Report: Animal Foundation ‘on the brink of a crisis’

City of LV says shelter in violation of contract

By: - September 21, 2022 6:08 am

Dogs in The Animal Foundation’s intake unit, photographed by Las Vegas City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman during an unannounced visit on Sept. 13, 2022.

A report authored by the chief operating officer of The Animal Foundation just days before he parted ways with the government-funded shelter paints a picture of dysfunction. 

The report, obtained by the Current, details problems that include unpaid bills leading to dog food deliveries being cut off, injured animals left untreated and without pain management, $30,000 spent monthly on emergency veterinarians to feed newborn kittens, and less than half the staff that is required to properly care for animals. 

“The Animal Foundation remains today an organization on the brink of a crisis,” then-COO James Pumphrey wrote in the July report for staff and administration, assessing his first four months at TAF. “The shelter system is operating at or over capacity at all times which is an unstable and unsustainable practice.”

The Animal Foundation’s (TAF) Chief Executive Officer Hilarie Grey did not respond to requests for comment on the report or Pumphrey’s departure from TAF.

Pumphrey wrote that increased animal intake and decreased staffing results in “struggling to provide for basic animal care needs.” The strain prevents staff from focusing on placing animals, he said. “Steps should be taken immediately to respond to staff retention, recruitment, and training, and to reduce the volume of our animal intake.”

The report recommends halting “for the foreseeable future” the trapping and neutering of stray cats, a practice experts say is useful in reducing the number of unwanted kittens, if done regularly. Pumphrey suggests the shelter “discontinue loaning traps and picking up healthy cats.”

Pumphrey writes TAF staff “are experiencing significant trauma” and “regularly encounter workplace violence from patrons including threats of violence, verbal abuse, and attempts at physical abuse.”

Starting pay is $12 to $13 per hour, Pumphrey wrote, while “local businesses such as fast food restaurants are starting at $15-16.”

TAF staff provide 140 work hours per day for basic care, but the shelter requires more than twice that in the summer months, the report says, resulting in animals “not being fed in a timely manner” and “not being cleaned the way they deserved…” 

A dog in The Animal Foundation’s intake unit, photographed by Las Vegas City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman during an unannounced visit on Sept. 13, 2022.

Last week, Las Vegas City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman made an unannounced visit to TAF and took photos of dogs in filthy cages, some with no food or water. Grey did not respond to requests for comment from the Current, but told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Seaman was engaged in a political stunt. Grey unsuccessfully ran against Seaman in a 2019 council race. 

On Tuesday, the City of Las Vegas notified Grey that Seaman’s photos revealed conditions that violate the city’s contract with the shelter and asked that a remedy be submitted within 48 hours.

Seaman is calling for an audit of TAF, which receives $4.7 million a year from Clark County, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas to serve 1.9 million residents. The publicly funded shelter in San Antonio, Texas serves 1.43 million residents and has a similar intake to TAF of about 24,000 animals a year. In 2021, it received $16.1 million in government funding.  

Tax returns indicate TAF lost $2.5 million in 2019, and would have lost just under $1 million in 2020 if not for a $1.25 million Payroll Protection Program loan.

“Absolutely not,” Seaman replied when asked if TAF needs more funding. “It’s top heavy.”

In 2020, TAF spent $784,697 on five administrative salaries and $309,000 on three veterinarians, according to tax returns.  It has more than $50 million in net assets but a $6 million cash balance.

Elected officials from Clark County and North Las Vegas did not immediately respond to requests for comment.  Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony said he expects TAF to be on the Oct. 19 council agenda. 

Gina Greisen of Nevada Voters for Animals says Pumphrey’s report confirms “what we have been hearing since 2007; The Animal Foundation has minimal quality caregiving capacity.” In 2007, the Humane Society of the U.S. declared a state of emergency at TAF.

Among the report’s other observations:

  • TAF is performing 10 or fewer sterilizations a day, but demand is closer to 60 a day, 
  • Animals, some with serious injuries, are not provided timely medical care, treatment, or even pain management,
  • Parvovirus is being spread due to poor infectious disease management,
  • Euthanasia was delayed several weeks for more than 80 animals due to no technicians on staff and drugs were unavailable because “key management for drug safes was not adhered to.” 
  • Veterinary services were out of compliance with state regulations and unpaid invoices to radiologists limited the ability to view x-rays,
  • Staff are at odds over releasing stray cats and kittens outdoors,
  • Kittens were taken nightly to an emergency vet hospital for overnight feeding at a cost of $30,000 a month and “returned each morning weighing less,” 
  • Staff caring for kittens “was inadequate for the volume” and resulted in “preventable suffering and deaths.”  
  • Highly adoptable puppies and kittens sat for days before being made available for to the public,
  • Staff routinely run out of food and cat litter and “scramble to wipe out the shelves of local pet stores,” 
  • No formal training existed for new hires, who were “being set up to fail,”  
  • A backlog of voicemails and emails prevent animals from being reunited with owners, and instead adopted or euthanized “before a potential owner was contacted,”
  • Animals wait hours or overnight to be processed in makeshift housing “posing a threat to animal and staff safety and health,” 
  • Only unhealthy or injured animals were being transferred to rescues, 

The report recommends that TAF: 

  • Establish consistent and objective standards for euthanization,
  • Require appointments for animal surrenders, 
  • Facilitate an interactive platform designed to rehome an animal without going to the shelter,
  • Provide medical and behavioral triage upon intake, 
  • Prioritize the transfer of healthy and treatable animals to rescues rather than the unhealthy and untreatable,
  • Admit only animals who are injured, dangerous or legally required to be sheltered,
  • Remove fines to reclaim animals, which is “critical to lifesaving and a core issue related to supporting marginalized communities,” 
  • Remove the limit of three dogs and three cats per household because it does not deter hoarders

It’s unknown which, if any, recommendations will be implemented, given Pumphrey’s departure.

Note: This story was updated with a letter from the City of LV to TAF notifying the shelter is in violation of its contract with the government.

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.