BRATTLEBORO — After 14 years, Windham County Humane Society (WCHS) Executive Director Annie Guion is leaving at the end of the year as the shelter prepares for a future that includes constructing an addition to the existing facility.
Calling her work here “the best of my life and my most fun and fulfilling job to date,” Guion says it's time for her to “move on to the next adventure.”
Noting her partner, Chuck Corman, is retiring and the couple is planning “to pursue some long-held dreams and check some items off the bucket list,” Guion says one is to travel in the western U.S. She also plans to take a few months' vacation to figure out her next job move.
“I'd love to continue in animal welfare, maybe for one of the national organizations,” she says, adding the pair has no plans to leave their Newfane home.
The executive director job will be advertised soon, Guion says, but Director of Operations Keri Roberts, a 19-year WCHS veteran, will continue in her role, as will board of directors' President Julie Hamilton.
Guion and Roberts have talked at length about whether the job is the right fit for Roberts and “she wants to stay where she is,” Guion says.
“She does a lot of hands-on medical care of the animals and you don't get to do that when you're ED.”
In her resignation letter, Guion speaks of starting at WCHS “at a time of great transition” while “passing the torch at another such time.”
Upon her arrival at WCHS 14 years ago, Guion said the shelter “had been through a rough spell,” had very few staff members, and wasn't strong financially.
“The big thing, I would say, is that we didn't have the trust of the community,” she says.
“There is a lot of emotion around animal welfare,” Guion says.
There is also compassion fatigue, which happens when individuals become physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted due to job demands. That can lead to a diminished ability to empathize with others. It's sometimes described as “the negative cost of caring” and a “secondary trauma.”
“Compassion fatigue is very prevalent in this industry and the way it presents is the people who work at shelters can be quick to judge, to not trust people.”
“They're worrying more about animals than people and forgetting that at the end of every leash is a person,” she continues. “It's easy to remember the few bad stories and forget the good stories. There were people here a long time [who were] stuck in compassion fatigue, and we had to get past that.”
“Transitions are a host of things - scary, hard, and exciting,” writes Guion.
The most obvious physical transition will be an addition on to the current facility, which will break ground in 2022 if all goes according to plan.
A first phase of the capital campaign has already resulted in the 2015 purchase of the property next to the current shelter.
Now the goal is to raise $1.95 million to build.
To date, WCHS has received almost $1.2 million in gifts and pledges. Once the remaining needed money is in hand, the existing facility will be renovated.
All involved with the shelter “are envisioning a transition that ushers in the next era of animal welfare here in Windham County,” she writes.
“We have come a long way in the past 14 years and we are ready for the next 20. We are busy updating our current strategic plan and we are looking forward to new leadership and fresh energy, all supported by an amazing staff and board with a long history of service to our community,” she continues.
She says the strategic plan will guide WCHS “in all ways,” including with regard to its capital campaign.
“Animal welfare was changing rapidly before 2020 and Covid magnified and sped up those changes,” Guion writes. “Through the strategic planning process, we will be examining data and revisiting the plans for the addition to ensure that we are building the right facility for the future.”
New space for more animals and different needs
The current WCHS facility was built in 2000 and since then, “the field of animal welfare has changed dramatically,” according to the organization's fundraising appeal on its website.
The number of animals passing through the nonprofit's doors has increased more than five-fold, from 300 a year to more than 1,700 animals annually.
“During this time, national organizations have paid for scientific research regarding how we care for animals in a shelter setting and created guidelines for humane societies,” the WCHS notes.
As described on the website, plans for the addition include:
• improving the lab, surgery, and exam spaces;
• providing more 'compassionate assistance' to protect people's privacy and keep incoming animals who have not yet been examined separate from those going home;
• adding quarantine space for animals transported from overcrowded shelters; improving the in-take area;
• providing for best practice accommodation of stressed and ill animals;
• providing for accommodation of stressed and ill animals;
• providing proven appropriate spaces for cats, including a colony room and outside “catios”;
• providing improved kennel spaces for dogs;
• expanding outdoor dog yards
• installing easier, faster, safer, more cost-efficient heating, cleaning, and air-handling systems.
'Very large shoes'
Hamilton says Guion is “leaving an organization that is much stronger for her tenure with us, with an excellent staff fully equipped to function at the highest standards.”
“The new person will bring their own unique toolbox to the table, just as Annie did 14 years ago,” she writes. “I have no doubt that from it will emerge exciting ideas and effective ways to meet the challenges that lay ahead.”
“Rest assured that the board of directors of WCHS will fill Annie's very large shoes with an equally compassionate and knowledgeable person, someone to bring our great organization to the next phase of its long history of serving the needs of our community and our beloved animals,” Hamilton continues.
“Scary, yes, but we are so excited to see what amazing opportunities this transition will bring,” she concludes.
“I am very proud of all the work the board, staff, and I have done and look forward to watching new leadership take the WCHS into the future,” Guion says.