This year will bring many changes for the Beatrice Humane Society, largely due to several board members leaving their positions.
Half of the board’s members are leaving their roles this year, some taking decades of experience helping animals with them.
Hal Thaut, Bette Anne Thaut, John Rypma, Vicky Lau, Teresa Faxton and Kathy Steinkamp are all calling it quits this year.
The humane society’s bylaws require anywhere from 5-15 members on the board. There will be six remaining members at the end of the month when the six leave. Rypma said there are no new members coming on the board in January, but new members will hopefully join later in the year.
For Bette Anne Thaut, the departure closes a run on the board that’s lasted more than two decades.
She said the original shelter, which was in a now-demolished building west of the City Auditorium on Fifth Street, got its start in the late 1990s when the police chief put out a call looking for anyone interested in starting a dedicated shelter. She got involved shortly after that.
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“That first group was people who were huge animal lovers and had huge hearts, but really had not a lot of board experience,” she recalled. “They were out to try and figure out how to get this organized. The group met for probably a year and a half to two years and in August 2000 the old shelter opened.”
Prior to that, Thaut said the city had a pound that was formerly the high school body shop where animals were housed.
While not very experienced, Thaut said the initial group of board members was active in the community and strived to make the humane society a success.
“The board was a very active board and not one of those where they would show up quarterly and rubber stamp what somebody was telling you to do,” she said. “It was a lot of hard working people. Those early days were tough and we went as far as we could to keep the doors open. There were animals to take care of. We had a shelter manager and volunteers who put their heart and soul into making that work.”
The shelter continued to see increased adoption numbers, eventually outgrowing the space.
Rypma, who joined the board 14 years ago and has been the chairman for around a decade, said raising the money to build a new facility in west Beatrice near Southeast Community College is the achievement he’s most proud of.
“We were raising the money for a brand new shelter that was badly needed,” he said. “We needed more capacity and a better facility. I’m very proud of the community for stepping up and raising the money to pay for the building when we moved in. That is a huge positive statement for this community.”
Thaut added that thanks to community support and being the beneficiaries of two sisters’ estates, the shelter was able to be paid for, in full.
“Hal and I never thought we would see a new building in our lifetime,” she said. “It was always a dream to have a nice shelter because it was so crowded at the old building to the point it was literally bursting at the seams. A committee was formed and that building is all paid for. It’s a real tribute to the people in this area. Communities this size don’t have that kind of facility and people should be proud of it.”
Rypma added that working with the board and shelter workers is what he’s going to miss the most when he leaves his position.
“It was great being able to work with a group of people who are really committed to saving animals' lives, and the most enjoyable part was seeing the number of animals we were able to save that would not have survived otherwise,” he said. “It’s been a very enjoyable project. It’s very rewarding to see the happiness when people pick up their animal. We get a lot of posts after people adopt them showing how happy animals and families are. It’s just a very happy environment.”
Adoption figures have been on a steady rise over the years, and Beatrice’s shelter set a new record last year with nearly 1,200 pets adopted.
Rypma credited much of the recent success to Beatrice Humane Society Shelter Director Carlee Fiddes.
“She came to us with so much experience, so much knowledge and she was well educated on shelter management,” he said. “That's one of the best things to happen to our shelter, being able to bring her in and have her manage the shelter for us.”
Fiddes returned the compliment, saying the humane society wouldn’t be where it’s at today if not for the hard work of longtime board members.
“It is a huge improvement from when they started, for sure,” she said. “To be able to keep improving on the legacy that they started is a huge accomplishment and I’m super excited to see what the future brings. They have done so much for this organization. To be able to take it from an organization that was euthanizing 70% of the animals to only having to euthanize 27 animals, that’s amazing. All of the work they put in, the building of this shelter, it set this community up for a future of life saving.”