Taos Bark

Management - not lack of funds - at heart of repeated Stray Hearts problems


In August of 2003, the Taos Humane Society closed after the board of directors walked out of a county commissioner's open meeting. The commissioners had requested their appearance to answer questions relating to the many complaints received regarding management of the shelter, including their financial governance.

Several animal advocates were there to be heard. We had been attempting for several months asking, then demanding, answers to reports of mismanagement on many levels. It had become intolerable and we took action to bring this to the attention of the county commissioners.

The shelter closed, animals were removed and people began to put the shelter back together from making badly needed repairs to creating a new administration. We opened up Stray Hearts Animal Shelter in October 2003. The name was changed and everything else stayed the same. Taos Humane Society remained the legal name. Funding eventually came from the county and town. A new era for the shelter had begun.

Some have not wanted to hear the history. It had nothing to do with the shelter's evolving administrations. History is a teacher; forewarned is forearmed.

Now here we are 13 years later and through these years, directors have come and gone. Same goes for board members. Everyone comes in with such enthusiasm and a promise to change the old status quo for the better, but leaves with promises unkept and board members who change frequently.

Blame and finger pointing run rampant. Some of that is deserved and some isn't. For 13 years, I have been part of this organization in some capacity: director, board member, fundraiser, marketer, media relations, etc. Stray Hearts Animal Shelter has been the subject of this column many times throughout the nine years or so it has been published. I "know" this organization. If I wrote in detail about every administration, it would be a book.

Yes, indeed, the shelter is a financially poor one with horrific funding challenges.

But, folks, impoverishment is the effect, not the cause. Management is the cause and basically has always been, with probably one or two exceptions.

The board president, the board and the director make the conditions and the judgment calls and decisions. I ask the question, "Who is responsible for this?"

The director and board, especially the president of the board, should have the experience and know-how necessary to run a nonprofit with a strong dose of good sense. The board members should be well vetted and bring an asset to "raise the bar" and share this with a well-selected executive director. Barbara Ann Downs vanCalsem has been board president for a very short time. Pam Miller was president before vanCalsem, having moved from the board secretary position.

Becoming the chief executive and inheriting a shelter in such dire, critical circumstances is a daunting challenge, even for the most experienced person. VanCalsem has many years of experience as a volunteer at the shelter and is respected by the staff and volunteers. Finding a new director who will take on these difficult challenges and be the right person will be hard.

The shelter's transparency is paramount in getting support from our community. The negative feedback received in the last year from the public surpassed the amount of it received in the past. Putting out your public information in your newsletter that only shows up on your webpage and Facebook is useless to the majority of our community.

These are the only places the shelter announces its monthly board meetings, which are now at the end of the organization's executive session meetings, in which the public cannot be included. Whatever the shelter's intentions are with all these closed sessions, it reeks of secrecy.

The shelter has an opportunity every week to announce its meetings and share information with the public in The Taos News' "Animales" page, which is set up for just animal news in our community. Stray Hearts board, please use it. Doing so doesn't cost you a penny.

A suggestion would be to reach out and call Animal Protection of New Mexico and speak with the organization's sheltering director to ask for help. APNM works with animal shelters in our state that are experiencing different challenges and need professional assistance. APNM is very familiar with the Taos shelter and its level of involvement may be little, but perhaps a co-narrative can happen.

Many of you have expressed concern for the animals - and rightly so. Thank the staff and volunteers for knowing their jobs. Dedicated and committed volunteers come every day to take care of their needs.

Negative feelings should not keep you away from helping. You are helping the innocents, the vulnerables without a voice. Volunteer to walk a dog or hold a kitty to make their day better. The more the dogs cannot be taken out of their cages and walked, the more miserable and less socialized they become. So volunteer just because you want to make them less stressed. They are the innocents.

Contact taosbark@gmail.com or (575) 613-3448.