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Outsider brings hope to animal shelter

Seann Springford's experience as a financial manager will likely prove handy in his new role as the president of the cash-strapped Humane Society Yukon.

Seann Springford’s experience as a financial manager will likely prove handy in his new role as the president of the cash-strapped Humane Society Yukon.

But, during the meeting held to elect a new board on Dec. 20, it turned out that Springford’s greatest asset was that he had no previous connection to the embattled society, which has been riven with infighting.

“I don’t have any axes to grind or positions to uphold,” he said Thursday afternoon.

He received 51 votes, while 45 ballots were cast for Jordi Mikeli-Jones, a previous society president. In total, the new board has 11 members.

The meeting came after a court order from the Yukon Supreme Court. In September, the registrar of societies ordered the board to hold an annual general meeting in October for the purpose of electing a new board and reviewing financial statements. After the board refused, the territory asked the Supreme Court to order the meeting to be held.

Springford wanted to become a director to bring new direction to the organization, he said. He became a humane society member for the first time at the meeting.

He put his name down for president “not thinking that few people after me would be after the position,” he said. “I don’t know how many people were surprised as I was when I was actually elected.”

In a community as small as Whitehorse, it can be easy for opposing groups to form, he said. “They’re looking at the same thing and seeing something different, or thinking that they’re seeing something different. And I don’t have that problem.”

Previous presidents are also thankful for that.

Mikeli-Jones called the election a “great Christmas present” for the organization. She isn’t sure who nominated her for the position, but Mikeli-Jones said she would have been willing to be president if no other names were put forward.

Mikeli-Jones didn’t know Springford “from a hole in the ground” before the meeting, she said. But Springford met with her personally over the holidays.

Springford also has the support of the most recent president, Shelley Cuthbert. “He’s totally neutral,” she said. She’s hopeful he’ll be able to help the society continue to move forward in a positive direction.

But that’s going to take some work.

Springford’s first priority will be bringing the society back into good standing with the government, he said. He’s still waiting for information from the Ottawa-based accountant, whose offices were closed over the holidays. Once the society is in good standing, it can receive close to $40,000 in government funding that’s been withheld. It can also receive the bingo licence it needs for fundraisers, he said. The society has applied for its licence and is just waiting for government approval, he said.

The society needs the money. Springford estimates it has between $50,000 and $60,000 in debt. He’s still figuring out what all those debts are, he said. Compared to other not-for-profits he’s seen, the debt is small, but more cash needs to start flowing, he said.

“The shelter, I see it as being a business, and being operated as a business,” said Springford. “And that sounds a bit harsh. But in reality, if we don’t operate as a business, we likely won’t be operating.”

It almost happened. In November, the society had to stop accepting animals to the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter and laid off staff because it didn’t have enough money.

The decision to accept new animals and hire staff is the shelter manager’s responsibility, said Springford. As of Thursday afternoon, there were eight animals at the Tlingit Street facilty, said Amanda Farrell, the shelter’s manager. Five are from city bylaw services, she said. The shelter is still not accepting animals from the public. She felt the current staff could handle this number of animals. The shelter has six employees right now.

Springford has seen donations come in over the holidays. The society is still working on future fundraising plans, he said.

He’s also heard from community members who are optimistic about where the society is heading, he said. But he understands some people may be hesitant to donate after the recent turmoil.

“Feel free to continue to be nervous,” he said. “If we need to prove ourselves to you, then keep an eye on us. I can’t promise anything. I can only say I’m very optimistic.”

Contact Meagan Gillmore at