The Humane Society Yukon in Whitehorse on Nov. 12. The rescue says it may be forced to shutter its Whitehorse animal shelter due to growing financial woes and a disillusioned membership. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Whitehorse animal shelter in dire straits, humane society says

Humane Society Yukon is holding a public meeting Nov. 26 to determine shelter and society’s future

Humane Society Yukon says it may be forced to shutter its Whitehorse animal shelter due to growing financial woes and a disillusioned membership.

The society announced its precarious position in a press release Nov. 8, explaining that fundraising efforts have been underwhelming while expenses, including care costs for animals at the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter and accounting fees, continue to accumulate.

“We are doing a good job but we can’t afford to keep doing it,” society secretary and treasurer Carol Oberg, accompanied by president Kate Dawson, told the News in an interview Nov. 12.

“… We don’t have enough (money) to go too much further.”

The society is holding a public meeting at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre’s Grey Mountain room on Nov. 26 at 7 p.m.

“This public meeting is not to make any decisions,” the press release says. “It is to put the problem forward to the membership and to the community for guidance and direction and leadership.”

The press release, as well as Oberg and Dawson, say that the board of directors is willing and ready to step down should that be what the community wants.

While the shelter still has a modest cash flow coming in from weekly bingo events and other funding, Oberg said the financial situation is dire — she estimated the society is about $45,000 in debt, with creditors including veterinarians, Home Hardware and the Mountain View Golf Club.

It’s currently listed as “in default” on the Yukon Corporate Registries.

“We have animals at the shelter right now that have to get spayed and neutered and the vet said, you know, ‘We can’t really take anymore because you already owe us all this money,’” Oberg said.

According to the press release, 10 animals at the shelter “desperately need vet attention,” and the society has launched a GoFundMe campaign in an effort to help pay for veterinary costs (as of the morning of Nov. 13, it had raised $21,122 out of the $35,000 goal).

A “number of factors” have contributed to the society’s current state, Oberg said.

About 75 per cent of the society’s roughly $428,000 budget comes from fundraising and donations, with the remaining quarter provided by a Yukon government grant. However, recent fundraisers, including a golf tournament and comedy show, didn’t bring in as much money as hoped. On top of that, a local trucking company that previously transported the shelter’s dog food from Edmonton to Whitehorse for free stopped offering the service, and the society also had to pony up cash to fight a lawsuit last year.

Two people sued the society and four board members after the society attempted to investigate harassment claims. A Yukon Supreme Court judge ultimately ruled in the society’s favour, awarding it $2,500 in costs.

As well, the society’s members voted against waiving a financial review for 2018-2019, meaning the society has had to hire an accounting firm, as well as a bookkeeper to correct data entry errors from 2017-2018.

Tied into the financial problems is the issue of community support — or the lack thereof.

“Membership and the community have clearly indicated that they do not trust the operation … The current Board is not prepared to continue governing the Shelter in the adversarial climate that has existed for the last couple of years,” the press release says.

Dawson said current board members, while they love animals and believe Whitehorse needs the shelter, are “exhausted” and “ready to pass on the reins.”

“We’re a board that meets once a month and we’ve had to meet more often than that because of the situation, so we’ve been putting in a lot of hours,” she said.

“…We’re all kind of worn out by this.”

The shelter’s future, Dawson and Oberg said, will ultimately be in the hands of attendees at the meeting.

“I don’t know what the solution is, so that’s why we’re hoping to, I guess, brainstorm with community, get some ideas,” Oberg said. “… I mean, it’s just like, we care about animals, and they’re depending on us to figure this out. That’s all.”

Environment Yukon’s chief veterinary officer, Mary VanderKop, confirmed in an interview Nov. 13 that the Yukon government will be reimbursing the society for the costs of the bookkeeper and accountant, up to a maximum of $25,000. Funding that process is in the government’s interests, she explained, since the organization receives government grant money and should therefore have clean books.

VanderKop added she’s also extended an offer to “provide some support for a more thorough review” of how the society functions, if desired.

“I mean, this is just the latest crisis in series of crises, so I think we look at that and say, ‘Why is this not working?’” she said. “For the decade that I’ve been here, why is this organization continuing to find themselves challenged?”

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

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