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Shelter's changes are encouraging

It has been painful to watch the upheaval at the Humane Society of Pinellas since the sudden departure of longtime director Rick Chaboudy six months ago. Change is always difficult, but it has been especially emotional at this nonprofit agency, which works so hard to care for animals thrust upon it by society.

One of the reasons that change has been so tough on the Humane Society is that the managers and board members of the shelter had failed for too long to address certain shortcomings in shelter management.

That is why it is encouraging that the Humane Society board of directors and its new executive director, Barbara Snow, are moving quickly to address those problems. And they are including one of the most emotionally charged issues of any animal shelter: euthanasia.

Some volunteers and staff members, already divided over Chaboudy's departure, were doubly upset recently when three cats at the shelter were euthanized.

If you were to ask people who have worked or volunteered at the shelter about its policy on euthanasia, you would get several answers. Some considered the Humane Society a no-kill shelter, period. Some would say it euthanized only sick or desperately injured animals. And others - including board members and board president Jack Geller - would say that the shelter's policy was that no animal deemed adoptable by the staff would be killed, no matter how long the animal went unadopted.

Part of the reason for the confusion is that the shelter's euthanasia policy, along with other shelter policies, was not clear enough or even available in writing. The Humane Society of Pinellas desperately needs a policy and procedures manual; the staff and board are tackling that need now.

Another reason for the emotionalism over euthanasia is that workers at the shelter noticed that certain shelter residents had disappeared, and they suspected that animals they considered healthy and adoptable had been killed. Accusations flew, and some people quit.

The Humane Society launched a review and learned that while three cats had been euthanized in accordance with shelter guidelines, some other animals had been euthanized without approval and in violation of standard shelter procedures. Geller would not tell the St. Petersburg Times how many animals were killed or for what reasons.

Some of those euthanasias took place when the shelter was being managed under an interim director; others occurred after the arrival of Snow a little more than a month ago.

Although Snow has spent her adult life working with animals and managing shelters that care for castoff animals, she has been accused of being a "murderer" of animals here - an accusation that ought to shame anyone who made it. Snow has much to offer the Humane Society and ought to be given the opportunity to reshape the agency as needed without being victimized by malicious gossip and accusations.

Another difficult job the Humane Society board faces is establishing guidelines for working with shelter volunteers. Under Chaboudy, Humane Society volunteers sometimes functioned as if they were staff members. As a result, they had come to expect a decisionmaking role in shelter operations. The result of such lack of specificity about proper roles and functions is now evident: Volunteers have quit or felt pushed out and have turned on the very agency their beloved animals depend on.

That kind of behavior is destructive to the animals' environment and to the reputation of the Humane Society. Volunteers who cannot accept the changes at the Humane Society should spend their volunteer hours working in other animal programs that need help.

The saddest part of the discord at the Humane Society is that all of those involved - staffers, board members and volunteers - are there because they love animals. There are no bad guys in this situation, so it is sad to see these animal lovers turn on each other or involve personal egos in the work.