Shakeup at Butte Humane Society breeds worry, hope
Outgoing executive director expresses frustrations at how she was fired
Heather Schoeppach smiled sadly Monday as she talked about the job from which she’d just been fired. As executive director of the Butte Humane Society, she’d put in a lot of effort to make things better, she said. The passion for animals, and for the organization that gave her the boot, is still there, though. That much was clear.
“There are so many ideas I still have,” said Schoeppach, who has headed the Fair Street shelter for the past year and a half. “I think they understand that it would be a huge loss to completely remove me.”
Late Friday afternoon, after leading a staff meeting to discuss, among other things, some job changes at the facility, Schoeppach was paid a visit by Linda Kline, president of the BHS board of directors. That’s when she got the bad news—she was being replaced.
“It was a surprise for everyone,” said Schoeppach, who went directly to her staff after being fired to let them know what had happened.
What frustrated Schoeppach was the process by which she was fired: She wasn’t given a chance to fix the things the board thought were broken, and her staff wasn’t consulted. Rather, it was a decision of the board members, most of whom don’t regularly visit the shelter, Schoeppach said.
Among their reasons for replacing her were: poor communication (which she was aware of) and not doing everything an executive director should do. She agreed the wording was vague. The board also cited letters that Schoeppach had actually asked her staff to write about understaffing and other things the shelter needed as reasons for her dismissal.
“I haven’t accomplished everything they wanted me to, and communication has been an ongoing problem,” Schoeppach admitted. “But I feel that it’s not fair to blame me when I’ve been asking for help.”
Communication has been shaky on both sides, Schoeppach added, describing a group she calls the “cat militia,” comprising a number of volunteers and one board member she preferred not to name.
“There are people in the shelter causing problems,” she said. “It’s an issue of us all wanting the same thing but working against each other.”
She described an event that happened in the past month in which one board member, along with volunteers, was questioning the care in the feral-cat room, which is off limits to everyone but staff. One volunteer got hold of staff keys and went into the room, Schoeppach said, where the person was petting the cats (strictly forbidden) and giving them more blankets.
“There’s a huge mistrust of staff,” she said, “and they see the disrespect.”
Despite these problems, she hopes that the remaining staff will remain strong and dedicated to their jobs under their new leader, Christine Fixico, who resigned from her post on the board of directors and as hospital manager at the Emergency Veterinary Clinic for this position.
The selection process for the new executive director is shrouded in a bit of mystery itself. Board President Kline, when asked if Fixico had been part of the voting process that eliminated Schoeppach from her job, said, “It wouldn’t be appropriate for someone who might have some sort of personal outcome to be part of the voting. She was not part of the voting.”
Fixico, on the other hand, who took over the role of executive director Tuesday, said that she had voted to look for a new executive director, but she did not become a candidate until after that vote.
Both Schoeppach and Fixico have high hopes for the future of Chico’s animal shelter. Schoeppach hopes to remain part of the organization, with plans to take a different position, perhaps in marketing, that suits her but keeps her involved.
“They gave me severance, and I cashed out my PTO, so I have about a month [before I have to look elsewhere],” she said.
In the meantime, she plans to work with Fixico to help the transition period.
The biggest item on Fixico’s agenda is to relocate the shelter. That process could realistically take years, she said. Immediately, she plans to concentrate on animal care and streamlining various processes.
“I want to really take a look at the quality of our animal care and address any issues that there might be there,” she said. “I want to help and make sure that procedures are standardized, and take a look at efficiency.”
Fixico, who served on the BHS board since April 2009, has an extensive background working with animals. She held her post at the Emergency Veterinary Clinic for 2 1/2 years and prior to that worked at a clinic in Paradise for 10 years.
Fixico had made regular visits to the shelter during her tenure on the board, putting her expertise from the clinic to good use at BHS.
“As a board member, animal care was my focus,” Fixico said by phone after her first day on the job. “I came in and, with the help of some of the vets at the emergency clinic, we offered rabies vaccines at the shelter.”
That’s something she hopes will continue.
While disappointed that her time as executive director has ended, Schoeppach expressed good wishes for Fixico.
“I hope she does well,” she said, adding, “But I do not envy her. The board is going to have such high expectations. She can’t do everything I was doing and do it better.”
Only time will tell.