The Maui Humane Society's executive director said Tuesday that her recently announced move to the Hawaii Humane Society on Oahu wasn't a planned one or one she was looking for, but rather "it was just one of those things that came my way."
Last week, Jocelyn Bouchard, the leader of the Maui Humane Society for more than a decade, submitted her resignation to the nonprofit organization after 20 years at the agency where she started out as a volunteer.
"When this position came available, I was asked if I would consider it. It wasn't anything I was planning. I wasn't planning on leaving. I wasn't looking for a new position. This one came my way, (and) I really had to think long and hard about it," Bouchard said of her new position as director of operations at the Hawaii Humane Society on Oahu.
Eventually, Bouchard came to the conclusion that the position at the larger humane society will expand her skill set and challenge her.
She will start May 1.
In an email Tuesday afternoon, Candy Aluli, first vice chairwoman of the Maui Humane Society Board, said a regularly scheduled board meeting was to be held Tuesday night. One of the agenda items was to discuss the hiring process for a new chief executive officer.
She added that the hiring process would be no different than any other nonprofit seeking to hire a new executive director and that officials would make a public announcement when a new leader is selected.
While she won accolades for her work in rescuing the agency when she took over, Bouchard and her organization have been the target of public criticism of late. Some believe the agency is not doing its job properly, by, for example, cutting after-hours animal response calls, which Bouchard has defended as funding-related and not from a lack of compassion.
Asked about how she has dealt with the criticism over the years, she said, "I think it comes with the territory. Animals inspire a lot of passion in the community."
But she said claims about the organization lacking compassion are just untrue. She, members of her staff and board members want to find good and safe places for animals and believe that the Humane Society and those who have criticized the organization all want what's best for the animals.
"We are on the same side," she said.
Bouchard said that while she may have thicker skin than others, the public criticism impacts her hardworking staff, who put in more hours than they are paid for. She also commended them, along with the society's board of directors.
"There is never a good time to leave. (But) we are in very, very good hands," she said.
Challenges face the new director.
If she were not leaving, Bouchard said, she would be gearing up for the county's budget process and trying to help her agency restore funding to pre-recession levels. The Humane Society has a county contract that includes operating the Puunene animal shelter and providing animal control law enforcement services.
Prior to the recession, the Humane Society received $1.5 million in fiscal 2009-2010, with some of that funding going to the Molokai Humane Society and the SNIP, or Spay-Neuter Incentive Program.
In fiscal 2010-11, during the recession, funding was reduced to $1.2 million for the same programs and services, she said.
Because of the recession, program funding across Maui County sustained cuts, but there were promises that funding would be restored when times got better. Bouchard said that has not yet happened.
Last year, the County Council appropriated around $1.3 million, although that figure was not an "apples to apples" comparison with years past, Bouchard noted. She said the county administration tried to increase the Humane Society budget last year by a higher amount, but it got whittled down by the County Council.
During council deliberations, the society lost SNIP and its $75,000 program funding, which instead went to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on Maui.
The Valley Isle Animal Rescue group received $25,000 for after-hours animal rescue service, a program Bouchard believes should remain with the society because it has law enforcement powers while the rescue group does not. She added that the Humane Society would be able to do the same service with a little less than what was appropriated.
The after-hours service was not mandated by the contract, but it was done by the Humane Society in the years when there was enough funding, Bouchard said.
"The community looks at those cuts and criticizes us for them," she said, adding that it is important to educate the public about what the Humane Society does.
Since the recession, Bouchard said the Humane Society has dug into its own coffers to the tune of more than $1.5 million to come up with funding to supplement county programs.
Bouchard said the financial cuts and removal of programs were a "slap in the face to us."
Another challenge facing the incoming director will be to increase adoption numbers, something Bouchard said really didn't happen during her time, despite her agency's best efforts. She said the Humane Society has discounted adoption fees and run numerous programs but adoption numbers would not grow.
Bouchard cited other factors suppressing adoption numbers, such as Maui's limited household numbers and an increase in other groups looking for homes for pets.
According to figures for fiscal 2013, which ended June 30, the Humane Society took in 8,164 live animals. Out of that figure, 1,634 were adopted; 719 were returned to their owners and 517 were transferred to other facilities.
Among those left, 4,841 had to be euthanized. Bouchard said 60 percent of that total included animals that were unhealthy or untreatable. There also were 1,694 feral cats in the total.
People do not want to adopt feral cats, she said, adding that euthanization is not something the Humane Society wants to do to any animal.
She cited a couple of recent efforts to reduce the number of euthanizations.
To help control the free-roaming, unsocialized cat population, the Humane Society secured a $100,000 grant from the Baker Trust to do an assessment of Maui's feral/free roaming cat issues, with the goal of looking at nonlethal methods of controlling the population.
To increase adoptions, Bouchard pointed to the "Wings of Aloha" program, in which Maui pets are flown to the Mainland or other islands where animal welfare programs are seeking animals and people are looking to adopt them.
In 2013, 249 pets were transferred off island, including to Oahu, Oregon, Colorado and Calgary, Canada, through the Wings of Aloha program.
More could be done if the organization's private funds were not being tapped for other services, she said.
Her more than 10 years as executive director included many bright spots as well.
When she took the position in 2003, staff had been laid off, shelter hours were cut and funding was declining. Bouchard found ways to turn things around by showing and proving the worth of the Humane Society to the community, which in turn brought funding from both county and private sources.
During her tenure, staff has tripled (with about 60 according to the latest tax filings), volunteers have gone from a pool of 50 to 200 and staffers have been reaching out to the public via social media to promote pets and to get them adopted.
The shelter is open seven days a week for adoptions.
Asked if there was one thing that stands out in her memory of her time at the Humane Society, Bouchard couldn't name one. She did say that she has seen a change in the public's mindset about how important spaying and neutering are to helping ease the pet population.
As a volunteer 20 years ago, she said some people didn't even know what spaying and neutering were.
"Now, I think everyone is much more aware of animal issues and personal responsibilities," she said. "If I had even a tiny part in that drastic change, then that would make me very, very proud."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.