Las Vegas City Council glosses over crisis at Animal Foundation, orders audit

By: - October 19, 2022 4:51 pm

Animal advocates gather outside Las Vegas City Hall before a City Council meeting on Oct. 19, 2022. (Photo by Dana Gentry)

Members of the Las Vegas City Council gushed about their love for dogs and cats before a crowd of animal enthusiasts who showed up Wednesday to express their angst over operations at The Animal Foundation, Southern Nevada’s primary government-funded shelter.

In September, the City of Las Vegas notified TAF it was in violation of its contract. The notice came after Councilwoman Victoria Seaman observed what she described as unsanitary conditions during a surprise visit to the shelter.

But ultimately, the council ignored warnings of a brewing crisis that experts fear could rival the debacle of 2007, when overcrowding resulted in illness and the destruction of more than 1,000 animals.

“The cause is crowding and lack of appropriate levels of care,” James Pumphrey, former chief operating officer of TAF, told the council of the pneumovirus outbreak that has closed the shelter to intakes this month. “Clear institutional neglect is the underlying issue.”

Last month, before the outbreak, TAF euthanized 321 dogs, an increase of 218% from Sept. 2021, and 155 cats, up 87% from last year, according to its website. Kittens under two weeks old are routinely destroyed, according to a staff member who spoke during public comment.

For weeks animal control officers for Clark County and the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas have been unable to respond to calls regarding strays, and the public is without a place to relinquish animals.

The municipalities pay TAF just under $5 million a year to provide shelter services. A spokesman for Clark County says the government does not believe animal welfare is at risk.

CEO Hilarie Grey, a public relations executive who joined TAF in January, told the council there isn’t a shelter in America that isn’t experiencing the same issues as TAF, including increased intakes and a lack of workers.

Pumphrey says working conditions at TAF and wages that can’t compete with fast food restaurants have caused workers to depart.

“These workers, these compassionate warriors, deserve respect and dignity,” Pumphrey said. “Never should anyone have to sacrifice their safety, their time off, their lunch, or breaks or mission. They should be able to unionize and collectively bargain for their rights. We must endeavor to promote the rights of man and the rights of the voiceless. Both are intertwined.”

Pumphrey says he initially came to the shelter as an “advisor, an independent assessor of their practices in December 2021. TAF was in crisis as it remains today. Animals were suffering and staff were experiencing unconscionable harm to their well being.”

He says he was fired in July after he presented Grey with an assessment and recommendations after his first four months at the shelter. He says Grey previously asked him to rewrite his original assessment of TAF from December 2021.

“In effect, I was being asked and pressured to compromise my ethics,” Pumphrey said. “I was being asked to be less than transparent for the sake of PR and marketing.”

Lori Heeren, executive director of the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said during public comment that Grey told her she “thought she got the job because of her political connections.” She said she and her staff at NSPCA were concerned about Grey’s lack of experience in animal welfare.

Councilman Stavros Anthony suggested that TAF open its board of directors to elected officials from the governments that fund it. He also called for the city to have approval of the shelter’s selection of a CEO, who he said should have minimum requirements for experience in animal welfare. His colleagues, with the exception of Seaman, did not agree.

Pumphrey said Anthony’s recommendations were excellent and should be enacted, adding, “It’s clear Grey is unqualified and unprepared for the job she holds and the board needs to be held accountable.”

Councilwoman Olivia Diaz said the public is responsible for TAF’s intake of more than 21,000 animals a year and called on the community to be responsible. The council has rejected measures intended to decrease intake, such as banning pet sales from stores and outlawing backyard breeding.

Animal advocates say regulation of breeders is non-existent. Records obtained by the Current indicate the city has had no violations by licensed breeders in the last two years. It has issued six citations in the last two years for unlicensed/illegal pet breeding.  Of five cases with records, two were dismissed and the other three are still open.

Animal activist and business broker John Brassner told the council he believes, based on TAF’s financial statements, that the shelter “is broke.”

“I think it was good that the council voted for a financial audit,” Pumphrey said after the meeting. “They need an operational one.”

In the end, the council voted unanimously to commission an independent audit of TAF and to raise the potential of a seat on the board in 2025, when the city renegotiates its contract.

Note: This story was updated with clarified information from the City of Las Vegas regarding breeding violations. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.