OTTUMWA — Three volunteers banned from ever returning to Heartland Humane Society say their dismissal was unsubstantiated.
Heartland Humane Society, Ottumwa's no-kill animal shelter, has been under fire by former volunteers who received a letter from the shelter's new manager saying they are banned from the premises.
Stan McHawes, who became manager in mid-May, sent a letter to volunteers Shirley Brown, Patty Conger-Woolslayer and Patsy Molesworth on July 9, telling them they were "no longer welcome on the premises of Heartland Humane Society or any events sponsored by or for Heartland Humane Society."
The lifelong ban means HHS will file a complaint of trespass with Ottumwa police, he wrote.
Brown, who has volunteered at the shelter for 17 years, said the threats to ban her and the two other volunteers began months ago, but this letter made it official.
"I wasn't an employee, I was a volunteer, so what's done I suppose can't be undone," she said. "Our focus is to change the board ... to save the shelter and change the board so it's functioning not as a social club but ethically. But we still want people to volunteer and support Heartland. It's not our purpose to keep them from operating."
McHawes said "the history of those three and the issues they had created in the past" led to his decision to officially ban them from HHS.
He said problems arose whenever a new director was hired.
In January, Lillian Frescoln was named the shelter's new director, though she left just six weeks later.
"We kept trying to convince her to stay, to talk to the board, but she was being micromanaged," Brown said.
McHawes said the shelter's director last fall, Suzanne Killian, "let those three run roughshod on the shelter, doing what they wanted to do as if it was their place."
"They made appearances when each new director appeared to get in with them," he said. "I had been warned about them, so finally, as a last resort to keep them away from the shelter, I wrote the letters."
In the letter, McHawes said the women's presence stressed out "the staff and the animals that reside here at the shelter."
"The thing I don't understand is why is this being made such a big deal?" McHawes told the Courier. "It's being made like some corporate takeover was going on. It's much ado about nothing. We depend on volunteers and we welcome volunteers here, but when they do what's not good for the animals and the organization, then they're asked to not be here."
Kerry Wulff, who's adopted her pets from the shelter and received help spaying and neutering them, said the shelter's management needs to give everyone a clear answer.
"I don't feel like the shelter has addressed its critics and exactly told us why ... these women can't come back," she said. "Why can they not be there? What did they do that was so horrible that they can't come back?
"If the volunteers did something horrible ... don't we as the public have a right to know?"
Brown and Wulff were also concerned that the board of trustees tried to switch last week's meeting at the last minute so they wouldn't show up, giving them "the run-around," Wulff said.
But since HHS is a private, nonprofit organization, it does not fall under Iowa's open meetings law.
"There was a notice at Hotel Ottumwa stating it was being moved from Thursday to Tuesday because we wouldn't have had enough board members to make a quorum," McHawes said.
One wrongdoing McHawes said HHS does admit to is losing the PetSmart Charities contract.
"The board will admit to mismanagement," he said. "They had been told by PetSmart Charities ... to remove the [Rescue Waggin'] manager at the time and they did not do that ... until it was too late. At that point in time, with the guidelines set, PetSmart said you don't want to do what we ask, so they took the Rescue Waggin' away from us."
The Rescue Waggin' would transport animals from HHS to other shelters where they could be adopted. The program had been in place for four to five years.
Board of trustees president Jean Sporer was out of town and could not be reached as of press time Tuesday.
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Inspections by PetSmart Charities in September showed several areas of concern at Heartland Humane Society, according to a report provided to the Courier.
According to the report by Sherry Woodard, animal behavior consultant with Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, she said basic care for the dogs and cats at the shelter was not being met.
-- Many animals were desperate for human interaction.
-- Dogs are overfed and food is recycled for next feeding.
-- Animals were not current on vaccines.
Woodard noted that "animals are not receiving basic care from current staff" and the shelter is overpopulated. At that time, the shelter was housing 191 animals. Shelter manager Stan McHawes said the shelter is currently holding 102 dogs and 85 cats.
"We stop accepting animals before we get to that point [overpopulation]," McHawes said. "But we are looking to network out to other shelters to transfer some of the animals ... for adoption. Losing the Rescue Waggin' was a hit to us, but it wasn't our only avenue for getting dogs to other places."
Woodard recommended that staff get to know every animal, provide enrichment and create training plans and take photos and video of the animals in order to observe behavior and increase the possibility of adoption.
Out of the 81 dogs currently listed on Heartland's website, 32 have pictures. Out of the 73 cats listed on the website, 24 have pictures.
"I actually have not seen the full report," McHawes said. "I am in no position, really, to comment on it. I'm not in a position to speculate."