Canyon County

County demanded Caldwell animal shelter leadership’s resignation

The West Valley Humane Society shelter in Caldwell was built as a bond-funded county facility but is now leased to the nonprofit group, which has an independent board.
The West Valley Humane Society shelter in Caldwell was built as a bond-funded county facility but is now leased to the nonprofit group, which has an independent board.

If the West Valley Humane Society’s board of directors didn’t oust its president and the shelter’s interim executive director, the Canyon County commissioners would stop providing the county’s share of the shelter’s funding, according to a letter commissioners sent to the board on Thursday.

Board president Brenda Cameron and interim executive director Susan Woodward resigned on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The board announced their resignations Monday, with board member Linda Dripps now serving as interim executive director.

“It has been a privilege to work with such devoted staff, volunteers and the community for the past three years. I wish the shelter continued growth and success,” Cameron said in a statement to the Statesman.

“I hope the animal shelter is headed in the right direction with these two resignations,” Nampa Mayor Bob Henry said in a written statement Tuesday. “I believe the leadership needed to change.”

The nonprofit’s remaining board issued a news release Monday announcing the resignations: “With the assistance of professionals from the Idaho Humane Society, West Valley Humane Society will immediately begin to restructure shelter management. The goals of providing best practices in shelter animal welfare and fulfilling all aspects of the organization’s mission statement are the focus of the changes.”

Shelter management has drawn prolonged fire from a community group in recent months, and both Canyon County and the city of Nampa announced last month that they expect to review the shelter’s financial records and consider an audit. About 30 people attended the county budget hearing Aug. 31, alleging mismanagement and inhumane treatment, and asking commissioners to take action against the nonprofit shelter’s leadership. Most were members of Bunny Project, mobilized after a dog named Bunny was euthanized at the shelter in February despite her owner’s efforts to find and recover her.

“The Bunny Project is pleased to have been instrumental in the recent developments that have taken place at West Valley Humane Society,” project founder Kyla Westerberg, whose mother owned Bunny, told the Statesman on Tuesday. “We are now looking forward to seeing the continued efforts for positive change in hopes that the animals and taxpayers of Canyon County will finally have a shelter they deserve.”

In their Thursday letter setting a five-day deadline for the resignations, Commissioners Steve Rule, Craig Hanson and Tom Dale questioned the shelter’s financial management, citing “additional information” since their request for an audit “indicating that the (shelter) is not properly safeguarding public funds.” Some regular, ongoing expenses of the shelter haven’t been paid since June, they wrote.

“We understand that our concerns are shared by the Humane Society’s other public partners, the cities of Nampa and Caldwell, as well as many of the volunteers and staff that have contributed to the success of the Humane Society over the last few years,” wrote the commissioners in the letter. “We do not wish for the present circumstances to detract from the many contributions the Humane Society, its Board of Directors, staff and volunteers have made to our community. However, now is the time for the Humane Society Board of Directors to take the difficult steps necessary to restore the trust of its public partners and the community.”

The Nampa and Caldwell finance departments met Oct. 5 to review the finances, and “although staff was cooperative, I was told that very little concrete financial information was available,” Nampa Finance Director Vikki Chandler said in a prepared statement. “The city representatives were told that a new accounting firm (not identified) had possession of the bank statements so that they could ‘clean up’ the data. Financial statements were not complete or accurate.”

Nampa has not been billed for shelter services since February but plans to submit payment, based on Nampa police records, for Nampa dogs taken to the shelter, Chandler said.

Eljay Waite, city finance director for Caldwell, said the city was reviewing the records, a process that could take a couple of weeks.

Woodward said last month that Humane Society leadership is proud of its shelter and treatment of animals, and invited community members to check out the shelter for themselves. On Monday, the shelter board invited anyone interested in helping with the transition to join the volunteer team by visiting the shelter website.

Erin Fenner: 208-377-6207, @erinfenner Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447

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