Humane society in the black

After over a year of turmoil, the Humane Society Yukon has money in the bank. The government reached a settlement of around $61,000 with the society's former board last week.

After over a year of turmoil, the Humane Society Yukon has money in the bank.

The government reached a settlement of around $61,000 with the society’s former board last week. It covers costs accumulated throughout a legal battle with the territorial government.

Last fall, the registrar of societies issued a report on the society that runs the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter, prompted by a group of concerned members who had requested an investigation in the spring.

The registrar ordered the group to reissue memberships to those it had illegally denied, to hold a special meeting to elect a new board and to review financial statements. But the board refused, putting it in violation of the Societies Act.

All board members, and the board as a whole, were charged with breaking the law. The society lost its charitable status. It was bleeding cash. Half of the staff at the Tlingit Street facility were laid off. Animals were no longer accepted. The shelter almost closed.

In November, the registrar asked the Supreme Court of Yukon to force the society to hold its meeting and re-instate members. It also asked the court to rule the board had not done its job properly, and have board members pay for legal fees.

In December, the society held its meeting and reinstated members after the court ordered it to do so. But legal costs were never settled until last week. Costs were covered by the board’s insurance, said Philippa Lawson, a spokesperson for the Justice Department. No individual members paid anything.

The settlement erased the society’s debt. Until recently, the society owed between $45,000 and $50,000, said president Hoby Irwin.

Without charitable status, it couldn’t host its weekly bingos. The events only began again last month. Bingo revenue accounts for about a third of the society’s budget. It costs about $20,000 a month to run the shelter. With the settlement, the society has around $10,000 in the bank, said Irwin.

Getting rid of the debt takes a “big elephant out of the room,” said Irwin. Now, the society can focus on fixing the shelter’s heating and ventilation system, and more fundraising.

Expensive events contributed to the past board’s debt. It spent over $40,000 on fundraising during 2012, but it only raised $20,000. Much of the costs were to bring up dog trainer and television personality Brad Pattison last June and September. Society members had publicly protested Pattison’s visits, alleging he used cruel training methods.

This board isn’t going to bring him up again, partly because his controversial methods polarized people, said Irwin.

“Our purpose is to focus on the animals, and take care of them. Not make (people) fight each other,” he said.

To do that, the board is raising money in less expensive ways, like bagging groceries or hosting dog washes.

And board members are aware of their duties and are willing to follow the government’s rules, said Irwin. The last board didn’t do that.

It’s extremely unusual that the government would have to ask a society to obey an order, said Lawson. Members on boards need to understand their duties, and perhaps review them every year, she said. Otherwise, the consequences could be expensive, she said.

This new board is working hard to follow the rules, said Irwin. That’s something the old board could have done better, he said.

“They kept digging a big hole,” he said, noting the government tried to help the old board many times. “It’s that old thing: the sign of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That’s what they pretty well did. They just got themselves in trouble, and I hate to say, weren’t smart enough to back themselves out.”

Not all the old board’s troubles are completely settled. Three former board members pleaded guilty in territorial court last month for failing to obey the registrar’s orders. They were sentenced to two years probation, during which time none are allowed to serve on the board of any Yukon society.

The board’s former president, Shelley Cuthbert, did not appear. She entered a not-guilty plea. Her trial is set for September.

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