Human drama at the animal shelter

·6 min read

Aug. 4—PULLMAN — Tucked away in a corner off Old Moscow Road and Johnson Avenue in Pullman, the Whitman County Humane Society takes pride in providing quality care to pets. The shelter has taken care of animals not only in Pullman, but in Whitman County and surrounding areas.

But recently, the central drama at the humane society has been among the humans.

The society will lose six out of seven staff members when their resignations take effect Monday, which was first announced in a Facebook post by the Idaho Animal Rescue Network on July 27. Two out of these six resigning staff members are Annie Lindsey, the director of operations at the shelter, and Zoe Skiadopoulou, the shelter's enrichment coordinator and interim foster program coordinator.

Currently, the humane society is working on transferring animals to other shelters in the Pacific Northwest and getting pets adopted. It is also working on raising money to help with financial issues at the shelter.

Lindsey and Skiadopoulou said they decided to resign during the latest humane society board of directors meeting July 25, and the majority of staff decided to resign along with them because of concerns and internal issues within the society. Skiadopoulou said people are resigning because of unarticulated and disregarded policies and protocols regarding paid leave compensation, as well as disrespect for the staff.

"It wasn't a decision that we made quickly or in any haste," Lindsey said in an interview. "It was ultimately ours and kind of feeling the need to stand up for ourselves and the rest of our staff."

"This was essentially our last step to just finally see if we can get our voices heard," Skiadopoulou added. "So it was honestly a really devastating decision for us to make, but we're (using it) as a tool to see if we can make some positive change."

Lindsey described the situation at the society as a "huge division" between board members and shelter staff and volunteers. She said over the last couple of years, the two-sided situation has affected a lot of big decisions, and the board will not change its opinions or listen to shelter staff, which has led to conflict between the two. The staff is handling a huge amount of the workload and is trying to make things happen within the facility by honoring core values at the society, and the board members are denying issues, Lindsey said.

Dayna Cooper, a current board member and volunteer at the humane society, stated in an email, "This has been pure hell for those of us still standing." A particular member of the board was described as a bully and berating, their behavior became unbearable, and Cooper stated she had to stand up for herself and others. Rather than facing disciplinary actions, the member chose to resign, Cooper stated.

Skiadopoulou said the staff is here for the animals, and although the job is demanding, they chose to tough it out.

"It is very difficult on our end to have a job that honestly is so demanding on just a daily basis with lack of respect and agency on the side of the board," Skiadopoulou said. "As well as, you know — (they) should be working with us on creating policies and advocating for these animals in their lives."

Something had to give, Skiadopoulou said, and over a few years it became harder to push through a job that is already so demanding.

Lindsey said staff and ex-board members at the humane society have created a petition to ask the current board members to step down and have dues-paying members choose a new board. Lindsey and Skiadopoulou said they will retract their resignations if the current board members step down, and will stay to work with a new board to reform policies.

"We would like to give agency back to the staff and we would like to give agency back to the community," Skiadopoulou said.

Lindsey said community members can help the humane society by adopting if they have a safe space to do so and sending a specified donation. All of the specified donations will go toward helping the society maintain daily functions as well as waive adoption fees.

The board announced in its June 2022 meeting the need to raise $15,000 a month from July to December in order to help the budget. Lindsey said with a month gone by, the humane society will have to raise around $20,000 a month to continue operations next year.

The society used to have an active fundraising committee in an attempt to gain more support. Skiadopoulou was a member on this committee until she announced her resignation, and a lot of members on the committee have resigned as well. Skiadopoulou hasn't been informed about the committee since she tendered her resignation, but she was one of two members left on the group and the other member has since resigned. The humane society has a fundraising event from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday called Wine and Whiskers.

Lindsey and Skiadopoulou said they haven't been informed of future fundraising endeavors, but they hope things get off the ground and the society will be able to make its monetary goal.

Lindsey said transferring animals out of the Whitman County Humane Society's care has been the hardest thing. A lot of animals have been raised at the shelter since they were born, Skiadopoulou said.

Lindsey reached out to 150 rescue shelters in the Pacific Northwest, and the community has been supportive. Rescues in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, along with shelters in the Tri-Cities, the west side of Washington, Sammamish, Spokane and Lake Forest Park have responded.

Today, a lot of adoptable cats in the shelter's care will be transferred to Sammamish to be placed for adoption. A rescue in the Tri-Cities offered to transport animals itself, Lindsey said. SpokAnimal, a shelter in Spokane, has offered to care for any animals the society has left in its care.

The society also saw a greater number of adoptions in July than they saw in June.

"A lot of our animals got to find their forever homes and it did motivate people to come out and adopt," Lindsey said. "I was so grateful for, you know, we've secured safety for everybody."

The animals that will remain in the humane society's care are stray animals that come in through Whitman County.

"If stray animals are coming in, we're still taking care of them," Lindsey said. "(We're) trying to get them back and with their owners and taking care of them if not."

Pearce can be reached at epearce@dnews.com or on Twitter @Emily_A_Pearce.