Alabama: Still More Complaints Continue Pouring in Regarding Greater Birmingham Humane Society
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
Editor's Note: When we first wrote about the Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS), just 8 short days ago, we were not expecting what happened next: We received so many complaints from former staff, fosters, volunteers and others that we felt a need to write a follow-up piece. That article got so large we needed to split it into two installments. The first was published on October 16, 2017. This blog post is the second of that series. However, much has happened since. In the last 24 hours alone, we have been contacted by several more people wanting to come forward to share their complaints/stories about GBHS, including former animal control officers, fundraisers and staff representing nearly every level within the organization. We, unfortunately, do not have time to tell all of their stories. Suffice it to say they have all reported having had similar experiences to the ones we are reporting.
We should also point out that throughout this process, we have reached out to Allison Black Cornelius, Executive Director for GBHS to respond to these allegations. To date, her only response has been a very brief series of emails she sent to one of our contributors explaining that she does not have time to speak with us, but that she would have someone else at GBHS contact us. They have not. She also explained that, while she did not have time for a phone conversation with our contributor, she would be happy to meet with him face-to-face, so long as he came to Ohio, because she was going to be there for a conference. We are still trying to figure out how a face-to-face meeting in Ohio would be less time consuming than a phone call. As strange as that may seem, it was not entirely unexpected. It is the exact sort of behavior described by the people who have been coming forward to share their personal and intimate experiences at GBHS.
We should also note that while neither Cornelius nor GBHS has responded to our questions or the very serious issues raised, Cornelius did recently put out a message on Facebook. It was the kind of "response" most people would have to scratch their heads about. It does not actually address any of the substance we are discussing, like why her public statements about the organization's Live Release Rate are so different than the actual Live Release Rates in their own reports. Rather than addressing the substance, she did what we reported in the next in our series that she often does: she played a victim. And, not just a normal victim, a melodramatic, over-the-top kind of victim. She spent more than the first half of her "response" describing how, when she was 7 years old, she "met a stalker, a serial offender." We can't really tell if she is implying that she was raped or molested, or if she knew someone who was. She then goes on to imply that what we are doing is somehow like that. She claims to have been "stalked" for months. (Note: We have only been working on this for 10 days, not "months.") And, our entire communication with her has consisted of 3 un-returned voicemails that one of our contributors left for her and the brief (though bizarre) email exchange mentioned earlier.
Whether or not she was raped or molested, or knew someone who was when she was seven, which would be horrible if true, or whether or not someone has been "stalking" her about the goings on at GBHS, we don't know. We would be interested in any documentation she has relating to that if it is true. We can't really assess that if she won't even return our phone calls. All we have done is briefly and politely ask for explanations of some very serious allegations brought forward by a large and growing group of people. Answering those questions and responding to the allegations is her job as the CEO at GBHS. With that in mind, consider the following:
Suffering Animals As Fundraising Props
In the first of this series, we described how Allison Black Cornelius has said publicly that the organization has a Live Release Rate (LRR) of almost 80%, when, in fact, the LRR is nowhere near that and for several months has been below 50%, and has been declining through the year. In the second of this series, we described how Cornelius reportedly used dozens of kittens for a fundraising video, and then immediately instructed staff to kill them all. That was not an isolated case. According to our sources, Cornelius seemed obsessed with her Facebook-based televangelism, so much so that she had a note posted on a dry-erase board in the intake area reminding staff to contact her when "sad" cases came in, so that she could make a video.
Christy Patterson, who worked as an intake specialist told us the problem cases were "the money animals." Patterson said Cornelius told them, "The more matted the better. We can make money off of them."
Most animal advocates would not criticize an agency for telling an animal's sad story to raise money for animals. However, they would have a problem with animals being used for fundraising when those animals didn't get the care for which the funds were being raised. Just like the kittens we mentioned earlier, who were used for fundraising and then reportedly killed immediately after filming the donation plea, other animals were also reported to be used that did not benefit. A dog they (possibly insensitively) called Pocahontas is another example.
