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Saturday November 17, 2018
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COMPREHENSIVE RESPONSE TO PRESS RELEASE—HUMANE SOCIETY OF ST. LUCIE COUNTY—THE FACTS

THE INSPECTION

At approximately 1:55 PM, September 14, 2018, a five member Animal Shelter Standards Committee (“ASSC”), together with at least seven other individuals with varying agenda, descended, unannounced, upon the Glades Shelter.  It is unfortunate that the press seized upon that disruption of our operations to promulgate a false narrative of the efforts of our dedicated staff and volunteers.

Having in excess of 12 people swarm the facility and disrupt its operation is unfair, unprofessional and not conducive to a productive conversation.  Obviously, the ASSC coordinated this “visit” with the other attendees.   Neither the visit nor the unfair and selective reporting does anything to improve the lives of those animals entrusted to our care.  The Fort Pierce contract specifies that the City Manager, the Animal Control Manager and Animal Control Officers may make unannounced inspections, not that they bring along a posse, including disgruntled former volunteers.

Firstly, the “visit” occurred at the end of the employees’ lunch period which is 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM.  The animals are fed at 11:00 and thus the time chosen by the “visitors” is the precise time that the animals’ meals would likely be processed, a fact known to the former volunteers accompanying the committee.  Ordinarily, it is after lunch that the rounds and cleaning of the kennels would be performed, a fact not evidenced in the reporting.  The kennels do not have individual attendants that monitor each animal’s excretory cycles.  Common sense dictates that at various times evidence of canine bodily functions will be present in individual kennels.

The press remarked on the lack of air conditioning and high temperatures.  The professional architects, specializing in the design of shelters, advised against the installation of air-conditioning since, in their opinion, air conditioning is conducive to the spread of infection and disease.  Fans are utilized to offset high temperatures.  Any noted “failed electrical outlets” was a temporary condition that has been remedied.

The timing of the visit, three and four days before the renewal of contracts with the City of Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County respectively, evidences a deliberate attempt by certain private individuals to purposely interfere with contractual relationships and exacerbates rather than ameliorates a situation brought on in large part to the inadequate compensation for services that these jurisdictions pay.  No, the Humane Society is not “raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.”  Rather, it is subsidizing the costs of providing care and shelter for the City’s (Fort Pierce) and County’s (St. Lucie County’s and Port St. Lucie’s) animals.

Reports on the 9/14/18 inspection were provided on or about 9/24/18 to the media and via the County Attorney’s office to the Humane Society.  The report by the veterinarian, Dr. Wasserman, indicated that, “overall runs were clean and all dogs had clean water.”  This certainly does not comport with the pejorative proclamations in the media.

THE FINANCIAL ISSUES 

As of April 30, 2018, our Certified Public Accountant prepared an analysis of the operating costs of both shelters and governmental revenue to provide context and documentation for negotiations that began in May.  That analysis demonstrates that the total operating costs for both shelters during the seven month period (10/1/2017 through 4/30/18) were $445,023.  The operating costs are net of fundraising, thrift store, clinic and mortgage expenses and non-governmental income (i.e., shelter operations income for services).  During this seven month period the total accrued governmental income was $298,958.  This represents a deficit of $146,065.  The Humane Society has repeatedly brought its operational deficit to the attention of the governmental entities.   To bridge the gap between the costs of services provided to the City’s and County’s animals and contractual income, the Humane Society embarked upon new fundraisers, such as Paws in the Park and the Putt for Paws Golf Classic and initiated capital campaign efforts.  Two years ago we started a profitable Thrift Store.  The store has significantly added to our bottom line.  The Board has eliminated the position of Executive Director, reduced employees’ salaries, cut hours, eliminated and reduced benefits and enlisted volunteers.  Our dedicated employees have gone without raises for several years.  Most work at minimal wage.  While the Humane Society has stepped up to serve the animals entrusted to it, the jurisdictions have repeatedly failed to sufficiently pay for the actual services provided.  Adequate compensation for services, not political posturing and “finger pointing,” is needed.                        

FORT PIERCE’S COLD SHOULDER

On June 4, 2018, the Humane Society hand delivered and emailed a letter to each Fort Pierce Commissioner to plead the case of the animals and convey our financial circumstances.  A copy of that letter is attached.  Not one commissioner reached out to us or responded in any way.  I find Mr. Perona’s comment noting a lack of response from the board (to the news article and press) curious at best.  Mr. Mimms’ comment that, “we want a dialogue with their board” is a complete reversal of his refusal to meet in May when we requested a meeting with him to plead our case on behalf of the animals.  Likewise, Mr. Sessions comment that, “[w]e know this agency isn’t looking stable in terms of its longevity and its ability to provide this service” is disingenuous at best given his and the other commissioners’ failure to engage in a conversation over four months ago when we reached out to them on behalf of the animals.

Over the past several years, in the course of negotiations with the City and County, the Humane Society has communicated its aggressive cost cutting and underscored its financial needs occasioned, in part, by diminished and unpredictable bequests but mainly due to inadequate payments for services.   In August, the City of Fort Pierce requested that we justify a $3,000. increase to our contract.  In May, through Ms. Arraiz, the City initially proposed a $3,000.  increase, commenting that Mr. Mimms had authority to approve more than $3,000.   However, as noted above, Mr. Mimms declined to meet with us despite our request.  It should be noted that the City of Fort Pierce 2018/2019 budget for Community Response/Code Enforcement is $1,057,212, representing an increase of almost 11.5% over the prior year’s budget of $948,661. The yearly budget increase for the Code Compliance Department is $108,551.  Despite the swelling of their budget, the City chooses to hold the dogs and cats in our care hostage to their unfair negotiating tactics and deficient compensation.              

