Pets and petty people


by Mike Kroll

The Zephyr, Galesburg, Ill.

 August 19, 2010


Five years ago this month the Knox County Humane Society (KCHS) began an organizational civil war when its former president and co-founder Cathy White was ousted by the board. There was nothing delicate or elegant about the process and Cathy took a number of her strong supporters with her to start a local alternative humane society called the Guardian Angels (GA). Everyone involved will tell you it is all about the animals and what is best for them but the fact is one well-meaning but under-funded do-gooder organization was split in two with both resultant entities in worse shape ever since.

If they are being honest, I strongly doubt that today's members of either group would claim the antagonistic and still confrontational split did the animals much good. There are still plenty of unhealthy, unwanted, neglected and abused pets needing the services of these people. The local shelter (operated by the KCHS) is overcrowded, under-funded and under-staffed. Donations of food, toys, medications and many other things needed to operate the shelter; though desperately needed, are frequently in short supply. The KCHS regularly requests members of the community to donate such needed items or their time to help keep the shelter going and while many generous people exist there still is never enough.

Meanwhile, the Guardian Angels also became a state licensed humane society, but without a shelter. Members of this group continue to donate their time and money toward the care of needy animals and even house some of those animals in pet foster homes. Both groups promote adoption of shelter animals and other unwanted pets. Both groups strongly support pet owners humane care and treatment of pets and getting their dogs and cats spayed or neutered. Both groups work to ensure that sick or injured pets receive proper veterinary services even if they are owner-less or their owners just don't have the financial means to do so themselves.

But despite all these groups have in common emotions still run high and petty battles between the groups and their members get in the way of the mission they share. Case in point: on Saturday a member of the GA and the groups treasurer, Tina Guardalabene, purchased approximately $120 worth of pet food from Walmart and took it to the Prairieland Animal Welfare Center as she has regularly many times over the past five years. When Tina arrived home later that day she found all of the donated items stacked on her front porch and a neighbor told her that the KCHS van had driven up and put the items on the porch.

Why did an animal shelter not only refuse the donation of brand new badly needed pet food products but go the the extreme step of physically returning the items to the front porch of the woman making the donation? Because when Tina signed the donation clipboard at the shelter counter she didn't write “Tina Guardalabene” as she typically does but instead wrote “Guardian Angels.” As is stated on the orange signs prominently posted at the shelter: “These shelter pets receive NO financial support from the Guardian Angels. We are the ONLY licensed shelter in Knox County.” It is official policy of the KCHS not to accept any donations from the Guardian Angels; but they will gladly accept donations from individuals who are members of the Guardian Angels.

“We take donations from anybody, except them [Guardian Angels], because they are competitors with us,” explained KCHS spokesperson Erin Buckmaster. “We're better off buying our own biscuits than accepting their small donations. They think they can make meaningless donations like this and then claim that they help support the shelter. They have been a burden to us for years and our board decided not to accept any donations from them.”

But, according to records kept by Guardalabene the Guardian Angels have been making similar donations of food and supplies for years. Excluding the food returned Saturday the records show non-medical donations totaling $1,483.93 so far this year. The 2009 total was $2,169.67 and in 2008 the total was smaller but certainly not trivial at $924.14.

“It's sort of like a silly game,” said Guardalabene, “the shelter staff has even told me specifically some of the things they need and I use Guardian Angel funds to purchase the items. As long as I sign my own name everything is okay.”

White showed me a letter she received just last week from Harry Rogers, president of KCHS that reads in part: “It has come to the attention of the board of the Knox County Humane Society that the Guardian Angels organization has made claims stating that your organization donates to the 'shelter.' Thee is no record of our facility, which is the only licensed facility in Knox County, ever receiving any donations financial, or otherwise. We feel this is false advertising and if this is not stopped immediately we will proceed with legal action.”

To illustrate just how petty and disingenuous this whole argument is Buckmaster reiterated to me that she is fully aware of individual members of the Guardian Angels making “personal donations” to the KCHS and they continue to be welcome, so long as they aren't credited as coming from the Guardian Angels group.

“Yes, we have had our differences,” acknowledges White. “We want to be a animal support group for all the animals needing care within our community, including those housed at the shelter. We want to get along for the sake of the animals and we serve more than just Knox County. Just last year the Guardian Angels raised over $6,000 that we spent to help meet animal needs across four or five counties.”

Buckmaster counters that the fund raising conducted by the Guardian Angels actually interferes with fund raising efforts of the KCHS. “They purposefully hold their 'Bark in the Park' just a few weeks before our 'Doggie Jog' and when they tell people that they also serve animals in Knox County they receive donations that would otherwise go to us. We don't even want these people coming to our shelter because they are disruptive.”