Friendly, Owned Cat Reportedly Killed by GBHS Shortly After Intake; Director Responds to Other Alleg
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
Editor's Note: This is another in our series on complaints about the Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS). The series began simple enough: One of our contributors downloaded and analyzed the outcome reports published on the GBHS web site. She did that for the calendar year of 2016 and year-to-date for 2017. That contributor asked some of the rest of our group to review her assessment of the reports and we concurred with them. We concluded that for 2016 GBHS had a Live Release Rate (LRR) of 58% and that for 2017 year-to-date the LRR has been 61% so far, but, that it is rapidly declining, with multiple months below 50% and August getting as low as 40%. We compared those actual numbers from GBHS reports on their own web site and compared them to public statements from their CEO, Allison Black Cornelius, in which she claimed the organization's LRR was "almost" 80%. We wrote about that in our first blog about GBHS, including the fact that an animal advocate who had complained about this had been sent a threatening cease and desist letter from an attorney representing the organization.
As bad as all of that is, we did not find it to be particularly unusual. We regularly write about animal shelters that fudge their outcome statistics, though rarely to this level. The fact that it is common for some shelters to do this is one of the reasons we have created our online Live Release Rate Calculator. It helps animal advocates keep their shelters honest by allowing them to easily take the raw data and get a real LRR for the shelter. Computing a LRR is not very hard, once you understand what it means: It is the percentage of animals that leave the shelter alive. Getting the number is as easy as computing the total number of live outcomes (adoptions + transfers to rescue + returns to owner + returned to field for TNR) and dividing that number by the total outcomes for the time period. For August for GBHS, that results in a final calculation that looks like this 790 (Total Live Outcomes) / 1,989 (Total Outcomes = 39.7%. In our initial reporting, we rounded 39.7% up to 40%.
While we did not necessarily find the misreporting of the LRR entirely unique, what we did find exceptionally unusual was the scope of the misrepresentation. Additionally, what happened next, we have never experienced in all of our years advocating for shelter animals: we were swamped with people complaining about GBHS, at a level we have never seen or imagined.
Shortly after our first blog was published, we began hearing from people who had been fosters, volunteers and staff at GBHS sharing their own personal and intimate experiences of this organization. The complaints came as private messages on Facebook, via email and phone. We are still getting them. There is no way we can possibly tell all of their stories. Some of them have shown up in the comments section of our Facebook page. We chose to carefully document some of the complaints, resulting in two additional blog posts (here and here). We chose to focus on stories that were either corroborated by the data itself, or by other people. For example: We chose to tell the story told to us by Anna McFall, who did public relations work for GBHS. She told of an encounter with a large truck that regularly comes to GBHS to pick up and haul away all of the dead bodies. It was one of the more sensational portions of this series. In spite of it being shocking, the notion that a large truck needs to come and haul away dead bodies on a regular basis has to be true, unless the organization has an on-site incinerator, or some magic technology we don't know about that can beam the bodies off site some other way. The scope is quite staggering.
Again using the month of August as an example, their own reports document "euthanasia" of 1,177 animals, plus 22 that died at the shelter, for a total body count of 1,199. For July, it was 894.
They have averaged needing to haul away 1,110 dead animals per month from June through August. Said another way (and a more graphic way - apologies to the faint of heart): if each of those animals weighed, on average, only 20 pounds (many of them were large-breed dogs) that amounts to more than 20,000 pounds, or 10 tons of animal carcasses that needed to be hauled away each month. It also amounts to about 40 lives ended every day, the majority of the animals admitted to GBHS. Each "euthanasia" procedure requires at least two people to be done correctly, one to hold the animal and one to inject the fatal dose of sodium pentobarbital. This means that killing animals must be a full time job for multiple staff... a perpetual assembly line of death that has been largely hidden from their donors and supporters, and the citizens of Jefferson County whose tax dollars are funding this.
