Humane Society Breaks the Mold
The Molokai Humane Society (MoHS) has experienced an overhaul this year. The 30-year-old nonprofit has lofty goals of securing a full-time veterinarian, financial stability and a piece of land to call its own.
“Our goal is consistency – consistent services and prices,” said new Executive Director (ED) Jenn Whitted.
With new paid staff, a change in board of directors and more funding this year than the nonprofit has ever worked with, MoHS board members are optimistic about the future.
Other objectives are to educate the community and purchase a plot of land for a shelter, clinic and office, Whitted said.
Yet some community members question the organization’s future. Keri Zacher said she feels there is a disconnect between the people involved with the organization’s everyday activities and the board’s planning process.
“The long range goal may be for a shelter, but what we have right now is the clinic,” Zacher said. “I’ve attended all public meetings, sent emails, talked with board members, but I am at a loss.”
Former board member Debbie Hill agrees, “I am very concerned about the current board’s seeming attempts to stay closed by maintaining tight control which ultimately minimizes community input and participation.”
“We’re taking what [previous boards] had already recognized as a need and didn’t have the resources for – we’re making it a reality because we’re able to get the funding,” said Whitted. “We knew what direction we should take by talking to old board members and looking at past minutes.”
Matthew Goodrich, MoHS board vice president since February and current acting president, said another goal for the organization this year is to “get on sound financial footing.” In the past, the Society had not collected consistent fees. In order to continue operation, they must collect these payments and raise additional funds, he said.
Each spay or neuter operation costs $100 in materials alone (not including a vet’s time). MoHS, however, only charges $20 to spay or neuter a cat and $30 for dogs. The rest of the costs, including paying visiting vets, are offset by MoHS, according to Whitted.
“We wouldn’t have changed anything if we had come into an organization that was running well,” Goodrich said. “We were headed either into bankruptcy or [we would] turn into a volunteer organization.”
Even so, some disagree with the new financial regiment.
“MoHS is slowly being turned into a business,” said Dr. Hollis-Ann Stewart, a visiting-vet who formerly worked with MoHS. “Doctors used to run hospitals but now businesses run the hospitals. The same is applied here. Our agendas are different.”
This fiscal year’s projected budget of approximately $270,000 is an increase of over 600 percent from previous years’ funds of about $40,000. Goodrich said the donors have remained the same – Maui County, the Shields Animal Foundation and small private donations – but each has given more monetary gifts to MoHS this year – an increase Goodrich credits to more strictly following nonprofit practices..
MoHS also recently hired a bookkeeper, who, along with the treasurer and other board members, will help regulate and keep track of the organization’s funds and spending.
Earlier this year, board members saw the need for an executive director, according to Goodrich. Most nonprofit organizations operate with one, and it was a “no-brainer” from a financial standpoint, he said. The ED, he added, more than pays for the position with the money it’s expected to raise for the organization.
Additionally, Goodrich said the decision to create an ED position came in part when the Shields Animal Foundation, a substantial monetary contributor, told MoHS their funding was contingent on hiring an ED, sticking to a budget and maintaining consistency.
MoHS began receiving applications for the position before they even posted the job description. The board soon formed a three-person hiring subcommittee, which was chaired by Goodrich and did not include Whitted, who was board president at the time.
With pressure from funders to get the ball rolling, the position was posted in early July and remained open for only two weeks.
“We were on a timeline to get this done – we had to [do it] to get funding,” said Goodrich.
He said MoHS received six or seven applications, three of which were from Molokai residents. With an eye to hire someone who lives locally and who preferably had past experience with the organization, no applicant met their qualifications, he said.
“We asked Jenn if she would consider the job and she submitted an application,” and resigned from her position as board president, per nonprofit regulations, he added.
“If we got a good applicant, we would have hired someone else… but it’s not uncommon to hire those positions from within,” he said.
Vet in the House
The search for veterinarians willing to visit Molokai is still ongoing until MoHS hires a full-time vet – “the number one thing we’re doing right now,” according to Goodrich.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea to have a full-time vet here, especially because it takes a special kind of person to want to relocate here – people-minded and animal-minded rather than political,” said Czella Donaldson, a Molokai animal owner.
While a number of vets have offered their services in the past, Goodrich said the most consistent visiting vet was Dr. Stewart, who has said she does not want to work with MoHS during this transitional period.
“I am dissatisfied with the current situation which has caused an uncomfortable working environment,” said Dr. Stewart. “I am not, nor have I ever been an employee of Molokai Humane Society. I was a visiting vet that came to perform sterilization procedures and see appointments on Molokai because there was a need.”
“If she moved here and started private practice, we would be thrilled,” said Goodrich of Dr. Stewart. “We would support her and send her clients.”
Dr. Stewart Morgan is currently on-island Aug. 9-19. He has been planning to visit Molokai for four months, said Goodrich. After Dr. Morgan leaves, no one is currently lined up to offer vet services – a gap between visiting vets MoHS has dealt with in the past.
However, the clinic will remain open, run by volunteers. Tessa Reich, formerly MoHS’s only paid employee and vet assistant, is no longer working with MoHS.
“I am still here for the pets and people of Molokai,” said Reich. “You may definitely call me if you have questions about your pets and need services.”
Reich said she will continue working independently with Dr. Stewart to serve the animals on Molokai. “I know people by their pets’ names.”
A current challenge for MoHS board members and community members alike is interpreting the nonprofit’s by-laws, which Goodrich and Whitted said need clarification.
In early 2011, the board faced several vacancies. According to the MoHS by-laws, board members may “fill any vacancy of any officer or director for the remainder of the term vacated,” a statement Whitted said is vague. As a result, two new board members appointed last spring were never officially voted onto the board during the annual meeting held on June 20.
“No one had indicated interest in running for a position,” said Whitted, adding meeting attendees discussed continuation of the current board appointments but “we didn’t think we needed to technically vote.”
However, the issue has since caused some confusion in the community.
“The MoHS desperately needs the lift of new ideas and an attitude of transparency and openness,” said Hill, who had previously resigned from the board, because, as a part-time Molokai resident, she did not feel she had “true insight to draw conclusions or opinions.”
Public meetings have been changed from monthly to quarterly because “not enough people were coming and there wasn’t enough to talk about,” according to Goodrich.
The board of directors still meets monthly, with five members – the minimum needed, according to MoHS by-laws. With a maximum of seven seats, there are two positions available for interested community members. An application process has been established to ensure Molokai residency and an understanding of this volunteer position’s responsibilities. Applications are accepted year round, according to the board.
Along with a board of directors, MoHS has a membership of more than 100 people – a number that remains unclear because of poor past records, according to Goodrich. Members pay annual dues and can vote at the annual meeting at the end of the fiscal year.
MoHS board members said Molokai residents can make their voices heard and get involved in MoHS in many ways. The public can attend board and public meetings, become a MoHS volunteer or join the board.
“The easiest way for something you specifically want is to form a committee,” said Goodrich. A committee’s mission must be in keeping the MoHS mission statement, and include one board member.
MoHS by-laws, meeting minutes, board openings, and other information is available on their website, molokaihumanesociety.org. The organization’s Facebook page, “Molokai Humane Society” also provides updates. Whitted said MoHS is also looking for past records from the organization – records can be left at the clinic or emailed to email@example.com.