Janesville57.1°

Humane society's new leader defends changes, faces criticism

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
December 18, 2009
— Angela Rhodes said she took the top job at the Rock County Humane Society so she could help more animals.

But in her first 10 months, Rhodes has made changes and attracted criticism.


"Everything I've done my entire life and everything I am is to help animals. I could have stayed in a nice, comfortable position elsewhere or in the for-profit world and made a heck of a lot more money and worked a lot less. But that's not where my heart is. This is absolutely where my heart is," she said.


Rhodes responded to some of the anonymous criticisms printed in the Gazette's Sound Off column:


-- "I was at the society trying to submit a volunteer application. They said it would be at least January before they accept them. The society is less than welcoming to new volunteers."

Rhodes said the society didn't have a volunteer coordinator from early October, when she said Sue Post was let go for performance issues, until mid-November, when Kate Katzban-Beren was hired as the new full-time volunteer, adoption and development supervisor.


Post said she was dismissed by an e-mail titled "Termination notification."


"The intent was clear, and I did not read the e-mail," she said.


Before that, "no performance issues had been cited," Post said.


Rhodes said Katzban-Beren "still is getting her feet wet and learning."


The society is accepting volunteer applications on its Web site, rockcountyhumanesociety.com, or at its headquarters, 222 S. Arch St., Janesville. But it probably won't offer volunteer training until after the first of the year.


Rhodes said the delay is a result of not having information about volunteers who worked with Post. She said Post worked from home and has kept all the volunteer paperwork.


"She would not share that information with me. So I was kind of a lame duck from the beginning. I couldn't reach out to any volunteers or contact them or have any meetings or get to know anybody because that information was kept from me," Rhodes said.


"She basically left me with absolutely nothing, and we're building everything up from scratch. So if there are volunteers out there wondering why I never contacted them, it's because I don't know who they are," Rhodes said.


"I'm embarrassed to admit this, but that's the crux of a lot of the negativity that has started and continues," she said.


Post disputes that she kept volunteer paperwork at home.


"Originals of paperwork were kept at the shelter, and I was willing to share information about volunteers with the director," she said.


Post said Rhodes suspended volunteer orientations two months before she left.


"Volunteer applications had been discarded, and the staff was ordered to tell people that applications were not being accepted because the program was being restructured," Post said.


Rhodes said Katzban-Beren is creating a volunteer database.


"Once we gather as much information as we can of the current volunteers, we'll go through with each and every one, retraining them in the areas they're interested in and that their skills set match," she said.


"Once everybody is set, we can take a look at what areas we need more volunteers in, then we can actively recruit," she said.


-- "I have fostered adult cats suffering from cage stress but recently went to the society with the same intent and was told by a staff member there was no fostering program for adults."

Rhodes said the fostering program continues.


"The foster program is an integral part of saving more lives in any shelter. It's up and going strongly with pets in 10 active fostering homes right now," she said.


People interested in fostering can contact the society.


To become a foster parent, it's necessary to first become a society volunteer and then receive specific fostering training, Rhodes said.


-- "If Director Angela Rhodes thinks that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are good avenues through which to adopt animals, she needs to think again. I don't Tweet, don't care to get involved with Facebook and have no interest in looking at YouTube. All of this technology is cold and impersonal. Unfortunately, this is exactly the attitude that is now reflected in the atmosphere at the shelter."

Rhodes said social media are a critical tool for today's nonprofit organizations to reach a vast online community.


"In just a few short months, the humane society has created almost 500 'fans' on its Facebook account. That's people we can reach for almost no cost and communicate with to keep them plugged into the animals and events at the humane society," she said.


In addition, people are able to share the photos and news with their friends and families, Rhodes said.


"We are reaching people and keeping them connected like never before," she said.


Rhodes was hired in February and started March 2, replacing longtime human society leader Chris Konetski, who was fired in December 2008.


Rhodes believes most complaints about her and the society come from Post and a couple other volunteers who left at the same time Post was fired.


"They were very much part of a tight circle that left very embittered," she said.


Debbie Mills, president of the local humane society board, said she and the board are pleased with Rhodes.


"Angela has a very broad knowledge base of current trends in animal sheltering, animal health, a good business acumen and superb professionalism; all things that have benefited the shelter greatly," Mills said.


"Angela is a very progressive person, and change is difficult but often necessary to get where you need to be. The criticisms leveled have to do with change. From my personal perspective, the changes that have been necessary," Mills said.


Rhodes said she's trying to put the criticisms behind her.


"It is what it is, and we've moved on. I certainly wish them the best and thank them for their past contributions to the shelter."


Rhodes, however, doesn't want to marginalize public interest.


"If people have concerns, come and talk to me," she said. "I'd be happy to do that with anybody."


Humane society changes result in more adoptions

From longer hours to more pet adoptions, Angela Rhodes said she's proud of changes made at the Rock County Humane Society since she started as executive director.


And she said she has ideas for the future, too.


Changes


Changes at the human society include a cat town living community for up to eight cats, expanded hours, revised health and medical protocols, revamped cleaning protocols to keep the animals healthier, improved customer service and streamlined adoption policies and procedures.


A software conversion is scheduled for Dec. 31 so the program that tracks animal statistics will be operational Jan. 1.


Future


Topping Rhodes' future agenda is community education about pets. The society is considering providing low-cost spay/neuter options and establishing a help/resource line.


"I want the humane society to be a community resource that can work and partner with businesses and other agencies in town about what we can do to reach the most amount of folks. We can't help animals without helping people." Rhodes said.


The humane society's aging, cramped building will be a big project, she said.


"The challenges that just this building provides daily is extraordinary," she said.


An architect who walked in the back he told her: "It is like a Third World Country back here."


Adoptions and euthanasias


"A lot of really good things are happening," she said.


That includes an increase in dog, cat and critter adoptions that are up 16 percent, 7 percent and 33 percent respectively through October.


The overall increase is 11 percent, which represents more than 100 animals in homes, Rhodes said.


About 350 fewer animals have been euthanized this year, including a 38 percent decrease in dogs killed and a 15 percent decline in cats killed, she said.


Animal transfers, where the society works with other Wisconsin animal welfare groups and societies, are way up. Dog transfers are up 180 percent and cat transfers up 1,600 percent, she said.


"We're getting more animals into more loving homes," she said.



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