On June 20, 2017, Cornelius used her televangelist skills to pass the plate for veterinary care for Pocahontas (photo from the video is above) via a video posted to the GBHS Facebook page. "Pocahontas" had a terrible and heart-wrenching story, which Cornelius tells in the video. The dog had fallen off a cliff near a river and was badly injured. Some kind people had rescued her and taken her to GBHS. In the video posted to the GBHS page you can see Cornelius standing in front of two young people that she describes as "veterinary students." Our sources describe them as "veterinary student volunteers." They appear to be, in a fairly staged way, examining the injured dog.
In the video, Cornelius says, "Just remember, these kinds of things cost a lot of money, and so if it is in your heart, if you'd make a donation, you can go to our web site..."
That video has been viewed on Facebook more than 15,000 times and it is almost certain that people donated money, believing Pocahontas was getting "expensive" veterinary care. However staff who worked there at the time tell a different story.
Patterson was one of the people who told us this story. She echoed others when she said, "I went back later... and this was before I [left GBHS]... I wanted to know how Pocahontas was doing, because I never heard another word about this dog." Patterson continued, "And, ah, all of the medical notes [in the computer system] ... the only medical notes on that dog were from the initial intake. They didn't send her to our vet for observation. They sent her to our shelter, which is in Woodlawn. It is a dark, dank, smelly place. It's just a pound, basically. So, she wasn't at our clinic, so they could make sure to observe or make sure the vets saw her every day. She was just like any other dog and when her stray hold was up, she was put down."
We have to wonder how many of the people who donated to Pocahontas' care know any of that....
Alleged Misuse of Funds
When Brenda Nichols, a former bookkeeper for GBHS, complained to her boss about apparent misuse of funds, mis-categorizing of expenses, and other things, she says her boss told her that her "moral compass was wound too tight." Lets examine the complaints:
According to multiple sources, at a time when GBHS was habitually behind on paying their critical bills, and when vendors were reportedly refusing services for non-payment, the three top executives received $30,000 per year pay increases.
"This was a nonprofit charity that could not pay its bills, but was giving these raises to these staff," Nichols said.
That seems bad. But it gets worse. Various people also complained that Cornelius also regularly used GBHS resources for her own personal use, like when she used GBHS trucks and paid staff to move one of her children to college, or when she also reportedly regularly uses GBHS staff and resources of GBHS to run a for-profit consulting firm called Blackfish that she still owns and runs (with a little help from GBHS donors, apparently), while she is also taking in a comfy 6-figure income from GBHS.
Seems like a nice gig, if you can get it, and don't mind killing innocent animals for profit.
The Body Count
The numbers of stories we have been told are too voluminous to report in total. And, as we are getting this story ready for publishing, more stories keep coming in. They are the tip of a very dark iceberg. To try to put it into perspective, the mass kitten slaughter we described in our last installment and the killing of Pocahontas happened in June of this year. But, according to GBHS reports, they are drops in a huge bucket. In June, the agency had an abysmal Live Release Rate of 43%. That means that nearly 60% of the animals that came to them lost their lives.
That brings us to our final thought and the most sickening story yet.
Anna McFall did public relations for GBHS. She says that the kill rate was so high that a large truck would regularly come to pick up all of the dead bodies. McFall told us:
"[O]ne day a volunteer group had the unfortunate experience of witnessing this happen. It was one of the saddest days of my experience there, and I was the PR person that had to spin it all as 'good' "
It is worth pointing out that no one from GBHS has yet made any effort to address our concerns. And, from the limited communications we have had with them, they seem unlikely to do so.
Note: In a future installment, we will tell the story of Pancake, a not-so-stray cat taken to GBHS by a neighbor. Pancake was allegedly killed by GBHS within hours of arrival, in likely violation of State law. Pancake's owner is still trying to get answers out of GBHS weeks later.