A new organization claiming to represent more than 30 former and current employees of the Hawaiian Humane Society, as well as volunteers and members of animal rights groups, is calling for the resignation of the society’s chief executive officer.
The group, calling itself People for Animals First, sent a packet of material Feb. 4 to each member of the society’s board of directors with critical statements from 25 people — some of them unidentified — alleging that CEO Lisa Fowler has neglected the welfare of animals in the shelter and that she is abusive to employees who criticize her.
The critics said animals that could be put out to foster care or for adoption are wrongfully euthanized. They also claim the Humane Society has offered dogs and cats to people for adoption who are unfit to care for the animals.
Fowler declined to be interviewed about the allegations.
The Hawaiian Humane Society’s CEO is under fire from a group calling itself People for Animals First.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The society’s public policy advocate, Stephanie Kendrick, released a statement to acknowledge that the board had received the written criticism “primarily from former employees.”
The statement said: “The board supports the executive team, staff, and dedicated volunteers in our animal welfare mission. As board members we review matters that are brought to our attention as part of our oversight responsibilities.”
Board chairman Robert Armstrong told Civil Beat on Tuesday that the board members are taking very seriously the concerns of the former and current HHS employees who submitted written accounts. He says the board has formed a committee to look into their concerns.
“The board members share the same quest,” Armstrong said. “We want to reduce euthanasia to zero.”
He says the board is considering hiring a third party to look into the euthanasia policies at the Humane Society, but he also says the number animals euthanized at the Humane Society has been decreasing over the years.
The Humane Society had no readily available statistics regarding that.
Armstrong says Fowler’s employee management practices would also be among the issues the board would review.
Fowler has been the CEO since Nov. 15, 2017. Before that she was director of development and director of operations. She replaced former CEO Pamela Burns, who died in September 2017.
Board member and veterinarian Eric Ako, who attended a board meeting Monday, says his reaction after hearing the concerns of the former and current workers was, “Whoa. What’s going on? We need to gather more information on this.”
Jackie Marelli is one of the former Humane Society employees who wrote a critical letter in the material submitted to the board.
Marelli says she resigned from her job as a licensed veterinary technician in September 2017 because of “the hostile work environment and the unnecessary euthanizing of animals that should have been saved.”
“Animals with easily treatable conditions such as upper respiratory and ear and eye infections, hair loss and diarrhea were all considered unadoptable and euthanized,” Marelli told Civil Beat.
Former Humane Society animal care giver Earle Hansen said he saw 2- and 3-month-old puppies put down for behavioral issues ––– normal puppies like two black Labradors who had just been brought in and were scared.
Hansen says he also saw kittens brought directly into the “C-Room,” the euthanasia room, without any paperwork being done. He says some of the kittens had ringworm that was easily treatable.
Hansen says the Humane Society has done many good things for animals but says there is not enough oversight of a few veterinary technicians who are in charge of selecting animals to be euthanized.
‘Employees Are Terrified’
Sarah Worth is one of the founders of People for Animals First.
Worth said Fowler’s management style was to intimidate employees who were trying to express legitimate concerns.
Worth worked as an admission representative in the office where animals are brought into the shelter.
She says she was fired in December because she was acting on her own to locate willing foster parents for kittens the Humane Society was about to euthanize.
People for Animals First included declarations from employees still working at the Humane Society as well as others who were fired or forced to resign.
Worth says most wrote anonymously for fear of retaliation.
The current and former employees accuse Fowler of mismanagement, including hiding bad practices from the board of directors and ignoring Humane Society standards in the selection of animals for euthanasia.
In the written material, People for Animals First proposes that six actions need to be taken to insure a better future for the Hawaiian Humane Society, with the first action being immediate removal of Fowler as CEO.
Among its other requests was a call for the creation of an effective whistleblower policy to protect employees from retaliation when they have concerns.
“This is necessary,” Worth said. “Employees are terrified.”
The group also asked for an audit of all areas of operation.
Armstrong says that the Humane Society board members share the same passion and love for animals as the critics.
Armstrong said the board is hopeful that the society’s $3 million high-volume Community Spay/Neuter Clinic, which opened in October and is neutering 30 to 50 animals a day, will greatly reduce the number of animals now being euthanized.
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Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.