Sauk County Humane Society leaders Tuesday defended the organization’s animal adoption policies before the Sauk County Law Enforcement and Judiciary Committee and said they are in the process of hiring a new executive director.
Their statements followed an hour of wide-ranging public comments that were both critical and in support of the West Baraboo animal shelter. The nonprofit’s stringent adoption policies, leadership and “lack of transparency” were repeatedly criticized, while current and former volunteers, employees and others shared positive experiences and pointed out the shelter takes in all animals regardless of their condition.
Law Enforcement Committee Chairman David Riek asked Humane Society leaders if the complaints were valid, and if they would be resolved. Sauk County Humane Society Executive Director Dana Madalon said the organization has installed cameras to address issues as they arise.
“We can’t control when somebody sees things differently than what we see, or outright lies,” she said. “Some of things that you heard here today were very, very difficult for us to sit here and listen to because the stories were absolutely 100 percent not true.”
Madalon said the organization would have to examine each complaint individually to determine if they are true. She added the group will “dismiss” complaints that it deems “meritless.”
“Do some of them have validity? Possibly, and if they do have validity, we will look at them,” she said.
Sauk County owns the grounds and facility from which the Humane Society operates and leases the property to the nonprofit annually for a small fee. The county pays the group for animal control and shelter duties in the area, and the Law Enforcement Committee has oversight of the agreement. Sauk County paid the Humane Society $147,000 for the services in 2017, according to its most recent contract.
Law Enforcement Committee member Tim Reppen questioned the humane society’s policy to deny pet adoptions to families that have outdoor cats. Other Sauk County residents questioned its requirement for all household family members to visit with animals before they are adopted without exception. Critics have pointed out the organization does not post its adoption policies or applications on its website.
Madalon said outdoor cats are a public health issue because they carry harmful parasites like toxoplasmosis. They also are detrimental to local wildlife and often are brought to the shelter in poor condition, she said.
“We do have adoption criteria,” Madalon said. “They are not particularly onerous criteria.”
“When we set up our criteria we looked at other shelters, and it’s very similar to what other shelters are,” said Rosemary Greenwood, Sauk County Humane Society animal control manager.
Adams, Columbia, Dane and Dodge County humane societies all post adoption policies and applications online, but Sauk County won’t say exactly what its policies are.
In March 2017, when Iraq War veteran Katie Seiler sought to adopt a cat for her family, she was denied when her husband, a dairy farmer could not make it in during the group’s regular business hours to meet with the animal. Seiler said her children interacted well with the pet, but the organization would not adopt it out.
At the time, Seiler said the Humane Society’s adoption policies were unclear. The Baraboo News Republic asked for a copy of the organization’s adoption policy in May 2017, but Madalon offered only to answer specific questions about adoption practices.
“I’m not sure we will ever post that criteria,” Madalon said at the time. “It’s not that different than other Humane Societies, but we’re in the process of redoing our website. It may go up, but we haven’t decided yet.”
The group still has not posted its policy online or provided a copy to the newspaper.
Based on adoption practices posted on the websites of other organizations, they do differ in specific ways from the stated policies of the Sauk County Humane Society.
Adams County Humane Society does not require each member of a family’s household to be present before adoption. It recommends its adopted cats remain indoors and won’t deny an adoption if outdoor cats already are on the property.
Columbia County Humane Society requires a family’s children to meet with pets before adoption, and adopted cats must be kept indoors. If outdoor cats already are on the property, adoption approval depends on whether or not they have up-to-date vet records.
Dane County Humane Society recommends, but does not require, all household family members meet with a pet before adoption. It requires that its adopted cats remain indoors, but it won’t deny an adoption if outdoor cats are already on the property.
Dodge County Humane Society doesn’t require all family members to visit with adopted pets, and also doesn’t have an outdoor cat policy.
During the committee meeting, Madalon acknowledged she serves as both director and president of the nonprofit’s board of directors, which some Sauk County residents said they viewed as a “conflict of interest.” Madalon said she is not paid and therefore is a volunteer — not an employee. She added that the shelter is in the process of hiring a new director.
“We will eventually name a full-time employee executive director,” she said. “We’ve had some conversations in that regard, but we’re going to do it when we feel the time is right for our shelter. To say that that’s a conflict of interest also shows an ignorance into how corporations function and how they operate.”
Responding to criticisms of transparency, Madalon said the organization has released annual reports since 2012 that detail shelter operations even though it’s under no legal obligation to do so. The most recent report from 2016 is published on its website.
“This wanting transparency is a common buzzword these days when somebody is mad about something, but I don’t know what more information there is that somebody wants they think we’re not providing,” she said.