Sophia Fortin, right, facilitates the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter’s public meeting at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre the evening of Nov. 26. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Public brings ideas to meeting on how to save Whitehorse animal shelter

Better communication with the public, adopting best practices from other shelters and building a financially-responsible organization were among the ideas suggested at a meeting aimed at saving a troubled Whitehorse animal shelter.

About 60 people, including current board members, and one dog showed up to the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter’s public meeting at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre the evening of Nov. 26

It came two weeks after the board issued a press release announcing the shelter, which is currently housing about 25 animals, is in dire straits due to fundraising efforts that fell short of expectations and exhausted board members.

The shelter, run by Humane Society Yukon, relies on donations and fundraising events to make up 75 per cent of its approximately $428,000 budget, with the remainder coming from the Yukon government. It’s turned to a GoFundMe campaign to help cover some of its costs and debts, including veterinary care and legal fees from a lawsuit filed against it last year.

The goal of the meeting was to solicit ideas on how to turn things around at the facility, with a full replacement of the board among the options on the table.

Led by facilitator Sophia Fortin, attendees were given the chance to ask questions before circulating to tables set up in the centre’s Grey Room, where they could leave written comments, give donations or sign up to be board members.

Among the table topics were visions for an ideal shelter, fundraising ideas, things people would like a new board to avoid, and things they would like a new board to do. There was also a table simply labelled, “rant space.”

Attendee Liz Reichbach, who was part of the shelter’s founding board, said she showed up because she wanted information on why the shelter was in trouble, and also to check in on its policy around putting down animals.

“The founding board had a no-kill shelter … and I just wanted to make sure it stayed that way,” she said after leaving a note at one of the tables.

(The shelter’s policy is that it’s no-kill unless recommended by a vet.)

Community services minister John Streicker was also in attendance.

The Yukon government is helping the shelter cover the cost of a financial review it’s currently undergoing, up to a maximum of $25,000.

Streicker said the government is hoping to see the shelter get back into good standing with Yukon Corporate Registries, and that he was pleased to see an openness from the current board.

“The worst thing is if the government has to step in and take over services because we’ll never do it as well as the not-for-profit world,” he said. “What they do is with compassion and care, right? And we’re just never able to do it as well as they can do it and we really want them to keep going if at all possible.”

By the end of the meeting, attendees had filled 10 pages with fundraising ideas. Other key points, summarized by Fortin, included finding out whether the communities are helping to support the shelter, leaving personalities at the door, getting a new building with a better layout, and creating a dedicated communications position so members and the public are better informed about decisions and operations at the shelter.

Sixteen people also put their names forward to be part of the new board. An election will be held at an upcoming general meeting, the date of which is to be announced.

Adam Thompson was one of the 16.

“I think the focus on the animals has been kind of lost … I just thought bringing in maybe some new fresh energy and some new ideas might help change some of the past issues that we’ve been having,” said Thompson, who’s previously volunteered at the shelter and also works with the Yukon Animal Rescue Network and a cat sanctuary.

“I’ve always thought that if you’re going to try and make change, then maybe you have to be a part of it. People talk a lot about, you know, how everybody might be doing something wrong or what they would do, but unless you put that thought into action, it’s just really a lot of hot air.”

In an interview after the meeting, shelter secretary and treasurer Carol Oberg said she was “thrilled” with the turnout and the ideas people put forward.

“I just really get a reaffirmation how important the shelter is to the community and the humane way of treating animals … People are willing to come out and put their time in it and their enthusiasm and they want to do it in a different way,” she said.

“I see the potential in this room … There was a synergy here tonight and it was a really good process, I think to get some great ideas and I believe we’ll get the follow-through.”

She added that the response from Yukoners following the shelter’s call for help has been “awesome, just awesome,” with more than $28,000 raised via the GoFundMe. An anonymous gold miner also wired the shelter more than $19,000 last week, sending the money via an international refining company.

“From that to the kid who puts in $12 from the birthday money, I mean, it all means so much, it really does,” she said.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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