Recent letters to local media criticizing the Maui Humane Society's animal euthanasia practices and urging the organization to hire a new leader with a no-kill philosophy have led some of the nonprofit's board members and supporters to fork out their own money for a public advertisement to address those letters, a board member said Monday.
The ad, which appeared Thursday in The Maui News, was not to defend the society's position on euthanasia but to provide "accurate information" and "hopefully open the door for a more cooperative effort - with less finger-pointing- in addressing the needs of Maui's animals," said Candy Aluli, first vice chairwoman of the Maui Humane Society Board of Directors.
"The response to the ad has been resounding positive, with many community members thanking us for the content of the ad and for speaking up," Aluli said in an email.
"We do not expect to change the minds of those who disagree with us, but we do want the larger community to base their opinions on accurate information. This was really the purpose of the ad," Aluli added.
As the April 30 departure of Chief Executive Officer Jocelyn Bouchard approaches, people in the community advocating the no-kill philosophy have been voicing their opinion, calling for the selection of a new director who advocates their view.
The ad said that this view insinuates that Bouchard herself has prevented the agency from saving animals' lives under her leadership.
"This is a woman who has devoted her life to the care and protection of animals. Under her leadership, MHS has increased spay/neuter and adoptions and decreased euthanasia," the ad stated.
The process to hire her successor continues, and Aluli said that the board does not expect to have someone in place by the time Bouchard leaves. She added that the staff includes capable and experienced individuals, so operations and programs will continue as usual until a new CEO is on board.
After 20 years with the Maui Humane Society, Bouchard decided to depart the agency to become director of operations at the Hawaiian Humane Society on Oahu.
In addition to defending Bouchard, the ad addressed why becoming a no-kill shelter is a "complex" issue that involves more than just ending the euthanasia of animals. Reasons why the no-kill philosophy would be challenging, according to the ad, include the shelter's "open admission" policy that calls for all domestic animals to be accepted, even if unhealthy, dangerous or unlikely to be adopted.
For every animal that is adopted from the Maui Humane Society, three more animals arrive to take its place the next day, according to the ad.
The ad points out that the no-kill faction claims that Maui Humane Society staff have become so "anesthetized to injecting and burning" animals they simply don't care anymore.
"Such people have no idea how many tears are shed at MHS over this heartbreaking reality," the ad stated. "Our employees are compassionate people working tirelessly to help the most animals possible within the constraints of limited facilities and resources, yet they are constantly subjected to these kinds of comments."
Aluli said that more information on no kill can be found at the Maui Humane Society's website at www.mauihumanesociety.org, under "About Us."
A no-kill philosophy supporter and a critic of the Maui Humane Society, Phyllis Tavares said that she saw the ad in The Maui News and felt that "the board members seem to be getting the message."
"The people here on Maui, most people do not see animals being killed for population control," she said.
Tavares, who runs the no-kill 9th Life Hawaii cat rescue and sanctuary on Maui, said that Maui Humane Society could become no kill when someone "at the top," who believes in the philosophy, is hired.
Tavares recognized that Maui Humane Society has an open-admission policy, but said that open-admission shelters on the Mainland have switched to no kill.
She has started an online petition at change.org to urge the Maui Humane Society to hire a CEO with a no-kill philosophy and that the new director be given a one-year contract to complete the mission. On Monday afternoon, the website reported that the petition had 1,500 signatures, which included those of people from other islands and around the world.
Tavares acknowledged that, unlike the Maui Humane Society, her shelter does not take "an overabundance" of cats because that could lead to disease and to distress to current animals. But she said that in the case of feral cats, which may be not adoptable, her sanctuary backs up to a gulch where there are feeding stations for the cats.
"There are places like that, all around Maui," she said. "There are things that haven't been tried."
Tavares said there are open plots of land around the Maui Humane Society shelter that could be used for expansion to take in more animals. Asked if she would advocate to government officials for the funds to purchase more land or to pay for construction of facilities to accommodate more animals, Tavares said that she would need to see what the actual plans were before becoming an advocate.
Acknowledging that Maui is not like the Mainland, where shelter pets can easily be moved from one state to another, Tavares said that the Maui Humane Society could ask for donations from airlines that could ship pets to new homes on the Mainland. She acknowledged that this is happening on a small scale with the organization's Wings of Aloha program.
"They have done it in a small way," she said. "They have to do it in a big way."
Another advocate of the no-kill philosophy is Pam Wolf of SaveAnAnimal.org. In a letter to The Maui News, she, like Tavares, stated that there are other open-admission shelters that are no kill. She concurred with the ad in that "no kill" does not mean ending all euthanasia; animals too sick to be treated may need to be euthanized. However, the agency needs to be doing all it "can to help every healthy and treatable animal that comes through the door," she said.
Echoing Tavares, Wolf said that the no-kill philosophy could be a reality if the new Maui Humane Society CEO and board members believed in it.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.