For more than 60 years Kauai Humane Society has provided shelter for animals in need and community resources.
Recently, KHS has been the target of a small but vocal minority of community and staff members who have launched a hurtful campaign in which facts have been misconstrued and spiteful comments made. The group has called for the firing of the executive director, who began in March 2013, claiming that euthanasia rates have increased during her tenure and citing concerns for animal welfare.
The Board of Directors was approached by this group in April and warned that if the board did not yield to this group’s wishes, a negative publicity campaign would be launched. Concerned for the staff and operations, the board quickly conducted an employee survey, receiving exceptional feedback and ways to improve.
The key takeaways from the survey were that while a few were unhappy in their positions, most were not, that there were some staffing issues that needed to be addressed and that communication needed to improve. The board also met directly with employees to hear their concerns. The board discussed with the executive director issues and concerns brought to their attention resulting in staffing changes and continues to work with her to better the organization.
As the only open-intake shelter on the island, KHS’s work can be both very rewarding and also, oftentimes, very difficult. Employees who choose to work at KHS do so because they love animal; none want to see the many animals that come in that are injured, sick or neglected. As the only open-intake animal shelter on the island, as much as KHS might like to be, it is not a “no-kill” facility and never has been.
No-kill shelters often work in collaboration with open-intake facilities but no-kill facilities are able to be selective on what animals they bring in often choosing not to take in sick or aggressive animals. Many, like the well-known Best Friends, state in their admissions policy that they are unable to accommodate most requests involving aggressive or fearful as well as special needs animals. Realistically, KHS faces situations where euthanasia is needed.
KHS euthanizes animals for a number of reasons including owner’s request, poor temperament/ behavior, unweaned animals, adverse medical conditions, physical condition and on occasion, due to space constraints.
KHS is excited to see new organizations on island offering services to animals needing more attention than KHS may be able to provide. After receiving negative community feedback regarding euthanasia of certain specific animals, KHS has begun working with and looks forward to continued partnership with new organizations like Kauai Animal Welfare Society to place at risk animals in need. It is continued growth of collaborations like these that will help improve the island’s “live release rate”(LRR) or number of animals that are adopted or transferred out to other facilities for adoption. KHS also has a successful remote adoption site at Natural Pet Hawaii, which hosts a dog most days of the week and upcoming at Petco.
From 2010-2014, KHS’s euthanasia rate has remained relatively stable with a five-year average of 72 percent. (2010: 75 percent, 2011: 72 percent, 2012: 71 percent, 2013: 68 percent, 2014: 70 percent) The majority of these animals are feral cats. The number for dogs has dropped by 15 percentage points over that course of time.
Methods of measuring euthanasia vary shelter to shelter with many, particularly on the Mainland, only counting adoptables and not including those that come in sick or injured, which drives the numbers down. The live release rate, measuring the number of animals adopted or transferred out as compared to the number brought in, has a five-year average of 38 percent, with the greatest rates in 2013 and 2014 (2010: 36 percent, 2011: 35 percent, 2012: 35 percent, 2013: 48 percent, 2014: 39 percent). These numbers are comparable with other island shelters.
While those are the hard facts, KHS’s programs offer many valuable services to the island community. 2010 to present KHS spayed and neutered nearly 17,000 cats and dogs helping to reduce over-population in the future significantly. The number of stray animals brought into the shelter has dropped in the past five years, signifying that programs like low-cost spay/neuter are working.
Funds were raised recently specifically for the mobile spay-neuter program, which will begin traveling to communities in June/July. Other KHS programs like Gomez’s Galley, which has provided 400 families and about 800 pets with pet food, and the Behavior Helpline, which has helped 45 pet owners this year with pet behavioral problems, may have influenced the decrease in owner surrenders as well.
Since dog training classes began in February, 29 families have benefited. There are puppy, family dog and intermediate classes to help with socialization and good behavior. New classes begin every six weeks.
Two programs which have seen great success at the shelter are the field trip and transfer programs. With field trips, people can take a dog out for a day of adventures. This program often leads to adoption. From July 2013 to June 2014, 84 dogs that went on field trips were adopted with that number increasing to 91 dogs from July 2014 to May 2015. Often the person or family taking the dog out falls in love and adopts and sometimes it is someone who simply saw the dog.
This progressive program has been lauded in the industry and has garnered national media coverage. The transfer program has also grown in the past few years thanks to an airline partnership. In 2014, 221 dogs were transferred to shelters on the Mainland to find their forever homes, an increase from the 107 transferred in 2013.
While KHS moves forward making improvements internally and operationally, it continues to benefit Kauai’s animals and residents through the caring work of the animal care technicians, customer service staff and humane officers led by the executive director. The board of directors continues to work with the executive director to implement employee suggestions from the survey to better the organization.
As a wise kupuna once said, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
The board of directors welcomes constructive community dialogue and suggestions for improvement brought about in a respectful manner. The organization’s statistics and audited financials are always available on the website at kauaihumane.org and the community is encouraged to visit the shelter to see the good work done by staff and all the wonderful animals needing homes. KHS has brought joy to many families by returning 4,506 lost pets to owners and adopting out 5,407 in the past five years.
Emily Larocque is president of the Kauai Humane Society Board of Directors.