Archive for March, 2014|Monthly archive page

Step by step — how to destroy an agency that works

Monday, March 31st, 2014

SPCA/Tampa Bay once enjoyed the respect of the animal welfare community. Dedicated volunteers, quality programs, a talented staff and a genuine spirit of caring characterized the organization.

That was before Martha Boden became CEO in July, 2011.

Just as she did at the Humane Society of Indianapolis, Boden initially ingratiated herself with the board of directors and the community. Shortly thereafter, those caring volunteers and staff members who contributed so much to the organization saw it begin to disintegrate. The behaviorist with 20 years of experience was forced to retire. Appointments were required to surrender an animal. The programs that helped dogs get adopted were eliminated one by one.

Many of those volunteers and staff members, subsequently dismissed because they put the welfare of the animals first, provided this timeline of events.

Early in 2012, an experienced trainer/behaviorist interviewed for a position at SPCA/TB. When asked by SPCA’s veterinarian Rizal Lopez how he felt about “euthanasia,” the applicant responded that he was fine with it as long as it was used appropriately. Dr. Lopez replied that they would no longer be rehabilitating dogs and the dogs would be “euthanized” instead.

Needless to say, this applicant’s moral compass did not synch with the agency.

The trainer/behaviorist position was subsequently filled by an inexperienced “trainer/evaluator” who was a perfect fit for the SPCA/TB’s non-rehab/pro-kill protocol. This was the “writing on the wall” signaling the end for 20-year veteran Donna Bainter, whose experience and compassionate service had long benefitted the dogs at SPCA/TB. Going forward, if a dog “failed” its evaluation by this novice evaluator, the dog was killed. No second chances.

Dogs have “failed” evaluations after being deliberately annoyed with the assessment tool, “assess-a-hand”. A volunteer reported witnessing a dog being dragged down the hallway with legs splayed out behind them because they wouldn’t cooperate and walk willingly.

This is fear.

There’s nothing wrong with inexperience. But a position that requires the evaluator to make life and death determinations is not the place for a beginner. The inexperienced person should be apprenticing under a seasoned evaluator.

Of course, if the agency’s agenda is to kill dogs, experience doesn’t matter.

In the spring, some 20 volunteers either were told their services were no longer needed, or left because they could not support the mistreatment of the animals. Volunteers who inquired about the well-being of the dogs were asked to take time off because of “compassion fatigue”, or simply told not to return.

By summer, the Family Dog Training program was dismantled. This popular and comprehensive program had been designed and implemented by Bainter. A team of 30 to 40 trained volunteers got the dogs outside three or four times a day and provided rehabilitative enrichment.

Then Canine Good Citizen training was terminated. Therapeutic playgroups came to an end. Stress-relieving toys provided by volunteers were disappearing from the kennels. Dogs were not being walked.

Boden and the newly hired trainer/evaluator became so frustrated with the volunteers’ concern about the animals that in a staff meeting, “she said she would show us by locking the kennel doors and none of the dogs would get walked.”

Bainter was reprimanded and forced to retire for insubordination. What was her insubordination? Re-evaluating dogs scheduled to be killed because of an inferior temperament evaluation and finding them suitable for adoption. And taking home a 10-month-old adoptable Bichon, Merlin, destined to be killed, fostering him and finding him a home.

Her ultimate sin was not only re-evaluating a dog, but taking him to a groomer to improve his adoption chances.

Staff commented that the animals would be better off on the streets than coming to the shelter. Not all dogs were recorded when they were brought in; some were just eliminated immediately. (Violation of Pinellas County Code of Ordinances Section 14-48)

The trainer/evaluator pulled three dogs, Cash, Dixie and Guido, who had been at the facility a month, and declared they failed their evaluation and were to be killed. The day shift vet techs refused. The three dogs were killed when the night shift came on.

Terminated staff members have witnessed the evaluator failing dogs just by looking at them in their kennels, not even taking them out to evaluate them.

