The Connecticut Humane Society is in hot water with Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. The organization is being investigated for putting money ahead of the well-being of homeless and abused animals. The group is accused of holding back money for veterinary care from their $52 million budget and instead using aggressive euthanasia on pets as a cost cutting measure.
The investigation started when former employees and volunteers reported allegations of “inadequate care provided to CHS animals.”
Among the complaints given to the Attorney General’s Office were:
In his initial report Blumenthal found the allegations to be “serious and credible.” He found that CHS seriously restricted the amount of money from its budget for the care and protection of animals. Out of a budget of $52 million, the group put $46 million into a “quasi-endowment fund.”
He issued a statement calling for the group to “release sufficient financial resources to meet its core animal care responsibilities.”
The Board of Directors for CHS responded by saying they were being fiscally responsible, but as the investigation continues Blumenthal is finding out that this may not be the complete reason for holding back funds.
Blumenthal found conflicts of interest in both “appearance and reality” in the society’s business dealings with members of the board. From 2005 to 2007 up to $258,000 was spent on business connected to board members. In numerous instances members of the Board of Directors or their companies appear to have received no-bid contracts for services provided to the organization.
This unchecked power also extended to Richard Johnston who served as both Chairman of the Board of Directors and the paid President who managed the day-to-day activities of the organization and shelter. Johnston held this position for the past 24 years.
Blumenthal said, “This creates serious potential for conflicts in the fiduciary and management roles of both positions.” Johnston stepped down from the job last week, after Blumenthal’s initial report was announced.
The allegations of mismanagement were taken to the Attorney General’s Office by five employees who said they were unfairly fired after they attempted to unionize fellow workers. The co-workers held an election and 35 employees voted to become part of the International Association of Machinists, but when a representative from the union appeared on the scene the society contested the election and fired the employee organizers.
Cathy DeMarco who is one of the five fired, said she organized a group called the Coalition for Change and tried to team up with the Machinists Union because staff members were overworked and poorly trained.
“There are so many animals and so few staff,” she said in an interview. “The animals could not get adequate care for a shelter this size.”
DeMarco also felt sorry for the people who were turning their animals over to CHS. “The public who relinquished their animals to the Humane Society in desperate times, very upset about relinquishing animals, think they’re giving the animal a chance, not knowing they were put down, sometimes within a day or two,” she said.
At first DeMarco and her co-workers talked to CHS management about the situation, but they were met with, “hostility towards employees who voiced concerns about the care and placement provided to animals in CHS’s care.” The allegations of hostility have been confirmed in Blumenthal’s investigation. One employee received a “verbal reprimand” after objecting to the placement of a “potentially dangerous dog” in an area close to people visiting the shelter.
Finally the frustrated staff decided to unionize and when they were fired, they went to Blumenthal’s office.
Even as the investigation continues, it looks more certain that the 129 year-old CHS made a lot of mistakes. And many of their decisions have cost the lives of innocent animals. Boards of Directors have a responsibility to make the best decisions for the population they serve.
If these allegations prove to be true, the repercussion could have an effect on rescue groups across the country. People donate their hard earned money to animal welfare organizations based on the trust they have that the group will accomplish their stated goals. If that trust is broken, the public will stop contributing and animals will suffer.
This story is particularly disheartening to me because a similar situation occurred in my hometown. As a local rescue group profited and grew stronger, the animals in their care suffered. They used every excuse possible to euthanize, including treatable diseases such as ringworm and behavior issues such as shyness. It’s sad to learn that another group like CHS may be using these tactics, as well.
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