THE HUMANE SOCIETY WELCOMES PRODUCTIVE DIALOGUE

The Humane Society Board of Directors is presently comprised of seven volunteers.  It is not a static group.  Our former chairman, met with Mr. Parrish and Mr. Bremer on September 10, 2018, at Mr. Parrish’s request.  A frank discussion ensued.  At that time both gentlemen advised they would support the renewal of the contract.  These gentlemen conceded that further cost cutting was not a solution. Mr. Bremer’s recent comments that, “they (Humane Society) don’t have the funds, they start to cut back and create issues,” and, “[w]e’re talking about living beings, living animals that could suffer the consequences, ” are interesting, if not offensive.  We agree.  Further cost cutting is not an option; proper funding is.  The reason the Humane Society does not have sufficient funds is that it has for years subsidized a major portion of the costs of the services rendered.   On the average, jurisdictions pay about $130. per intake (animal).  That amount is totally inadequate to cover the average stay (exceeding 20 days) for an animal, its food, its medical care, neutering or spaying, kennel cleaning and so much more.  The Humane Society has been forced to cut back because the jurisdictions have not stepped up.  Since Mr. Bremer is genuinely concerned about living animals suffering consequences I ask him to rally behind us and the animals by eliminating the large gap between our costs and their payments.  

MISINFORMATION IS NOT PRODUCTIVE      

Susan Parry, one of the seven individuals accompanying the ASSC, assigns blame for the Humane Society’s “money problems” on the building of the Glades shelter and alleges that donations are down and some prominent donors have withdrawn their support.  To my knowledge Ms. Parry, whose husband was a Humane Society of St. Lucie, Inc. board member before he heatedly resigned in 2006, did not engage any current board member to discuss these assumptions.  The Humane Society has not recently had prominent donors so it is unclear what donors have withdrawn their support.  Ms. Townsend apparently voiced a similar comment that several prominent donors have pulled their funding.   I don’t know the source of her comments and have no idea what donors she references.  Ms. Townsend has never contacted us or communicated any concerns.  In August our then board chair offered, in conversation with Ms. Bartz’s office, to meet with the Commissioner and advised her assistant that staff would also be made available.  Ms. Bartz’s office never responded to that offer.  I would hope that politicians so receptive to hearing from former volunteers and others, whose agendas do nothing to advance the cause of animals, would engage us with whom they are contractually obligated.  Hopefully, the unfair press will not adversely impact future contributions to the Humane Society’s mission.

Opining that the Glades shelter strains the Humane Society’s resources does nothing to advance the cause of animals.  The Glades shelter has provided home to 9,473 animals since it opened November 18, 2013 according to our Pet Point computer data.  What would their plight have been if Glades had not been opened to offer them care and hope?   Half of our dedicated staff at the shelters is paid minimum wage.  They don’t have the generous benefits afforded City of Fort Pierce and County employees.  Many if not most shelters pay at least $100,000. to an executive director.  We have no executive director.  We are a nonprofit.  We are not a governmental entity that simply ordains a tax increase to cover its poor management and oversight.  This year the City of Fort Pierce incurred an $810,000. loss operating the Sunrise Theater; the Indian Hills Golf Course continues to run at a deficit and required a bail out of $358,000. in February.  In 2017 the City of Fort Pierce agreed to a negotiated settlement of $990,000. to settle a lawsuit as a result of its decision to reject a detox center.  Thus, it is rich that Fort Pierce preaches to us on cost saving measures when they are hardly good stewards of taxpayer monies.  Perhaps if they better managed taxpayer funds, they could pay for the services they demand the Humane Society subsidize.  The City should accept us as a partner rather than deride our intentions and efforts.  Unlike the City that has a captive tax base, we rely on the generosity of people who share our passion for the wellbeing of animals, whose only voice is ours.

UNJUSTIFIED COMPLAINTS

The City and County cannot justifiably complain that the animal to staff ratio is inadequate when they do not cover the present costs.  By way of example, half of our employees make the minimum wage.  As of May 7, 2018, the average hourly wage of 11 code compliance employees employed by the City of Fort Pierce was $19.52, almost two and a half times the hourly wage of half of our employees.  Fort Pierce and County employees receive health insurance; ours do not.  Fort Pierce and County employees get double the number of paid holidays per year.   They get yearly salary increases; our employees do not.    

The Glades shelter has a veterinarian on site three days a week.  The Savannah Road shelter has a veterinarian on site 2 days a week.  Would the Humane Society prefer a veterinarian on site at both shelter five days a week?  Of course, it would, but given the jurisdictions do not pay the costs of the services we now provide, that is not a reasonable expectation.   

MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER

As part of her inspection comments Dr. Wasserman wrote, “we all need to not point fingers but instead find ways to help rectify the current problems that the Humane Society is dealing with.”  We agree.  The challenges the Humane Society faces have no single cause.  Overpopulation is due to the fact that we are an open admissions shelter and try to prolong shelter stays as long as possible.   We assist the County and City in performing a function they are statutorily required to perform.  We provide food, water, shelter and medical care to every animal brought to us.  Simply stated, those with the duty and taxing authority have to step up; we cannot continue to subsidize the costs of providing services. 

The Humane Society remains grateful to those who support its mission and are willing to assist in performing that mission.  The animals are not helped by criticism motivated by personal agenda.  The Humane Society Board is committed to use its limited resources to provide for the animals entrusted to the Humane Society.  Holding contracts in abeyance jeopardizes the lives of animals.  We ask the City and County to join us in rallying behind those animals that rely on us to plead their cause.    

Submitted by Mary Jean Navaretta, Chairman, Humane Society of St. Lucie County, Inc.

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