One former volunteer asked an acquaintance who owns a pet-related business what other people in the dog community think about SPCA/TB. More than 20 had no idea who was CEO, since Boden is not involved with the animal community. One characterized SPCA/TB as “a run-down pit-bull-killing factory.” Another simply said the place was a joke.

Another long-time volunteer was dismissed because she aired her concerns regarding the treatment of animals to TV reporter Cynthia Smoot. That story is enlightening.

It took only 2 ½ years for this CEO’s policies to destroy SPCA/TB’s reputation in the animal welfare community. We hope the board of directors is paying attention.

Why are the kennels empty in Tampa Bay?

Friday, March 28th, 2014

When Martha Boden, former and unlamented CEO of the Humane Society of Indianapolis, assumed leadership of the SPCA/Tampa Bay in 2011, the ugly drama that happened here went into reruns in Florida. As a recent post explored, numbers have been juggled and animals shuffled to enable Boden to boast a live release rate for 2013 of 72%.

That’s because much of the killing has been essentially outsourced to Pinellas County Animal Services.

By requiring appointments to surrender a pet and selectively importing the most desirable dogs from other locations, SPCA/TB effectively directs those it doesn’t want (and who perhaps need sanctuary the most) to the municipal shelter. Live release rates there are reportedly 56%.

This manipulation of animals and numbers creates a false image of performance at the expense of displaced animals who are being sent to their deaths. It’s more than an embarrassment. It is a betrayal of the animals, donors, and the dignity of the spirit embodied in the humane movement.

SPCA/TB has 56 kennels for adoptable dogs. Before Boden’s arrival, these kennels were full and people came to adopt well-mannered dogs who benefitted from an enrichment program that was the envy of other shelters. Now the enrichment program has been dismantled. The SPCA/TB website now routinely shows between 6 and 10 dogs available for adoption; if a load of puppies has been transferred in, maybe up to 20.

Every empty kennel means a dog is being denied a chance to live, and will most likely die at PCAS. In 2013, the lives of 5,960 animals were ended at the municipal facility.

The sheltering industry accepts that 90% of the animals destroyed in an animal facility are adoptable. That means 5,364 adoptable animals are being killed (not “euthanized”) each year at PCAS.

That’s 14 deaths per day. And SPCA/TB kennels are more than 75% empty?

Stay tuned.

“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow man.”
— St. Francis of Assisi

Ugly numbers in Pinellas County

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Several years ago, a popular TV series called “Numb3rs” explored how math is used in everyday life. The show focused on using math to solve crimes. But at SPCA Tampa Bay in Pinellas County, Florida, it’s being used to conceal killing.

The policies of former Humane Society of Indianapolis CEO Martha Boden have set up a familiar horror story and the people of Pinellas County are just now learning the truth thanks to the efforts of SPCA/TB Behind the Kennel Doors. One former volunteer, dear to the animals and the agency before Boden’s tenure, declares that SPCA/TB should now be called the Society for the Perpetuation of Cruelty to Animals.

Instead of caring for homeless pets, this once-vibrant agency has become a killing field where the CEO apparently finds fulfillment in manipulating numbers, animals, and people for self-promotion and satisfaction. Individuals and rescue organizations with the means to care for an SPCA animal needing medical or behavioral attention, and eager to foster that animal, are denied. Instead, the animal is killed.

All about the numbers

In a previous post we reported how Boden instituted
1. An appointment-only surrender policy to selectively choose more adoptable animals and
2. The practice of selectively importing more adoptable animals from out of state to enhance outcome numbers

Numbers look good to uninformed donors and board members. But these numbers represent lives.

Boden’s numbers represent achievement in dollars, adoration and “success”. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive, but for the SPCA/TB board and their CEO, apparently they are.

In a February 21 Tampa Bay news report, “Volunteers protest practices at SPCA Tampa Bay,” Boden responded to critics that her approach and policies are working, and that the proof is in lower intake and euthanasia numbers. Here’s why.

