After 20 years of service to the Lewis and Clark Humane Society (LCHS), Executive Director Gina Wiest has announced her retirement.
“I’ve enjoyed being here so so much, but I feel like it’s time,” said Wiest. “I’ve seen a lot of changes and a lot of good that has come and I think it’s time to pass the baton onto somebody else.”
Wiest became Executive Director of LCHS in 1998 after serving on the board of directors and led the organization through significant changes.
She helped establish a statewide the spay-neuter program Spay Montana with Program Manager Sandy Newton.
According to Wiest, the program has played a large role in reducing the number of stray animals brought into the shelter.
“See a change in the number of animals that are coming in, which was over 3,000 when I started and now we’re at fourteen hundred. And we’re decreasing by about a hundred a year,” said Wiest.
In October of 2011, the LCHS faced a significant challenge when they were contacted by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office about housing 160 malamutes that were seized in a animal cruelty case.
LCHS had to create a temporary facility in order to accommodate the dogs, which was more than four times the capacity of the current shelter.
“It wasn’t a cheep operation,” noted Wiest. “I had a separate shelter that had separated employees and it was probably one of the most expensive undertakings we had.”
Wiest said she was incredibly thankful for the incredible support from the Humane Society of the United States and Jefferson County at the time, but it was still a huge drain on the shelter’s resources.
“All of our donations that we got to helping run the regular shelter at the time went to the malamutes so we lost over $75,000 in donations that year and it was a real struggle for a few years,” said Wiest.
The entire experience has lead to the shelter’s philosophy not backing away from challenge or letting costs prevent them from helping if they can.
“There’s been a couple times here in the last six months someone has asked if we could help out and my staff have grabbed what they need, got it together, and were out the door within ten minutes to assist,” proudly stated Wiest. “Our job here is to step up and help the homeless animals and the underdog so to speak.”
Weist said she’s always been be proud of the staff at LCHS and added none of the work the shelter has done would have been possible without their hard work and dedication, and the great support from the community over the years.
Wiest said her time at the shelter has not always been an easy one. She has seen her share of heartache be it from animal cruelty or animal death. But Wiest professed that she wouldn’t trade it for anything honestly couldn’t imagine her life without the shelter.
“It literally has changed my life and how I view people,” said Wiest. “The good in people and the animals that need our help so much.”
Wiest said her one regret is that she wasn’t able to get a new facility for LCHS, but is hopeful that will change in coming years.
Her last official day will be January 31, 2019, but Wiest plans on staying involved with the shelter and helping out when she can.
“I’ll still be around, I’ll still be doing volunteer work and certainly I’ll still donate,” said Wiest. “This is just something that is so close to my heart that I just can’t imagine not being a part of it on some level.”
As for what’s next in her life, Wiest plans on spending time with her family first and foremost.
The LCHS Board of Directors is currently looking for Wiest’s successor and hopes to find someone who best fills the needs to the shelter.
Wiest added that she has the utmost confidence in the staff and the board of directors and she is leaving the shelter in very capable hands.
-Reported by John Riley/MTN News