News 5 Investigates

Jan 27, 2014 7:40 PM by Andy Koen

News 5 Guardians: Shelter lacks incentive to reform

CAÑON CITY - The Fremont County Humane Society has enacted a number of reforms in recent months. Since failing three consecutive inspections by the Colorado Department of Agriculture last summer, the shelter has repaired its facility, hired a consultant and a begun using a new veterinarian. Employees are also using new bookkeeping software.

"We want to make sure that all the care we give animals here is top notch, our goal is to take care of pets," said board member Beth Gaffney.

The volunteer program has also returned. Gaffney said some 27 volunteers now give of their time to the shelter on a regular basis under the guidance of a volunteer coordinator.

However, the reforms don't rise to the level of shelter management or the board of directors. By looking at tax filings, the News 5 Guardians found there is little incentive for them to change.

In 2012, the most recent year on file, board president Ruth Stimack was paid $32,216 for working 20 hours a week. Treasurer J.A. Carmack was paid $16,964 and trustee Christopher Jenks was paid $13,220. Both indicated they worked just 15 minutes a week.

Jenks, who lives in Manhattan Beach, California, even listed the shelter as one of his consulting clients on his website.

"He does a lot of analysis on the Wann Foundation and he also works in helping with our website and social media," explained Gaffney who is one of two unpaid board members.

"With social media coming along, it's been a recent adjacent to what he does."

The shelter is within its rights to pay the board, but experts in the field tell us it's not common.

"Historically I think we saw more nonprofits that did compensate board members, but in terms of best practices these days, most nonprofits do encourage their board members to volunteer their time," explained David Somers, Executive Director of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence.

The center coaches some 250 local charities on best practices and financial transparency.

Former Fremont County Humane Society volunteer Veda Overy quit three years ago frustrated by the poor level of veterinary care she saw given to the animals. She remembers one particular dog that was brought in with a limp that went untreated. The dog later had to have its leg amputated.

"The director would say we don't want to spend that much on one animal," Overy said.

She personally adopted a Labrador and a Chihuahua, paying thousands of dollars out-of-pocket in vet bills to nurse them back to health.

She says she wouldn't mind the paid board so much if the animals received better care.

"They say they can't spend money taking care of the animals and getting them to the vet, that is what makes me angry," Overy said.

We searched the Humane Society's business filings with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office. When the shelter was first organized in 1950, board members were expressly prohibited from receiving payment.

By 1970, the Humane Society board amended its Articles of Incorporation to allow for board compensation. Jenks' father Walter and then board secretary Ruth Evans (now Stimack) signed those new documents.

In the 44 years since, board positions seem to have been handed down through family members. Volunteer board member Vickie Roberts is the daughter of J.A. Carmack and Beth Gaffney is Ruth Stimack's daughter.

Overy said she know of several people have volunteered to be on the board but were turned away.

"Frankly, they have not been interested."

Gaffney explained that she was simply asked to join the board and agreed.

"You know, we have just all kind of grown up with a love for animals," she said. "I think that's part of why we're all here."

Director Somers of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence encourages everyone who gives to charity to first research the organization.

"It behooves them to look at the records of those organizations and how transparent are they and what are their practices," he said.

The Colorado Veterinary Board is expected to review an investigation into former shelter veterinarian Dr. Michael Gangel at its next board meeting February 13.

The Fremont County Sheriff's Office has turned over the results of an animal cruelty investigation to the 11th Judicial District Attorney's Office. The Fremont County Commissioners amended their contract with shelter to a month-to-month agreement.

The City Council of Cañon City is considering a similar agreement, but the new contract has not yet been signed. The shelter has agreed to allow a former agriculture inspector to make unannounced inspections of its facility on behalf of the city.

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