We recently wrote about how the Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS) bullied an animal advocate by threatening her with litigation for making complaints about GBHS on Facebook. We also described the poor and declining Live Release Rates (LRR) for this organization, and the misrepresentation of the LRR by its leadership.
Since then, we have obtained a copy of a cease and desist letter sent to the advocate. The letter was signed by H. Arthur Edge (Art Edge) who is listed on the GBHS web site as the Vice Chair of the GBHS Board.
We have also been contacted by several other people with more complaints about the organization, which provides animal control services to Jefferson County and other municipalities within Jefferson County. The complaints are alarming and serious and come from people with detailed and intimate information about the internal operations of GBHS. The complainants include former staff with extensive histories within the organization, including former veterinary and clinic technicians, a former bookkeeper, former coordinator of the GBHS foster program, as well as former volunteers and fosters of GBHS. We have also heard complaints from local residents whose pets have ended up at GBHS.
Before we get into the new complaints, we will add one of our own: A government agency, or even a nonprofit agency acting as an agent of the government (as GBHS does) is prohibited by federal, Constitutional law from doing anything infringing the Constitutional rights, including free speech, of US citizens. It is our belief, therefore, that the letter sent by an attorney representing GBHS (an attorney who is the Vice Chair of the organization's Board) threatening legal action against someone speaking against the organization, represents a likely violation of federal, Constitutional law. It is also a form of bullying that is consistent with what several of the other complainants have reported to us. With that in mind, consider the following:
The Televangelist in Chief
The "top dog" of operations at GBHS is one Allison Black-Cornelius who delivers her own form of hellfire and brimstone from her pulpit of the organization's Facebook video feed, where she preaches a steady stream of lecture and judgment and where she is habitually passing the plate for donations to the organization. She even manages to weave in a substantial dose of religion and prayer (never mind separation of Church and State), and has even claimed to have interned with Mother Teresa. But, her critics say the person in the videos does not resemble Cornelius in real life.
"She made this character. It is a mask she puts on," said Scott Pruitt, a clinic technician who worked at GBHS from June of 2015 to May of 2017.
Pruitt's statement was echoed by many of the complainants, who described Cornelius as a person to often walk barefoot through the building and who would frequently and loudly drop the "f-bomb" or complain about people leaking information to the public.
To those unfamiliar with animal sheltering in general, or GBHS specifically, Cornelius' video "sermons" have some appeal. She frequently paints herself and the organization as victims. She certainly paints the animals she features in them as victims, even as the organization is reportedly victimizing them themselves.
53 Kittens Killed in One Day
One the often-referenced videos of Cornelius preaching her unusual form of gospel was posted to the organization's Facebook Page on July 27 of 2017. Cornelius opens the video by complaining that they had broken the record for the number of animals admitted in a single day. She says:
"It's sad to tell you today that we broke the record again. Today we took in 120 animals."
She then goes on to complain that many of the animals admitted were surrendered by their owners. She then emphasizes that she is "a woman of faith" before citing some biblical scripture and implying that the people surrendering pets to her shelter, and other dramas facing the shelter are like "the Devil who comes roaring in like a lion." We can't quite tell if she is implying that people who surrender pets to the shelter are the Devil or not.
She went on to complain that their air conditioning "went out," that their exhaust fans "went out," and that the hot water heater that keeps their towels sanitized "went out." She said she had checks for $30,000 she had to write that week, before going on to plea for more money. She added, "I hate to keep comin' to y'all and begging you, but I am begging you."
The hardship pleas for cash are hard for some to swallow, particularly given that she had recently been interviewed on public radio, and boasted about the financial growth of GBHS. In that interview, she said, "[T]he budget’s gone from $1.6 million to $4.6 million, one location to three locations. We’re about to have a $30 million development I believe right here right across the street from you on that 27 acres."
Typical of her style, after her story about the crisis with the exhaust and the AC and the hot water heater, and her plea for more money, she goes on to hold up a sign with the number 120 on it, representing the 120 animals admitted that day. She says "This is not gonna work."
Then the camera cuts to some groups of kittens that were part of the day's intake. and she says:
"We can't have 20 kittens coming in on one owner surrender because you don't want your animals any more. I want to make this judgment-free, but at some point we've got to share in the responsibility. These animals don't have a voice. So, when it is judgment free for you, it's judgment for them. So until they can talk we're their advocates."
The on-staff licensed veterinary technician who asked us to refer to her as "Ruth" told us that in order to film the video of the kittens, they closed the doors to the clinic, let about 20 kittens out to roam around while they filmed them. When they were done recording the video, Cornelius instructed Ruth to kill all of the kittens in the room, dozens in total. "All of them were healthy or treatable," Ruth said. "And, there were foster homes available for them."
Stella Burton, who was the foster coordinator when this took place, and who was present during this exchange, corroborated Ruth's story. "She [Cornelius] had frozen the foster program at the time. So, even though we had fosters available, she wouldn't let them use them."
That video has been viewed on the GBHS Facebook page more than 93,000 times and it almost certainly generated donations to the organization. It is also almost certain that few, if any, of the donors know that the kittens shown, those for whom Cornelius claimed to be advocating, were killed immediately after the filming, at her direction. Ruth said she stayed there the rest of her shift doing it.
This was not a unique event, according to those we talked to. On another day, a total of 53 kittens were killed.
Growing Animal Control Contracts
Some time in 2015 GBHS took over animal control operations for the County and other municipalities within the County. Videos of Cornelius lobbying law-makers in those municipalities to give GBHS the contract to operate animal control are still on the organization's own Facebook page. GBHS was given those contracts, and is paid relatively well for their services.
Pruitt, who worked for GBHS during this transition, said this dramatically increased animal intake numbers to the organization and that GBHS was ill-prepared to deal with the increase. This resulted in a host of changes in the organization, including forced time limits on animals and worse, according to multiple sources.
Cornelius' own lobbying to dramatically increase the animal intake at GBHS via animal control contracts makes her complaints about people bringing them pets ring pretty hollow for those who connect the dots. It should also be pointed out that GBHS regularly imports animals from out-of-state, even though all indications are that they are not adequately caring for the animals in their own county.
"They wanted to be animal control and they have continually misrepresented their outcome statistics, making people falsely believe it is safe to bring their pets there. Then, they complain when people bring their pets to them," one local advocate told us.
Another local advocate put it this way, "She runs a nonprofit, but she fought to get the county contract and contracts with all but two of the cities in the county. In other words, she asked for this. I think her donors really don't understand they may be donating to [the killing] of animals."
This is only the second in a series on what is happening at GBHS. Stay tuned. In the next in the series we will look into what happened to Pocahontas, a dog who was brought to them after having fallen off a cliff, and who they used for fundraising. We will also explore the story of Pancake, a cat reportedly killed shortly after arrival who was picked up as a stray and not held for the required hold period. We will also look into where the money goes. Accusations of dramatic executive raises, failure to provide basic veterinary care and more will be in the next installment.
We should point out that we have reached out to Allison Black-Cornelius repeatedly. She has not returned our calls.