Cistaro was the target of a petition by a number of employees, reportedly 12, who believe she should be removed and replaced. A lengthy report was also turned into the shelter’s board of directors, citing numerous concerns about Cistaro and how the humane society is operated. Certainly, there is room for improvement at KHS. Mistakes have likely been made.

The input of nearly a third of KHS employees who would put their jobs at stake by signing and turning in a report critical of their boss and a petition, as well, can’t be discounted. It is an indication changes can and should be made that would benefit KHS staff and most important, the animals.

But keep in mind, the KHS executive director has one of the most difficult and challenging jobs on Kauai. That much is clear when you consider the number of animals that come to KHS: Cistaro deals with situations most of us don’t want to think about. She must make the tough decisions. The decisions and actions of the executive director will not please everyone. If you can find a director who could make decisions and take actions that everyone will support, hire that person.

While Cistaro has her critics, as would anyone who steps into that role, overall she has done a good job. There are reasons the board backs her so strongly. She inherited an organization that had many troubles. It’s not trouble-free today, but it’s headed in the right direction and that’s to the credit of Cistaro, her staff and an army of volunteers. It’s a testimony to them that thousands of dogs and cats have been placed in loving homes. The success of its recent fundraiser, “Paws for Celebration” that raised $80,000 is a sign people believe in KHS.

This isn’t and shouldn’t be about Penny Cistaro, anyway. This is about this community. It’s about people here and the importance we place on our pets. The pressure to deal with thousands of stray dogs and cats, having to make daily euthanasia decisions, wouldn’t even fall to KHS if so many of animals didn’t wind up homeless. And they wind up homeless because people put them there.

Yes, there are shortcomings at KHS. But the fault doesn’t just rest with the management or the board or the staff. We all need to look within, decide what we can do, determine how we can contribute to improve the Kauai Humane Society, and more important, how we can better the lives of Kauai’s animals that count on us to take care of them.

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