San Diego Humane Society's Spending Questioned

Some of the San Diego Humane Society's past supporters now say the animal care organization is short changing donors and the animals that money is supposed to save.

The San Diego Humane Society operates some of the county's most well-funded animal care facilities. Donations make up more than 90 percent of the organization's 2009 budget.

Cats live in decorated habitats with donated furniture and dogs up for adoption live in private rooms filled with donated art.

"It's all smoke and mirrors," former Humane Society Board member Lori Walton said.

For six years, Walton raised money for San Diego Humane Society, and those donations totaled more than $25 million in the past three years.

She is now one of 10 former board members who quit working with the San Diego Humane Society.

"I felt guilty having people give money when I knew their money wasn't being utilized to the best of the organization's ability," Walton said.

The former board members said animals lucky enough to make it into the San Diego Humane Society are treated wonderfully, but the cost of that treatment leaves other animals without homes.

They said some animals may be euthanized by shelters that, unlike the San Diego Humane Society, kill treatable animals.

"Who suffers?" asked investigative reporter Mitch Blacher

"The animals suffer," former board member Jeff Lyle said. "At the end of the day, it's really the animals in the county that are suffering."

San Diego Humane Society President Dr. Mark Goldstein answered 10News' questions and showed everything from the neonatal care unit for kittens to where full-grown cats live. During the tour, Goldstein explained why some cages are left intentionally empty.

"Some would say this is wasted space," said Blacher.

"No, its not … 75 percent less respiratory disease," Goldstein said. "Put twice as many cats in here and euthanize them because they've got a disease, because they've got ulcers and pneumonia?"

Goldstein also showed 10News nearly a dozen rooms where San Diego Humane shows off the dogs ready to be adopted. The rooms have art on the walls and furniture on the floors.

"These animals are in environments that some people don't even get to live in," Blacher said. "Do the animals know the difference?"

"Watch the animals in here and then we'll see them in the cage," answered Goldstein.

There was a difference. A dog was seen trembling inside a cage, but the dogs in private rooms acted calmly. It was not determined if other factors influenced their behavior.

"Unless you dig into the numbers you have no idea what they are and are not doing," Walton said.

In 2009, San Diego Humane spent $4,331 per adoption, which is more than double the other animal care organizations spend in the county, according to their most recent statistics.

In 2009, San Diego Humane spent $10.1 million to adopt out 2,332 animals. San Francisco's Humane society spent $13.7 million to adopt out 4,095 animals, and Arizona's Humane Society spent $14.6 million and found 12,916 animals homes.

"Do the donors who give you money get their money's worth?" Blacher asked Goldstein.

"If I think of a donor as an investor, I like to think we're giving them a great return on their investment," Goldstein said.

According to Dr. Goldstein the San Diego Humane Society houses about 850 animals and has a capacity of nearly 1,700.

"I think the problem with the San Diego Humane Society is they don't think they have any problems," Walton said.

"It would hurt to see the hard work the staff [and] the volunteers have done to change the landscape being inappropriately challenged because people feel differently or maybe don't understand," Goldstein added.

In 2008, the San Diego Humane Society spent an undisclosed amount to settle a lawsuit. The organization's former human resources director said Goldstein committed sexual discrimination and harassment.

The following is a letter from Michael Baehr, communications director with the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA. Baehr wrote the letter to 10News after the completion of the interview and before the story aired:

Hi Mitch,

Thanks for taking the time to visit the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA, both at our Gaines Street Campus in San Diego and our North Campus in Oceanside.

As Dr. Mark mentioned to you, he is out of town this week, and I thought it might be helpful to follow-up with you following his interview. And, after talking with you in Oceanside earlier this week, I want to provide further clarification about who the San Diego Humane Society is and why we are unique from other animal welfare organizations in our area, and perhaps in the nation. Explaining these differences might help you further understand why a comparison to other local humane organizations based solely on numbers of animals adopted is not accurate.

By way of animals served, we have under our care today well over 800 animals across our three locations. Incidentally, this number is approximately 3 times more animals than what it was only 2-3 years ago. Our Veterinary Medicine team is one of the finest in the nation, examining and providing advanced medical care to over 7,000 animals each year. Because of the investment we make in our veterinary medical department, we are able to treat many complex medical issues that most other humane organizations are not in a position to take on. We have an Animal Investigations team that serves San Diego County seven days a week, investigating citizen complaints of animal cruelty and neglect, enforcing cruelty laws, educating the public and rescuing animals. Our education and community outreach programs reach across San Diego County, touching the lives of more than 16,000 adults and children each year. Not all local organizations have investigations departments, education programs, and community programs such as pet-assisted therapy, pet loss support groups, pet first aid classes, and behavior training classes. There are no other humane societies in our community that have our trained, volunteer Animal Rescue Reserve team, the quality and depth of our veterinary medical department, and our Paws to Success program, including our 24-hour kitten nursery.

When it comes to 'quality over quantity,' we can proudly say that our quality programs, including animal care, community outreach, education and medical services touched nearly 40,000 animals and more than 100,000 people last year. For the San Diego Humane Society, quality is about impact, and our ability to have a positive influence concerning the humane treatment of animals. When we met in Oceanside, you had mentioned some figures you may have received or heard about which reference a 'cost per animal.' I am not certain where this may have originated, but these comparisons are both factually inaccurate and impossible to use as a point of reference between our organization and others. This comparison omits many of the services we provide that others do not, which is part of a commitment to excellence that has made the San Diego Humane Society a national role model among Humane Societies, and explains why we have been so successful in our community.

A few other things I thought I could help clarify:

I understand the initial direction of your interview was based on some donors who may not feel as though they are getting a return on their investment with our organization. As Dr. Mark explained in his interview, we place great value on our donors and we understand that our donors are investors in our organization. As such, we feel it is our role and responsibility to ensure that our donors get a positive return on their investment on behalf of the animals we help, both in the quality of care provided to animals that would otherwise not receive this care, and in the investment we make in our community to strengthen the human-animal bond. In the time since your interview, we have posed this question to several of our donors who have indicated to us that they support the San Diego Humane Society because they feel we provide exceptional services to both animals and people, and a wonderful return on their investment. If it would be helpful to you, we would be happy to put you in touch with some of these donors.

You had asked Dr. Mark about executive salaries, and I want to clarify that there is a comprehensive, fiscally responsible process in place for determining salaries. We are lucky to have talented and accomplished executives leading our organization, and our process for determining their salaries is commensurate with best practices and their work product. Dr. Mark's salary is determined through a detailed and introspective process led by our Board of Trustees, which implements an extensive process to assure that he is compensated fairly and in keeping with the State of California Nonprofit Integrity Act.

The last topic that I should address is the personnel issue that you had asked about in your interview with Dr. Mark. This is a confidential personnel matter, and as with any such matter, was handled based on best practices and with the appropriate input of our counsel and insurance carrier.

On behalf of Dr. Mark and everyone at the San Diego Humane Society, it was a pleasure to meet you and I'm glad we had the opportunity to share with you the work we do. I hope the information above gives you a better understanding of who we are and why we are indeed so different from any other humane society, making any truly accurate comparison impossible. I hope from your visit you can see that we are an open and honest organization whose sole purpose is to care for the animals and the people of our community.

I will be out of town next week (September 6-10). Please feel free to call Candice Eley in the Communications Department if you have any questions or if we can provide any further information. She is cc'd here.

Thanks again for your visit!

Regards,

Michael Baehr Director of Marketing & Communications San Diego Humane Society & SPCA