Since the new surrender-by-appointment policy turns animals away, unwanted pets wind up at the alternative receiving agency, Pinellas County Animal Services. Their chances of a live release there are 56%. The SPCA/TB boasts a 72% live release for 2013. From 2012 to 2013:

• Intake of owner-surrendered dogs at SPCA/TB was down 31% (-467)
• Intake of owner-surrendered dogs at PCAS was up 49% (+365)
• Transfer of more adoptable/attractive animals into SPCA/TB was up 210% (+373)
• Intake of owner-surrendered cats at SPCA/TB was down 20% (-581)
• Intake of owner-surrendered cats at PCAS was up 78% (679)

Follow the money

As if this callous manipulation of animals and numbers to artificially inflate the live release rate wasn’t enough, here are some numbers board members should especially appreciate. According to information provided to the City of Largo Commissioner’s Meeting by Joseph Ciccolini on 2/18/14 :

• Fundraising has become a top priority. Revenues are up 11.1%; contributions up 17.4%
• Revenue allocated to administrative costs has increased. Total salaries and employee expenses are up 10.9%; amounts going to specific manager salaries is up 85.5%. The CEO’s salary is $115,500
• Revenue allocated to animal care has decreased by 25.8%.
• The $573,144 value of volunteer service hours vanished when 35.8% of volunteers either left in frustration with management policies or were asked not to return

The share of total expenses going to employee and manager salaries has increased from 5.3% to 9.3%.

The share of total expenses going to animal care has decreased from 12.2% to 8.5%.

In summary:
• More money is coming in
• More money is being spent on employee and management salaries and benefits (including 3 weeks’ paid vacation)
• Fewer animals are being served
• Less money is going to fewer animals

As Mark Twain put it, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”

Where’s Martha Boden?

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Looks like you can’t keep a poor CEO down.

Former HSI director Martha Boden, who left a legacy of low morale, crippled finances and frustration in the humane community when she was finally relieved of her duties in 2008, has resurfaced at SPCA Tampa Bay in Pinellas County, Florida. And the story there is a tragic repeat of what took place in Indianapolis.

Thanks to David Horth, a courageous HSI board member who took the time to listen and evaluate complaints about Boden’s administration from the people closest to the issue — former volunteers and employees — Boden was removed from the $106,000 a year position in June of 2008. This closed the darkest and most painful chapter in animal welfare history in Indianapolis.

Horth cared about the impact of Boden’s policies on the animals and people of the community, and worked diligently to convince other, uniformed members of the board to listen. He declined to reveal the amount of Boden’s severance package, saying only, “You wouldn’t want to know.”

Remember when

To understand what’s now happening at SPCA Tampa Bay, one needs a short refresher course on how things developed during Boden’s regime at HSI.

Boden’s first action upon arriving in Indianapolis was to charm the HSI board and secure not only the CEO position, but also a contract at $100K-plus per year. Then she endeared herself to community leaders, the media and the staff. There was hope that the agency, still reeling from a credit card scandal involving the previous CEO, would reorient itself in more healthy direction.

There was a new website with “Love Awaits”. And oh yes, before coming to Indy, Boden adopted a little poodle, Izzy, who Boden declared would be good for photo ops. That image is still used today.

Then it began. Long-time and dedicated community volunteers like Darcie Kurtz, Michelle Pritchett and too many others to name, who made sure every dog was exercised daily, assured clean kennels, toys and bedding for the animals at the end of the day, were told to leave. Experienced and long-time staff members were escorted from the property, some to sheriff’s cars. Leslie F, the exotic animal care giver (who didn’t have a car at the time and had just adopted a hamster), was told to leave the property and was denied a carrying case for the animal.

Caring volunteers and employees were denied the joy and fulfillment of providing comfort, affection and enrichment for the animals they loved. Good peoples’ lives were turned upside down.

Doors were closed to strays and an unpopular appointment-only surrender policy was instituted. This assured kennel space to accommodate the transfer of out of county (and out of state) easy to adopt puppies and small dogs while hundreds were killed at the municipal facility. Death by displacement.

