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Christmas Firing Not Very Humane, Director Says Humane Society Board Won’t Comment After Axing Eighth Director This Decade

Susan Canterbury says she’s looking for a job and answers at a time when she should be looking for Christmas presents for her two kids.

Canterbury was fired Monday as director of the Spokane Humane Society, just five months after she moved her family from South Carolina to take the $30,000-a-year job.

The Humane Society’s board of directors gave no reason for her termination, said Canterbury, adding she had no warning it was coming. On Friday, board members remained silent about the firing.

The letter informing her of the decision simply said the board had voted to fire her and demanded that she pack her things and leave immediately.

“I’d like to know why I was brought 3,000 miles, then put out of a job with two small children to support,” Canterbury said Friday. “It’s now 13 days before Christmas, and I don’t dare spend any money to buy my kids a Christmas present.

I’ve got my heat turned off, and we’re relying on a wood stove to save money.

“I could bang my head into a wall.”

Some Humane Society employees expressed similar frustration Friday.

They said board members promoted Canterbury as an experienced animal shelter professional when they were recruiting her for the job, then began bad-mouthing her before she even arrived.

The fact that they fired her after only five months compounded the confusion, workers said.

“They didn’t even give her a chance,” said Michelle Forkner, who has worked at the shelter for just over a year. “Directors can’t be directors because (board members) won’t let them.”

Forkner and three other workers said the high turnover rate among directors is breeding distrust between rank-and-file shelter employees and the 10-member board. Canterbury was the Humane Society’s eighth director since 1990.

One worker, Nettie Wilson, quit her job to protest Canterbury’s firing.

“I can’t support a place that I don’t believe in anymore,” said Wilson, who has worked at the shelter off-and-on for four years. “I’m fed up. I’m tired of trying.”

Others, like Forkner and Max Markland, said they’ve lost faith in the board and are worried about how plummeting morale will affect the animals.

“We feel like we’re in a sinking ship,” Forkner said. “We need the public’s support. We live on donations. But we have some questions we want answered.”

Those answers aren’t forthcoming. President Sally Rux and other board members have refused to discuss Canterbury’s termination, saying it’s a personnel matter.

Interim director and former board member Kim West reiterated that sentiment Friday. “That’s how the board chose to deal with it,” West said. “I just can’t say any more about it.”

Canterbury said she feels like she was set up to fail, adding some board members “micro-managed” her.

“They wanted a figurehead,” she said. “They’ve never given me any support. If I wanted to do something, they’d override it.”

Canterbury, who has worked in animal control since she was 10, signed a contract that prohibits her from working for another shelter within 100 miles of Spokane for two years.

She’s desperately seeking a job and plans to file for unemployment soon. “I don’t have the funds to move back across the country,” she said.

West said the shelter is operating smoothly despite the uproar.

“Morale looks pretty good here,” she said. “The workers are smiling.

They’re answering questions from the public. They’re working with me. We’re taking good care of the animals.”

That love of the stray dogs and cats is what’s holding the shelter together right now, said Loretta Johnson, an 18-year Humane Society employee.

“But there comes a point when you have to look after the people who work there, too, because they’re the ones who take care of the animals,” Johnson said.

West said she is trying to rebuild that trust.

“That’s what we’re working to do, getting everybody over the hump so they can start trusting each other again,” she said. “It’s just a major, major problem.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo