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Shelter Workers Quit In Protest Local Humane Society In ‘Turmoil’ Over Abrupt Firing Of New Director

Fri., Dec. 19, 1997

Four Spokane Humane Society workers quit their jobs Thursday, saying they can no longer work for a board of directors they consider inept and insensitive.

The defectors include Loretta Johnson, a supervisor who has worked at the shelter on North Havana longer than anyone else on staff - 18 years.

Thursday’s resignations bring to six the number of workers who have quit the nonprofit organization in the 10 days since the board fired Susan Canterbury as shelter director.

That’s nearly half the staff directly responsible for caring for the 88 dogs and 57 cats currently living at the shelter.

One Humane Society official said Canterbury’s firing and the resulting resignations have left the Humane Society in “a terrible amount of turmoil.

“I just don’t know where we’re heading right now,” said the official, who didn’t want to be named.

Johnson, Michelle Forkner, Max Markland and Melodey Ray handed in their two-week notices Thursday. Kali Linbert and Nettie Wilson resigned last week.

All were angry when the board fired the 35-year-old Canterbury on Dec. 8 - five months after she moved her family from South Carolina to take the job.

Her sudden, unexplained termination was the last straw in a series of bad personnel moves made by the board, the resigning workers said.

A tearful Forkner accused board members of favoring certain employees and creating a hostile workplace.

“I just can’t handle it anymore,” said Forkner, who has worked at the shelter for 14 months. “The petty little garbage that goes on in the office seems to be more important than the care of the animals.”

Johnson agreed. “I can’t stand to see the way they devalue people,” she said.

Board President Sally Rux has declined to comment on Canterbury’s firing, citing state confidentiality laws. She referred questions about the resignations to interim shelter director Kim West.

West called the resignations unfortunate.

West said the board wants to run the shelter according to guidelines recommended by the Humane Society of America and hold employees to a higher standard as well.

The remaining staff is doing its best to keep the shelter operational, West said, and the Humane Society will fill the openings as quickly as possible to ensure the animals continue to receive the best possible care.

Similar problems have cropped up several times during the past decade, according to former board members and shelter workers. Canterbury was the eighth director since 1990 and the second straight to leave under pressure.

Last year, then-director Paul Bosarge resigned amid allegations of mismanagement and more than half the board of directors quit.

“History repeats itself,” said a former board member who left during the 1996 exodus. “One of the problems is the continual micromanagement by several board members of whoever happens to be the executive director at the time.”

The constant turmoil makes it difficult for the Humane Society to achieve its goals of preventing animal abuse and promoting spay-neuter programs, said the former board member, who didn’t want to be named. “Ultimately, animals suffer because that mission isn’t carried forward.”

The other victims are the employees who feel compelled to quit their jobs in protest, Canterbury said Thursday.

“Some (board members) say they like animals better than people,” she said. “Well, people are animals, too, and you have to be humane to them. I’m concerned for them. I’m concerned for all of us.”

Johnson said she feels lost.

“I’ve stayed with this so long because I love the animals,” she said. “Where do I take that love now?”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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