More adoptable animals were priced higher, as if their life was more valuable than another’s.

This was only the beginning of a dark period of scandal and obfuscation. For more egregious practices, visit move to ACT and click on “Promoting open disclosure of the Humane Society of Indianapolis”.

Here she is, and history repeats itself

Sadly, the SPCA Tampa Bay of Pinellas County, Florida is experiencing a rerun of what happened at HSI. The reports are not good.

How did Boden begin in Florida? She charmed herself to the board of directors, endeared herself to community leaders, the media and the staff. A long-time volunteer, now banished, shared this:

“She is now CEO at SPCA Tampa Bay and the shelter is now facing the same issues; appointment-only policy so now more dogs are being brought to animal services, allowing Martha to bring in the more desirable dogs from other shelters (i.e. puppies and small breed dogs).

“When Martha came on board, we were so excited. We really thought she was going to make a difference….. Boy, were we wrong. Slowly and methodically she started dismantling the programs that benefited the dogs.… At the time we didn’t realize how badly she drove her previous shelter into the ground.

“She fired the 20-year behaviorist for someone with no experience who earned her degree through an online correspondence course, and the dogs are not passing their evaluations and are being (killed) at an alarming rate. Volunteers have left in droves, most leaving on their own while others are being asked to leave as soon as they started asking questions about the welfare of the dogs. 18 managers on payroll.…. The Board is ineffective. They will not speak with us and they continue to let this shelter get driven further into the ground. There is not even a veterinarian on the board any longer. Quite a few of the Board members left when they did not like the direction the shelter was going.”

This volunteer states that Boden claims the dismissed staff was experiencing “compassion fatigue” and the volunteers are “disgruntled”. This is the same claim she used in Indianapolis.

Trying to expose the truth

According to a Facebook posting at SPCA Tampa Bay Behind the Kennel Doors one of Boden’s first actions was to have “consultants” come down from Indianapolis. Reportedly they came to rewire the IT network in the building. Travel/ lodging/vacation on the donor’s dime?

When Boden was “cleaning house” at HSI, it was no surprise to many that she knew staff members’ personal business that was conducted via email and/or phone communication from the building. Apparently, Big Sister was watching.

So why wasn’t the IT rewiring at SPCA Tampa Bay done by local contractors?

In their search for a new CEO, the SPCA Tampa Bay board of directors did not do their homework. If they had, they could have avoided the dis-ease that has been brought to the once vibrant and healthy SPCA Tampa Bay and the animal welfare community. Even sadder is the fact that the board is defending her. Initially, the HSI board did the same.

The SPCA Tampa Bay directors refuse to own this tragedy, it must fall at their doorstep. Some members of many nonprofits are board-hoppers seeking to build their resumes and either don’t realize or care about the damage their blind allegiance and/or inaction endorses.

The question is, is there a caring board member, a “David Horth”, on the SPCA Tampa Bay board willing to step up and take responsible action? Until one appears, the once hopeful Pinellas County animal welfare community will continue to be punished, corporate funders will continue to pull back, and the agency will continue to deteriorate.

And the animals will continue to suffer.

Is anyone listening?

You’ll find a heart-wrenching first-hand description of the conditions at SPCA Tampa Bay in these volunteers’ statements before the County Commissioners here.

SPCA Tampa Bay board president Marilyn Hulsey posted a statement (which sounds suspiciously as if it was worded by Boden) denying volunteer allegations and stating that “The Board fully investigates each concern as it is brought to our attention”.

When asked about this, an ousted SPCA Tampa Bay volunteer responded, “They haven’t communicated with us, no. They have responded to emails sent through the link, but all requests for meeting with them have been denied.”

A link on the SPCA board of directors’ page of the website
says “To reach the SPCA Tampa Bay Board of Directors with compliments, suggestions or concerns, please click here to send an email.” One has to wonder whether that link goes directly to Boden’s email box, as it did when she was at HSI.

Follow the real story at SPCA Tampa Bay Behind the Kennel Doors

mtA will be following this closely. We will keep you informed.