As president of the Door County Humane Society (DCHS) Board of Directors, Bob Starr took on the mission of trying to figure out how to continue operating the society without relying on a miracle of support in the form of a donation to happen every year, because, he said, “sooner or later, you run out of luck.”
That sought-after stability was ensured last week with the announcement that the Door County Humane Society will become a part of the Wisconsin Humane Society (WHS), along with the Bay Area Humane Society (BAHS) in Green Bay.
Starr said merging with the larger organization was a no-brainer to the board and DCHS supporters.
“We were looking at trying to identify a long-term strategy to be able to stay open,” Starr said. “We discussed different options and they always ended up coming to large reduction in services.”
Discussion about becoming a part of the WHS began in July, Starr said. The board reached out privately to major supporters about the possibility of a merger and, he said, everyone thought it was the right thing to do.
“This is really a good thing from my standpoint,” Starr said. “We have a lot of nonprofits here and it’s really difficult when they’re all chasing the same dollars. The ability to affiliate with a larger organization, you are able to join in with the advantage of that size to reduce our overhead.”
One immediate benefit the DCHS will see has to do with the $7,000 audit it had to conduct annually. Now the DCHS chapter will be part of the state organization’s audit.
Another major benefit is that shelter employees will be able to participate in a WHS benefit program. “We weren’t able to afford that,” Starr said.
And unlike the case in many mergers where staff reductions follow, Starr said they are talking about adding more staff and additional programming.
Along with an expansion in services with the merger, Starr said the Door County facility will now have a larger canine population.
“Our population of cats is huge, comparatively speaking,” he said. “This affiliation should create more of a balance there with dogs. More dogs bring more people and more adoptions.”
Starr said one of the things that convinced him this would be a good association is that the WHS recognized that the Door County shelter does things a certain way through necessity.
For example, DCHS established a successful relationship with PetSmart in Ashwaubenon, with about 50 percent of the shelter’s cat adoptions coming through that relationship. It worked for DCHS because of the adoptions, and it worked for PetSmart because the people adopting cats would naturally buy necessary supplies for raising a cat while at the store. The program was so successful that a second one is being implemented with East Town Mall in Green Bay.
However, WHS shelters usually have their own stores, so do not have relationships with commercial pet stores. But Door County simply said the shelter did not have the resources to start a pet supply store. The WHS said, well, if that relationship works for you in Door County, so be it.
“They realize one way is not going to fit all the campuses,” Starr said.
The one big change coming is that the board of directors for both the Door County and Green Bay societies will be disbanded. While the WHS offered positions on their board of directors, Starr said no one from the DCHS board was interested in doing that, however there is an opportunity to be on an advisory committee, which Starr believes he will ask to join.
A new name for the organization is also in the works.
Service to new communities is not foreign to WHS. In 2004, the Milwaukee-based WHS acquired the Ozaukee Humane Society, and in 2013, it acquired the Countryside Humane Society in Racine. The consolidation of staff and resources helped to ensure high-quality animal care and services to animals and families in both counties.
“As Wisconsin’s oldest animal welfare organization, WHS has always worked to identify and respond to the most pressing needs of animals,” said Anne Reed, WHS president and CEO. “Today, the fragmentation of animal welfare into so many different organizations has created a new need: the need to support vital work for animals with strong, simple infrastructure. We believe that local organizations face significant risks to sustainability and relevance if each one is a separate silo that must reinvent every wheel.”
All three organizations were already committed to finding a home for every treatable and safe animal, no matter how long it takes. WHS helped pioneer the approaches that make this possible in the 1990s, and BAHS and DCHS have followed them for some time. These approaches will continue. In addition, the organizations expect that this change will bring more resources for medical and behavioral care for animals at the new locations.
WHS will also hire new positions right away to support the work of their foster/transfer, human resources, volunteer, fundraising, animal care and client service teams. There are no plans to merge the locations, lay off employees or reduce pay.
Carol Boudreau, the executive director at DCHS, is excited to stay on to manage the Door County location.
“We have so much to look forward to – a partner that can offer everything from best practices in shelter medicine to health insurance and benefits for our staff, to innovative approaches to adoption,” said Boudreau.
“Carol is just really good at what she does,” Starr said. “Not only is her heart in the right place, but also the business expertise is there.”
WHS hopes to close the transactions with the two shelters as early as the end of 2017. The George Kress Family Foundation is generously helping to support the acquisition. Other donations are being sought to help with transition costs, which are estimated to be about $175,000 and include expenses for animal care equipment, veterinary supplies, training, travel, facility improvements and advertising.
“We are incredibly grateful for the vital work Bay Area and Door County Humane Societies are doing for 4,000 animals in their regions,” said Reed, “and we are excited to bring our resources to sustain lifesaving services for animals and the people who love them.”