Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

CLOSING DOWN – Jordi Mikeli-Jones, the founder and president of Kona’s Coalition, is seen with a photo of her beloved friend Kona.

Kona’s Coalition closure called ‘bittersweet’

Kona’s Coalition, a locally run animal advocacy group, is closing its doors for good in the wake of COVID-19.

By freelancer on April 28, 2021

Kona’s Coalition, a locally run animal advocacy group, is closing its doors for good in the wake of COVID-19.

The difficult decision to cease “operations before or by July 31st” was made during the charity’s last board meeting. For founder and president Jordi Mikeli-Jones, the choice to close is “bittersweet” but not unprecedented.

Many charities have found the global pandemic to be one of the biggest hurdles in keeping the doors open this past year, and Kona’s Coalition is no exception.

However, COVID-19 is not the sole reason for the non-profit’s closure.

Prior to 2020, the advocacy group was struggling to find resources such as time, money, and volunteers but with the pandemic, the search for these resources became increasingly difficult.

Of the three scarce resources, Kona’s Coalition (which holds to the creed that “Animal welfare is a human welfare problem”) has found revenue to be a pressing issue.

While juggling more than four animal welfare programs at once, the charity spends anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 a month on veterinarians’ bills alone.

Over the last eight years, these expenditures have remained sustainable as the activists have raised a total of more than $250,000 fundraising.

However, since 90 per cent of the financial support of the organization is based on events such as the Sunstroke Music Festival, fashion shows, and golf tournaments, the ability to fundraise during the pandemic is practically zero.

With no perceived end to the restrictions on large gatherings, raising the required funds to maintain the organization became ill-fated.

Since Kona’s Coalition was incorporated on March 13, 2013, all donations it receives go to finance the multiple programs that maintain animal welfare in Whitehorse and the communities.

One hundred per cent of the fundraised proceeds over the last eight years has gone directly to the animals.

Kona’s Coalition was formed after Mikeli-Jones’ beloved dog, Kona, died under tragic circumstances.

To manage the grief and honour the legacy of her dog, Mikeli-Jones, along with three other animal activists, formed the namesake organization.

“We were four women that united with the intention to improve animal advocacy in the Yukon through education, fostering, and financial support,” she told the Star last Thursday.

Kona’s Coalition has four programs that provide monetary support to the animals of Yukoners.

The first is a grant program where applicants may be given money for emergency vet services.

This program will continue until July 31. The non-profit also offers a subsidy program for low-income families to apply for the surgeries of their pets.

As well, there are two clinic-based programs that offer free neuter and spaying services as well as a monthly vaccination program which has been operating for three years, is open to anyone, and benefits hundreds of individuals and their pets.

The educational program offered by Kona’s Coalition is based upon the belief that, “in order to effect change, you have to educate; in order to educate, you have to reach the youth.”

This conviction was the catalyst for the Junior Ambassador Program.

Mikeli-Jones said this program was created “to mobilize and encourage youth to do their own projects, their own fundraisers, and to understand why overpopulation is an issue and the importance behind neuter vaccinations.”

The desire was to teach children and youth the science that goes into animal advocacy while also teaching the ideals of the First Nations people relative to stewardship of animals and their overpopulation.

The final program was the Safe Haven for Pets.

It took multiple liaisons with agencies such as Whitehorse Bylaw Services, the Yukon Women’s Directorate, the RCMP, the Yukon government, Crime Prevention Yukon and Victim’s Services Yukon to get off the ground.

This is purely a fostering endeavour where individuals who needed to flee domestic violence could have their pets placed with a foster family at a moment’s notice and have it done confidentially.

The foster family is vetted before they’re needed. These pets remain in the foster home until the owner can safely look after them again.

The organization of this program fell to Mikeli-Jones, who said it was an emotionally taxing role to take on.

“I could be on vacation on a beach in Maui and still be dealing with Safe Haven cases in Whitehorse,” she said.

This program ran for three years until all its resources were used; volunteers were disillusioned, as the program was abused. Animals were abandoned.

As well, the program lost many of its foster families and had difficulty finding volunteers, which forced the Safe Haven Pets program to officially shut down.

Having spent six years working as a member of the Humane Society Yukon before her time with Kona’s Coalition, Mikeli-Jones is familiar with the intricacies of animal activism. She believes people are the biggest resources, but with no volunteers, the health of the organization will fail.

Kona’s Coalition opted for a smaller organization that helps animals.

To avoid “politics, scandals, and ego,” the advocacy group intentionally elected four board representatives instead of an organization with membership.

Along with innovation, and passion, the female-led group attributes its productivity to its small size.

However, just over six years into the coalition, two of the four founding women moved on, which left big shoes to be filled.

Over the last two years, Kona’s Coalition was able to recruit some new blood to “at least be in good standing” with the Yukon government, but the emotional weight of the programming and the lack of resources began to take its toll on the remaining founders.

Kona’s Coalition says it has “dealt with the tough cases. Anything from assisting the authorities with investigating neglect, cruelty, abuse situations, and rescuing animals.”

Mikeli-Jones and co-founder Madeleine Gerard have asked themselves what the future looks like.

Given the pandemic with the subsequent setbacks and lack of resources, they believe it’s time to move on.

Gerard may be retiring soon and moving, and Mikeli-Jones has new aspirations she wishes to try, such as a hobby farm.

They are proud of what Kona’s has been able to accomplish during its eight-year run. The purity of the mission, to help animals, has been maintained, and unnecessary politics have been avoided.

The numerous animals that have been helped range from dogs, cats and horses all the way to snakes.

Stories such as a dog chewing off his paw that was caught in a trap, and wandering to Whitehorse from Watson Lake in a blizzard only to be saved by Kona’s Coalition, validate the efforts that have been put into this non-profit over the years.

Mikeli-Jones says the organization is very thankful for all the financial support of the local businesses, individuals, and children who even sent their birthday money.

Her time as president has been “really cathartic for me, in that it allowed me to process this really intense grief that I had, in losing Kona and so through the journey of helping animals and doing it on my own terms I feel proud of what we have done and I will carry that forward. Thank you to everyone.”

Grace-Anne Janssen is a longtime Whitehorse resident.

By Grace-Anne Janssen

Comments (5)

Up 8 Down 8

DA on Apr 29, 2021 at 8:59 am

Sorry to hear this.

Up 14 Down 13

William Wallace on Apr 28, 2021 at 9:56 pm

So sad to see such a caring and generous group close the doors. Seems to be lots of funding for addicts and alcoholics but not a dime for a real charity.

Up 1 Down 11

Moose101 on Apr 28, 2021 at 5:53 pm

Where can I donate ?

Up 42 Down 12

JSM on Apr 28, 2021 at 3:12 pm

How sad is this! What a wonderful service they provided and how sad to see it go. Great people doing great things, sad to see it go.

Up 41 Down 12

Dave on Apr 28, 2021 at 2:50 pm

Sorry to hear you are closing but you did a hell of a good job over the last eight years. I to still get a lump in my throat whenever I think of my late dog.

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