The Hawaiian Humane Society announced Monday that president and CEO Lisa Fowler is stepping down immediately “for personal reasons.”
In a news release, the Humane Society said Fowler would stay on the job until April 30 while board chairman Bob Armstrong takes over as interim CEO for the transition period. Fowler has been under fire, with some current and former employees claiming she had created a “toxic work environment.”
Fowler and Armstrong were not available for interviews.
In the news release, Armstrong praised Fowler for her eight years of service to the Humane Society and her successful completion of the society’s $18 million dollar capital campaign to expand the Moiliili shelter and to build a new West Oahu shelter.
Fowler became the head of the Humane Society in November 2017 after longtime CEO Pam Burns died in September of that year. Before that, Fowler was HHS Director of Development and in January 2017, she also stepped in to be director of operations.
Humane Society Board Vice Chairman Eric Ako, a local veterinarian, said Monday, “It is with a sad heart to see Lisa Fowler resign. She did good work. But our search for new leadership shows the Humane Society is flexible. We always want to do what is best for the animals and for the community.”
In the news release, Fowler said, “It has been a great honor and privilege to lead this great organization and to be part of the amazing team of animal welfare professionals who work there.”
Humane Society employees told Civil Beat that almost from the beginning Fowler’s management style caused friction and prompted staff resignations.
Former and current employees of HHS picketed the Humane Society’s Moiliili shelter Feb. 18 to call for Fowler’s immediate firing.
The protesting workers formed a group called People for Animals First. They mailed information packets to each Humane Society board member with written examples of their allegations that Fowler bullied and demeaned them and created “a toxic work environment.”
They also said that under Fowler’s management many adoptable animals were unnecessarily euthanized.
In the news release, Armstrong said, “no evidence of wrongdoing has been identified despite recent criticism leveled at the organization.”
Armstrong said that an independent third party has started to review the Humane Society’s euthanasia procedures to insure that it is following the best practices.
Jana Moore, a member of People for Animals First, said Monday that she’s a supporter of animal welfare.
“I am happy to see the Hawaiian Humane Society is moving forward to select a new leader who will work toward our shared goal of saving and helping as many animals as possible,” Moore said.
Moore is a former manager of annual giving for the Humane Society. She is one of four fundraising executives who resigned from the Humane Society’s development department in less than year, claiming unhappiness with Fowler.
Three development directors walked off the job from March through December 2018 — Jessie Saunders, Mary Steiner and Kevin Takamori, who left after five days.
Many of Fowler’s critics voiced their objections anonymously, saying they feared retaliation, but Moore was one of the few to speak out openly.
In an interview with Civil Beat earlier this month, Moore said the board of directors at the Humane Society needed to pay attention to the employee turmoil at the shelter. She noted that even high-salary employees were leaving rather than work with Fowler.
Jennifer Kishimori, president and founder of Cat Friends, an animal welfare group that also called for Fowler’s resignation, said Monday that her group was happy to see the Humane Society action. “We appreciate the Board of Directors listening to our concerns and acting on them.”
Honolulu City Council member Ann Kobayashi said the high number of employees quitting after Fowler became CEO prompted her to call for a performance audit of the city’s contract with the Humane Society.
The city’s contract with the Humane Society this year is for $3.7 million for animal control services, including picking up and sheltering stray dogs and cats and providing spay-neuter sterilizations and responding to complaints about animal cruelty.
The Hawaiian Humane Society says this time it will search both locally and nationally for a new CEO. When it hired Fowler, some criticized HHS for hiring in-house rather than conducting a nationwide search for a new leader.
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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.