My first visit to the Maui Humane Society (MHS) happened around 2003. I remember that I was a bit shocked, and my overall impression was that I expected more. The staff was friendly and obviously passionate about animals, but it seemed more like a dog pound than a “humane society.” The facilities appeared to need significant upgrades from the parking lot to the reception area; all outside areas and throughout all animal kennels. It seemed disorganized, short-staffed and in need of lots of help. I wasn’t alone in these thoughts–critics across the County complained about what MHS wasn’t doing, or what they could be doing better. There was also a widespread belief that they were too quick to euthanize stray animals (MauiTime itself reported on one especially troubling euthanization back in 2004). In fact, when my dog Bandito was cremated there in 2008, some friends even wondered if his ashes were actually his ashes. I believe they were, but still…
Times have changed–dramatically so. In fact, the Maui Humane Society has improved so much so in recent years that other local animal welfare organizations have taken notice.
“Under the new leadership at MHS, they have sought out the support within our community extensively,” said Scott Sanchez, owner of Sit Means Sit Hawaii Dog Training. “We have been able to share our experience in dealing with high energy, reactive and aggressive dogs. We’ve also been able to help teach the MHS handlers and animal control officers to keep the dogs, handler’s, family members and officers safe during interactions.”
Even officials with longtime MHS critics, like Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation (HARF), say they’re now dealing with essentially a new organization.
“We appreciate our improved relations with the Maui Humane Society and value the opportunity to partner with them in all efforts to save more animal lives,” said Dawn Hall, HARF’s Executive Director.
I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Jerleen Bryant, who was appointed CEO of MHS back in 2014. I toured the MHS facilities and learned more about their newer programs. I was aware that they were in the process of launching a new logo, and had recently read about the $258,000 grant they received from PetSmart Charities to expand their veterinarian clinic.
Upon arrival, I checked in with their reception desk. While I was waiting (I was early), I watched a family filling out paperwork to adopt a dog. The staff seemed attentive, and the office appeared fully stocked with their cute branded merchandise: t-shirts, hats and more. Soothing music played in the background. I noticed that the waiting room furnishings had been updated, and new signs advertising their animal welfare programs–Wings of Aloha, MASH clinics, Agility Clinics, Dog Licensing–adorned the walls. They even had a cool “Wheel of Fortune” game on the wall in which adopters could win a waiver of their adoption fees. The office was clean, positive, well-managed and inviting.
Maui Humane Society has always had a challenging job. Besides the day-to-day sheltering, adopting of animals and humane enforcement, they have a responsibility to educate and communicate with the Maui community. That sounds deceptively easy. Their services are invaluable, but that just means they need a lot of assistance, including monetary donations and grants.
Since Bryant took over as CEO of the Maui Humane Society (her previous job there had been Development Director), the organization has been making steady improvements to their management, facility, operations, community outreach and animal welfare programs. Bryant had an extensive background in animal welfare that started by being raised in a family that was passionate about caring for animals. She spent more than 25 years training dogs, worked with numerous Humane Societies on the West Coast and founded a dog rescue organization in Oregon. Bryant told me that her position at MHS allows her to do what she’s good at–“improving processes, efficiency and quality of service coupled with helping animals.”
Just a few months after her promotion, in November 2014, Bryant held a two-day Strategic Planning Workshop with her management team. Those two days proved to be more than just an operational turnaround for MHS, but also like a rebirth.
First organized in 1953, Maui Humane Society incorporated in 1962, and won two animal management contracts from Maui County in 1987 for sheltering and humane enforcement. Other than the two county contracts, MHS relies on private donations and grants.
During Bryant’s workshop, the management team analyzed every aspect of MHS. From their assessments, they chose a variety of areas to focus efforts on, with the most critical and top priority being an increase in their Live Release Rate (LRR) efforts. The LRR represents what percentage of animal lives are saved. In the animal sheltering world, Live Release is the absolute goal. It represents the quantitative results of the animals that leave the shelter happy and alive, versus the animals that end up euthanized.
For MHS, LRR represents the animals that are adopted, re-united with their owners or part of their adoption transfer program, Wings of Aloha. Prior to Fiscal Year 2014, the Maui Humane Society’s LRR was approximately 31 percent for tame cats and 65 percent for dogs. The rate for dogs was at least positive–for cats, though, the end result was that the shelter killed nearly seven out of every 10 cats they received.
