Former volunteers raise concerns at WAIF board meeting

Two former WAIF volunteers shared their concerns at the most recent WAIF board meeting at the Freeland Library, Monday, Feb. 16.

Dialog started with raised hackles but after sniffing each other out, the board members and former volunteers exchanged information and left on good terms, with plans to meet again.

The saga over Smiley - a mixed-breed dog, who was slated for euthanasia, was eventually stolen from the shelter following a lengthy legal battle to save his life - sparked a heated debate over the shelter's conditions, practices and communication with volunteers and donors.

In the process, Pamela Hill-Keeva, WAIF board president, was reduced to tears over the amount of homeless animals on the island, the limited resources WAIF has to care for them and the less-than-ideal shelter conditions volunteers and staff work in day in and day out.

"It's horrible for man, let alone beast," she said, "but we do what we can to make the animals as comfortable as possible."

Former volunteer Diane Jhueck agrees.

"The dilemma is that this shelter is a terrible place, but you need money to make it a better place," she said.

"I'm not as strong as Sheri," Jhueck said, referring to WAIF's shelter manager. "I couldn't take it. That's why I left."

Karen Moore volunteered for four years, until she lost hope for the new shelter.

"All I know is that three and a half, four years ago I was told the new shelter would be built within the year," she said.

A new shelter will be constructed, said Stephen Paysse, WAIF executive director, but WAIF needs to raise money before work can begin.

"The last thing we want to do is get it running and not have enough money," he said.

"Believe me, I would like a new shelter tomorrow. I'm in there everyday. We're a small community and its going to take a lot of time," Paysse said of raising money for the new facility.

Moore is still concerned about the conditions at the current Coupeville building, citing poor air and water quality.

The county-owned building has been upgraded as funds allow, Shari Bibich, shelter manager, said. Several years ago, the county spent more than $30,000 for an air filtration system.

While Bibich and other volunteers don't drink the water, its quality is checked quarterly and is "deemed potable."

In 2005, some of the shelter dogs contracted giardia after the shelter's 15-year-old septic system flooded the dog play yard. The fenced area was closed for a year to let the sun bake the bacteria out of the soil, and WAIF spent thousands of dollars to cover the yard with new dirt.

Ron Kerrigan of Old Dog Haven attended the meeting to talk about working with WAIF for their Spring Fling event, for yet another year. He also defended Bibich for her work at the shelter.

"People don't know what Shari has done for certain dogs. She's called me. Smiley, of course, was not old enough for Old Dog Haven. She's out there looking for solutions for these dogs," he said.

"How come the public doesn't know about the success stories? I have nine dogs, that if it wasn't for WAIF, would have been dead long ago," Kerrigan said.

"We all care about the same thing," Hill-Keeva said.

Moore also suggested that WAIF follow up with volunteers who've left, reporting that no one ever called her when she stopped volunteering.

"You've got a pretty deep black eye," she told the board.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the shelter, Paysse said, adding that the Board will make a list of everything that needs to be addressed, prioritize the items and tackle one concern at a time.

Move volunteers are needed, he said, adding that the shelter recorded 1,600 volunteer hours in 2008.

"What's the next step," asked Jhueck, who propelled the discussion forward.

"It's really positive to hear a person with suggestions that is willing to help," Susan Cohen told Jhueck, who proposed "A little task force of people who can keep dogs sane - without spending extra money - so they don't go kennel crazy."

For now, Paysse and another board member plan to meet with Jhueck over coffee.

"The community wants to talk and WAIF is open to listen," Jhueck said. "I think this is a pretty big deal."

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