In spite of all of this in a June 28, 2017 story that appeared on WBRC Fox 6, reporter Alan Collins indicated that GBHS "prides itself on eight percent euthanasia rate" and quoted Cornelius as saying, "It's time for conversation to take place for long term because we are not going to adopt our way out of this and I'm sure as hell not going to euthanize my way out of it." That same month, GBHS destroyed 1,208 animals and adopted 647. The LRR for the month was a mere 43% (euthanasia rate of near 60%). In the organization's best months in recent years, we have never seen a euthanasia rate anywhere near 8%.
In a recorded video response about these complaints, Cornelius told her supporters that "not a word of this is true." That is a difficult position to take given that the most important complaints are documented in the organization's own reports. She also insists that she has never ordered the killing of any animals. She says she has a veterinarian who makes those decisions. But, the fact of the matter is this: She is the CEO of GBHS. It would be highly improper for a veterinarian to be given carte blanche authority to kill any animal for any reason. The buck stops at the desk of Cornelius, and the desks of the Board of Directors. Furthermore, many decisions, like whether or not the foster program is open or not, are unlikely to be being made by the veterinary staff. With that in mind, consider the following:
Pancake, according to all accounts, including his most recent veterinary records, was a young, healthy, vaccinated, microchipped, neutered, friendly orange male cat. He liked to go on walks with his family. Though he enjoyed spending time outdoors, he mostly stayed in the yard, except for occasional excursions into the neighbor's yard because the neighbor put food out for some of the neighborhood cats.
His family last saw him on Tuesday, September 5, 2017, just a short while before Pancake's life would likely be ended and his family would be sent on a weeks-long effort to try to unravel what happened. In the end, it appears that what did happen was this: Shortly after 1:00 PM on September 5, the neighbor who fed neighborhood cats, incorrectly believing that he was stray, brought him to GBHS.
"Tuesday there was a storm," said Jase Fitzwater, Pancake's owner. "So, I figured he got scared or something and ran and hid somewhere, that he'd come back."
But, when he didn't come back Fitzwater began looking all over for him, and putting up lost cat posters in vets offices and things.
"And, the first place I had actually gone to was the Greater Birmingham Humane Society's Snow Drive location. And, they said they have not seen a cat like that," he added.
After checking other vets in the area he then went to the GBHS 5th Avenue location where someone said, "I think I've seen that cat." But, after checking the facility, Fitzwater didn't find Pancake there.
Eventually, he checked with the neighbor who told him that he had called animal control (thinking Pancake was stray) and they told him to take the cat to the GBHS 5th Avenue location. The neighbor claims that GBHS told him that, because he had been feeding cats, including Pancake, he needed to sign "owner surrender" paperwork.
For those unfamiliar with the legalities involved in animal intake, if an animal comes in as a stray, there is a mandatory stray-hold period enforced. However, in Alabama, as in many states, if a pet is surrendered by their owner, there is no hold period. They can legally be killed on arrival.
After talking with the neighbor, he gave Fitzwater the GBHS intake receipt. "He also gave me a copy of a piece of paper he had written on trying to find information."
Armed with the receipt and other evidence that Pancake was brought to GBHS, Fitzwater went back to GBHS. When they still couldn't find Pancake, GBHS reportedly told him that Pancake was "in transport" between the facilities. Now, more than a month later Fitzwater says GBHS still has still not told him what happened to Pancake. They have, however, told his wife that if they have any legal recourse, it is against the neighbor, for having signed owner-surrender paperwork, that the neighbor says they told him to sign.
Whether or not the neighbor told GBHS Pancake was his cat, or whether GBHS told him to sign owner-surrender paperwork, we will probably never know. One thing we do know is that animal shelters have a moral and legal responsibility to verify ownership when people surrender pets, before destroying them or relinquishing them to any other party. Given that GBHS cannot seem to find Pancake in their system, even though Fitzwater has an intake number and Pancake was microchipped, the most obvious conclusion to reach is that they killed Pancake on arrival, or very shortly thereafter. Therefore, by the time, Fitzwater rushed to GBHS to reclaim his pet, Pancake was almost certainly already dead.