In June of 2015, many animal lovers in the community were excited to hear that Heidi Yates had been offered the job of Executive Director at the Cherryland Humane Society (CHS) in Traverse City. She moved to Traverse City from Spring Lake where she was the Executive Director for The Humane Society and Animal Rescue of Muskegon County (HSAR). As a result of the many improvements to the HSAR shelter, they were awarded the 2013 Outstanding Performance Award by Michigan Pet Fund Alliance. The award was given to HSAR while Heidi was the Director for the most improved limited admission shelter in Michigan. In addition to that, Yates has been involved in animal welfare for over 15 years.
Since Yates has been the Executive Director all CHS adoptable cats and dogs are now spayed or neutered before adoption and microchipped. Dogs are heartworm tested and cats are tested for FELV/FIV. Animals are given rabies vaccinations if they are old enough and vaccinations now include Bordatella and Lepto. There is also a new application process for adopters to help better match the needs of adopters and pets. Yates says, “This is in place to help reduce the number of returns that the shelter has experienced in the past.”
CHS has become much more visible in the public over the past year. Yates explains, “I think it is very important for CHS to be involved in the community. We have participated in many community events over the past year and have created a new Special Events Committee to continue to focus on this area.”
The long list of other improvements to the shelter includes: expanding the Board of Directors and Committee members; starting a foster care program for animals in need; increasing social media presence with animals available for adoptions; creating a new logo and website; increasing medical treatment for animals in need through grant funding; expanding the volunteer program; starting pet therapy visits to Tendercare; increasing the focus on animals needs, which has included working with approved reputable rescues to transfer animals; starting a volunteer host program which escorts the public through the shelter to answer questions they may have about our animals; working with local dog behavior specialists who are volunteering their time to educate the staff and volunteers; providing more enrichment for the dog and cats through training, toys, etc.; updating and changing cleaning protocols and more.
These changes and more would not have been possible without a newer and more progressive Board of Directors than they’ve had in the past. Finally entering the 21st Century, CHS is now on track like other animal shelters around the country to implement policies that save more lives. In 2015, staff and Board Members attended the MPAW Animal Welfare Conference and received two days of shelter education classes, allowing them to network with other animal welfare workers and volunteers in Michigan as well as learn more about how to save lives and improve conditions at their shelter. When asked if CHS has finally become a no kill shelter, Yates answered, “YES, YES, YES.” This has been a long awaited answer from many animal lovers in the community.
Current Board Members include William Maier, who has a background in finance & accounting. He spent 25 years in corporate banking in Chicago before relocating to Traverse City. He’s been around animals his entire life, growing up on a livestock farm in Illinois. Along with his wife, he has rescued numerous animals with severe medical issues, providing them a loving home and whatever special care might be needed.
Board member Kimberli Bindschatel is a fiction author who wrote the Poppy McVie adventure series. Poppy is a sassy little wildlife agent with her own sense of justice. With the series, Bindschatel hopes to bring some light into the shadowy underworld of black market wildlife trade, where millions of wild animals are captured or slaughtered annually to fund organized crime.
Board member Amber G. Elliott has volunteered at animal shelters for over 20 years. She has been rescuing and fostering dogs, cats and wild animals since she was six years old. Amber was inspired to become a Board Member at CHS when Heidi Yates was hired as the new Executive Director, knowing that change was in the air for the shelter. Amber sits on the Marketing Committee and is the Chair of the newly formed Special Events Committee.
Board member Karen Kuehlhorn is a retired CPA who was with Dennis, Gartland & Niergarth for more than 20 years. She has lived n Traverse City since 1988 and is committed to community service for benefits of people and animals and the land. She is also on Grand Traverse Industries board and was previously on the Friends of TADL Board and the Habitat for Humanity Board. She has been on the Board of CHS for about four years and has always had pets. She currently has two dogs, both from CHS. In addition to loving animals, she also enjoys old house restoration, gardening and enjoying Northern Michigan with friends. Her goals are to see CHS financially and operationally sound and continue to support the Director and improvements made during the past year.
Board member Betsy VanWesten has been a CHS board member and volunteer for many years. She is a dog, cat and horse owner for many years, and is a retired private practice social worker.
Rounding out the rest of the Board of Directors are Linda Butka, Sue Kessel and retired Veterinarian David Burke.
Volunteers have also been a vital part of the CHS transformation. They serve many important roles at the shelter and more help is always welcomed. If you are interested in helping the shelter save the lives of cats and dogs and find them great homes, please visit the shelter and fill out a volunteer application – or download one online here. Volunteers are needed to help with morning cleanings seven days a week, transporting animals to spay/neuter appointments, helping with Special Events Committee, help with the marketing committee, dog walking, fund development, facility upkeep and animal interaction.
Looking to the future and funding challenges, CHS has started a Fund Development Committee which focuses on special appeals, grant writing and corporate/business relations. Other challenges still remain at CHS including paying off the remainder of the mortgage loan, which is sitting at a little over $900,000. Another big challenge for CHS has been the elimination of the Grand Traverse County Animal Control Department and how that affects the shelter. It was unexpected and is an ongoing challenge. Yates says, “It has definitely impacted the community. We receive frustrated calls from the public and feel helpless when we have to tell them their is no one to pick up strays. Currently we rely on the good samaritans that are willing to bring them in on their own. It is a huge void for the people and animals of our community.”
Even in the midst of adversity, Yates has a positive outlook and appreciates the outpouring of community support she has seen for CHS over the past year. Besides giving hugs and kisses to the cats and dogs at the shelter, Yates is able to go home and unwind with her own furry family, two Pit Bulls and two cats. One of her Pit Bulls (Maggie) was a bait dog and still bears the horrific scars. Cooper is a giant love bug. Her two cats are Stevie (blind and deaf) and Penelope (cross eyed). Besides hanging out with her pets, does she have much time to relax and unwind? Yates says, “I absolutely love Traverse City but honestly do not have much time off. I work a second job so if I do ever have time off, I enjoy being on or around the water, hiking with my dogs and spending time with friends.”
When asked what’s in store for the next year and into the future, Yates says, “To work on achieving operational excellence, adopting as many animals in loving, permanent homes as possible, being actively involved in our wonderful; community and to be the best shelter that we can possibly be. “