Two board members of Michigan Humane Society resign over euthanasia rate
Copyright (c) 2011, Detroit Free Press
June 08--Two members of the Michigan Humane Society Board of Directors resigned on Monday over what one said was the agency's lack of transparency and its "unacceptable" euthanasia rate.
Cheryl Phillips said she and Lee Lien left Monday's board meeting after its members voted 7 to 5 against an external audit of its shelter practices by an outside veterinary program. Phillips said she wanted the audit after learning that the agency euthanized some 70%
of the animals that came through the doors in 2010. Meanwhile, she said, the organization was touting a near perfect adoption rate for animals they declared healthy. She said it was hard to believe 70% of the animals taken in were irredeemable.
"Our donors are giving us money to save lives," she said. "Our job is to protect the rights of the animals. I have failed as a board member."
MHS reported about $12.4 million in revenue to the Internal Revenue Service in 2009, about $6 million of which came from donations. About $1.6 million was spent on fund-raising. In serving some 34,000 animals at facilities in Westland, Rochester Hills and Detroit, the agency spent about $4.6 million on veterinary care, while receiving $4 million in veterinary revenue, said spokesman Michael Robbins. He said a healthy animal costs about $156 to prepare for adoption.
The society's chief veterinarian and operations manager defended their euthanasia rate, which all animal shelters are expected to report to the Michigan Department of Agriculture. As reported last week by the Free Press, MHS took in 13,725 cats and kittens in 2010, of which 70% were euthanized. The agency also took in 11,191 dogs and puppies, of which 68% were euthanized.
Director of Operations C.J. Bentley said their facility's policy of accepting all animals regardless of origin or condition as to why the numbers are so high. Bentley said traits such as aggression can't be fixed, but behaviors often can be. Dr. Robert Fisher, the agency's chief veterinarian, said animals with terminal or major medical issues are often not adoptable and that "what the public is willing to accept in their homes," helps determine an animal's fate. Like other agencies, they follow a set of animal health guidelines called the Asilomar Accords.
"We're in a very emotional business," he said. "None of us want to euthanize any animals, but unfortunately, it's sometimes necessary."
But other shelter operators and no-kill advocates disagree, saying the organization's euthanasia rate is too high to be called "sometimes."
"The Michigan Humane Society is continuing the age-old practice of throwing up their hands and saying 'there's nothing we can do,'" said Nathan Winograd, a California lawyer and director of the No-Kill Advocacy Center. He cited cities such as San Francisco and Reno, Nev. as having high populations of hard-to-adopt animals but still managing a low kill rate.
Tanya Hilgendorf, director of the Humane Society of Huron Valley, said they've managed to get their kill rate to about 14%, based on their interpretation of the Accords. Based in Washtenaw County, she said they have a similar population of animals as Detroit, but on a smaller scale. She said more of MHS's dollars should go to animal care.
"What exactly is a healthy animal is very subjective," she said. "I think it's about intent and how you use your resources."
Phillips said even if she's no longer with the organization, she still believes MHS's practices need to be audited.
"What I signed on for was to protect and preserve the rights of animals. Instead of making excuses of why we kill, let's save lives," she said.
Two board members of Michigan Humane Society resign over euthanasia rate |Morningstar