But by Fiscal Year 2016, those numbers were very different. MHS told me that their LRR had risen to 57 percent for tame cats and 84 percent for dogs. Through January of this year, the LRR has risen even further: 67 percent for tame cats and 90.5 percent for dogs.
The reason? Bryant and her managers had instituted a wide range of improvements to MHS. Here are a few:
- Converted the previous antiquated shelter management systems to the more modern Petpoint database, which allows for integration with the MHS website for timely posting of adoptable animals. It allows for better internal communication between departments, improved reporting capabilities and better tracking of all MHS programs;
- Installed new telephone and internet systems;
- Established a multi-department committee tasked with evaluating animals that require additional resources to facilitate positive outcomes that meets weekly;
- Established protocols for the Humane Enforcement Department so that they can better achieve faster response times for animal emergency calls, while greatly decreasing complaints from the community;
- Launched 24-Hour Humane Enforcement coverage on Maui;
- Brought on a second full-time High Quality-High Volume (HQHV) Veterinarian;
- Implemented a dog play group program for shelter dogs;
- Brought national trainers from Dogs Play For Life to train staff and volunteers;
- Constructed six grass exercise/play yards and a 17,000-sq. ft. agility field;
- Secured private funding for 24-hr surveillance cameras with recording capabilities.
Grants and donations have also been coming in. There was a $95,000 private donation to provide for a dog kennel remodel project. MHS also solicited and received $318,000 in private funding to launch a high-quality-high-volume sterilization campaign for tame cats and dogs (MASH), ans well as a $258,000 grant from PetSmart Charities to expand the veterinarian clinic by 700 square feet.
Dr. Miyo Miyasaki-Kim was, until recently, the only veterinarian at MHS. Her work at the Humane Society began two decades ago, but she used the word “amazing” when describing recent changes there.
“Twenty years ago, I worked part-time doing about eight surgeries a day and we were just providing basic care for our animals,” she told me. “With our new surgery expansion, we are now hoping to perform between 25 to 35 or more surgeries a day, and we’re able to take care of the many problems that our animals arrive with in addition to providing for their basic needs. We are removing tumors, doing dentals with major extractions, repairing hernias, treating chronic skin conditions and basically giving our animals their best chance at adoption and finding their forever home. Previously, many of these animals would not have had a chance at getting adopted due to the extent of their problems and the high cost of treating them.”
I couldn’t help but notice that Miyasaki-Kim was beaming with joy when talking about recent improvements.
“When you walk around the shelter you see happy animals that can participate in play group sessions in our new grassy play yards, or enjoy one-on-one time with their dog walkers,” she said. “Cats have more spacious housing, and the cat building is often filled with visitors enjoying their time with the cats there. We have more foster families and volunteers to help us than ever before. The shelter is a happy place and it is infectious!”
Kelly Maguire has also been employed by the Maui Humane Society for long time. Her official title is Vet Tech Supervisor, but she’s also the MASH Medical Coordinator and the TNRM Trapper/Coordinator (though MHS no longer tattoos animals, Maguire had innovated their famous heart tattoos. She’s also the staffer who microchips animals).
“I have been at MHS for 24 years, and I’ve seen so many changes,” Maguire said. “The community has grown with us and we are at an amazing and exciting place today- both with the community and our organization. We used to be more of reaction based organization many years ago mainly due to funding and community education and awareness. Now we’re aggressively pro-active. Instead of simply trying to react to the overwhelming amount of animals that pour into our shelter every single day, we actively try to prevent those animals from coming in. We offer education, assistance, solutions and free spay and neuter. We are out in our community, helping in various ways that have made huge strides in having our community feel like they have tools and solutions in times of need. We have leadership that does everything in their power to find grants and funding so that we can have the tools we need and the life-saving programs we use to help our animals that desperately need it. It’s a wonderful environment to work in. We truly feel like we are making more of a difference in animal lives than ever before.”
For more information about the MHS, including how to donate money, volunteer, drop off pet supplies and their great Beach Buddies program that allows you to take one of their dogs to the beach, go to Mauihumanesociety.org.
Cover photo of Jerleen Bryant and friend: Sean M. Hower
Cover design: Darris Hurst