Local Humane Society Starts Work On Shelter

Controversy about fund-raising, thrift shop mar triumphant start of key, long-delayed project

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The Humane Society of Central Arizona has finally broken ground on its new animal shelter and announced strong gains in donations, but has also spurred a hailstorm of criticism as it shifts fund-raising gears.

A flurry of last-minute changes to mollify the concerns of neighbors prompted a three-month delay in construction of the new $800,000 shelter just off Main Street. Back in May, backers said they hoped to start construction on the 7,000-square-foot shelter in June.

The group has raised a net of $300,000 from special events in the past two years, including a one-event record of $158,000 from a Reds, Whites, Bronzes and Bluegrass event on the Randall Ranch this summer.

In addition, individual donors have contributed about $75,000, according to Diane Reid, who heads the group’s fund-raising campaign.

But the triumphant start of construction several weeks ago was marred by a behind-the-scenes mini-civil war among Humane Society backers. The controversy centered on the group’s decision to drop several smaller events and emphasize a handful of big, annual fund-raisers — plus a dispute about management of the group’s thrift shop.

Critics of the new strategy say that the focus on major fund-raisers has made small donors feel pushed to the sidelines. In addition, the woman originally hired to build up the group’s thrift store recently quit and vowed to start a competing thrift shop. Penny McKinlock said she resigned because the Humane Society board was trying to “take control” of the thrift shop, which grosses about $100,000 and therefore contributes about $70,000 of the group’s $500,000 annual budget.

In an e-mail widely distributed to supporters of the Humane Society, McKinlock wrote that she had launched the thrift shop and donated much of her time and that “I don’t think they have any business butting in now and setting budgets for the shop, requiring me to attend weekly meetings and starting to try to tell us how to do things. I believe the $180,000 in sales during our first two years (without their help) speaks for itself. They’re simply getting greedy and, since they’ve stopped almost all of the other fund-raisers, the thrift shop was their biggest fund-raiser.”

Reid lamented the thrift shop dispute. “We really, truly appreciate her accomplishments and her support. We had some goals and procedures and wanted to see if we could do things a little differently.”

Reid said that the group had turned down only a handful of requests to do small fund-raisers, but had decided to focus most staff resources on major fund-raisers. The dissension has divided past supporters of the Humane Society, but hasn’t affected donations, events or volunteer hours donated, she said.

“It creates a perception of chaos and disorganization when there is chatter about this, it’s like a virus. People begin to wonder if they’re in the right place, so it’s a lot of work to try to fix the perception. It’s always about doing what’s best for the animals,” said Reid.

Reid said the Humane Society continues to work with community groups that want to host events to benefit the animals in the shelter.

However, the shift in policy eliminated several conflicting or time-consuming, low-income-producing events like a once popular chili supper in favor of concentrating staff and donor attention on events likely to bring in more money.

The Paws in the Park group has taken over sponsoring the chili supper, Reid said.

She said events like the Rim Country School Walkathon for Animals, the Rim Country School Car Wash, the Community Presbyterian Church members’ donations, the air show and the Chaparral Pines Bowling for Shelter Animals still provide ways for people to get involved.

She said any and all donations, including those from long-time monthly donors, remain crucial to the organization.

A release discussing the shift in fund-raising priorities announced that the Fund-raising Committee formed 18 months ago had adopted a new action plan to plan and orchestrate all fund-raising events.

That board-directed committee will review and coordinate all fund-raising efforts and plan at least two events likely to bring in more than $10,000 and one event planned to bring in more than $50,000 each year.

But the e-mail from McKinlock suggested that the effort to coordinate fund-raisers and eliminate some small events had alienated supporters.

“The powers-to-be at HSCAZ don’t allow anybody to disagree with them: they just get rid of those that do. They have driven away many wonderful, extremely dedicated volunteers because of their decisions.”

Humane Society Board Chairman Bill Enland said, “in reality the HCSC volunteer base has grown, net revenues have increased, and the board has been able to bring the dreams of prior boards to fruition which indicates growing confidence in the organization and its programs.”

In the meantime, contractors have started pouring the foundations for the new animal shelter.

Once envisioned as a $4 million facility with many more kennels than the current shelter, fund-raising for the ambitious effort ran into the brick wall of the recession. The project languished until a $400,000 bequest made it possible to move forward with a scaled down version, with room to expand in the future.

The new shelter won’t have many more kennels than the existing, deteriorating shelter in a converted house. However, the indoor kennels will protect the dogs and cats from the elements and the neighbors from the noise.

Moreover, the new shelter will have separate facilities for sick animals and a greater capacity to temporarily take on extra animals. That should help ease the kinds of overcrowding that prompted the shelter to turn away some owner-surrendered animals this summer.

Original projections envisioned a six-month construction process, which means the new shelter could start taking in animals in February or March, unless fresh problems cause new delays in construction.

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