Humane Society of Danville making changes
DANVILLE — With guidance from the Champaign County Humane Society and University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, staff and board members of the Humane Society of Danville spent eight hours on a recent Sunday rearranging how animals are housed — all according to best practices gleaned from other shelters, research and studies.
It's one of the changes the Humane Society, 1225 N. Collett St., Danville, is going through to improve its operation, animal care, the animal adoption rate and its image.
"We're headed in the right direction," said Glen Laird, the new director of the no-profit organization, which has had a contract with the city of Danville for many years to provide animal control services.
The organization has survived for years on revenue from its thrift store, memberships, donations and city revenue, which has paid, according to the 2011 contract, $73,000 a year for animal control services.
But last year, the organization — under a different board, different director and different staff — came under heavy criticism at city council meetings where residents complained about a variety of issues. Some complaints could be substantiated by city officials, some could not, but it led the city to delay renewing the contract and discuss other ways of providing animal control.
Since then, the president of the Humane Society board, Pete Lary, died and several board members resigned for various reasons.
Laird, who was recently hired to replace the previous director, said suddenly it was him, the new board President Jim Crose, and just a couple board members left, creating a lot of uncertainty. But animal lovers across the county answered the board's call for new board members to take the operation in a new direction.
Laird said it became obvious that this was an opportunity for a fresh start. Now, the organization has a full board again with Crose at the helm and has even expanded from eight to 11 members, all new but a few, and has new staff and a new vision.
Laird and the board have sought guidance, suggestions and advice, and even services, from officials with the Champaign County Humane Society and UI vet med, and Laird has been visiting other shelters in Illinois and Indiana to get ideas for improving the entire operation here.
One of the improvements was rearranging the animal housing area, segregating the cats from the dogs, which had not been done in the past. Laird said that is the way other well-run shelters do it for various reasons, including less stress on the cats. But that's just one of many changes in the works.
Plans are moving forward to get volunteers involved at the shelter, initiate ideas and programs to boost adoptions, organize an animal foster-care program, write for grants, organize a website and more. Laird is focusing on promoting training and professionalism among the shelter and animal control staff and volunteers.
New board member Crystal Allen, of Homer, who teaches part-time at Parkland College and is working on her doctorate in animal science at the UI, has been on the board since mid-September, which has met seven times since then, working on a new budget, ideas for grant proposals and partnerships with the UI vet school.
"I definitely think we are on the right path. I just think it will take some time," she said. The biggest thing, Allen said, is getting the operation up to the basic standards set for animal shelters.
New board member Lynda Berbaum of Danville said the new board is pro-shelter, pro-adoption and pro-fostering of animals and proactive, and with partnerships being developed with the UI and other professionals in the field, things are moving in the right direction. But, Berbaum said, the shelter is running a deficit each month and that needs to be addressed through a new contract with the city and a membership drive. Anyone can be a member of the humane society by donating just $10, or $100 for a lifetime membership, she said, and that money goes directly to the care of the animals, not to utility bills, for example.
Berbaum said the thrift store does well, but it can't support the entire operation.
Laird said the Humane Society does not exist to make a profit, but it can't survive long term losing money either. More funding from the city is needed, he said.
Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said he has sent a proposed contract to the new board, which will be submitting back to him any amendments.
"Once they have done (that), we will continue to negotiate until we reach mutual agreement on all parts," said Eisenhauer, who added that he has been very impressed with the enthusiasm he has seen from the new board members, whom he believes are conscientious about the concerns expressed in the past and suggestions that are being made to better the Humane Society. "I appreciate their willingness to take those concerns and suggestions head on and applaud their openness in those efforts."
Laird said he believes that as his staff and board take baby steps, making changes for the positive, the society's image and the shelter's image will begin to change.
"I really feel that the new board and attitude will change how it's perceived by the community," he said.