Breaking News: Pueblo Residents Demand Investigation into Pueblo Animal Services Lobbying and Roboca
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
We recently reported that the Humane Society of Pikes Peak Region (HSPPR), which runs Pueblo Animal Services (PAS) under a contract they have with the City of Pueblo, Colorado, appears to have been using PAS resources in order to lobby citizens in what seems to be an overt conflict of interest, to continue killing and avoid oversight.
The basic issue is that a proposed new ordinance, the Pueblo Animal Protection Act (PAPA), would require the Pueblo animal shelter to do more to save animals' lives in order to reduce its unusually high kill rate. According to State records, PAS and HSPPR have two of the lowest save rates of any shelters in the state.
A significant portion of HSPPR's annual revenue comes from their Pueblo contract, which also generates additional donations to the organization, because it runs the shelter. The total income is substantial; enough that HSPPR pays their CEO, Jan McHugh-Smith, a comfy $200,000 salary, plus other compensation. Income between HSPPR and PAS totals about $7.4 million, just for government contracted services alone, like the contract with the City of Pueblo. Include donations and other income (from adoption fees, etc.) and the total income is over $14 million, adding up to PAS, HSPPR and Smith having massive conflicts of interest relating to the discussion of PAPA.
Normal ethical standards would require, therefore, that PAS, HSPPR and Smith avoid unnecessary participation in public debate about the proposed ordinance, or in the very least, disclose their conflicts of interest whenever they do participate. They have done neither of those things. Instead, they have been the most vocal public opponent to PAPA, making dire predictions about the impact the ordinance would have on animals, none of which - it should be emphasized - have occurred in places similar laws have been enacted. Even worse: as their arguments have been systemically and publicly debunked, they have continued heating up their rhetoric, sometimes appearing to use public resources, and misusing their positions as government agents, for the purpose of lobbying against the regulation PAPA would apply to them.
For example, Smith recently mailed a letter, on PAS letterhead, to PAS supporters, urging them to contact City Council members to vote No on PAPA. She even included a sample letter and the City Council members names and contact information. Using City resources (including letterhead, identity and mailing lists) in order to engage the citizens of Pueblo to contact City Council to help her and her organization avoid the accountability written into this proposed law, represents an egregious abuse of her position as a paid contractor for the City.
As bad as all of that is, it gets worse. Shortly after we published our story about Smith's lobbying letter, we began getting complaints from Pueblo citizens that they had received robocalls from Smith asking them to contact City Council to tell them to vote "no" on PAPA. Shortly after that, we were able to obtain a recording of the robocall. In the recording, Smith says (emphasis added):
"Hi. This is Jan McHugh-Smith, CEO of Pueblo Animal Services. I'm calling with an important update on the Pueblo Animal Protection Act.This Monday Councilman Chris Nicoll is planning to ask City Council to reschedule the public hearing to December 26 at 7 PM. For the sake of the animals and community safety, please take a moment to contact your County commissioners and City Council and urge them to vote no on the Pueblo Animal Protection Act.Thank you."
There is no rational way to interpret Smith's behavior as anything other than using her position as a paid agent of the City of Pueblo in order to influence a vote on an ordinance that would regulate her own agency. If that is not gross misconduct and abuse of her position, we do not know what would be.
Not only has PAS inappropriately inserted themselves into a discussion in which they have massive conflicts of interest, they have not been honest about what they have been saying in that conversation. Councilman Nicoll outlined some of the misinformation, and some of the other deceptive tactics being used by PAS and HSPPR, in a piece he wrote in the Pueblo Chieftain. In response, a group known as Reform Pueblo Animal Services has distributed a press release calling on Pueblo City Council launch an investigation into HSPPR, PAS and Smith's efforts to lobby against PAPA.
It should be noted that the primary excuse both HSPPR and PAS have used to excuse their higher-than-other-Colorado-shelters kill rates has been so-called "pet overpopulation." However, as Reform Pueblo has routinely pointed out, if pet overpopulation were real, PAS kennels would be full and they would have many animals available for adoption. In fact, as this story is going to press, there are only three dogs available for adoption on their web site, and there are many empty cages/kennels at the shelter. Advocates in Pueblo say this is the norm, not the exception.
Meanwhile a petition asking that City Council members vote in favor of PAPA has already gained nearly 5,000 signatures, even as PAS continues killing with cages and kennels left empty in the shelter. Today a citizen in Pueblo chose to go there, take pictures and send them to us. These are only some of empty cages/kennels throughout the PAS shelter. They pretty much destroy the excuse of killing due to so-called "pet overpopulation." By our count today, they had about 50 empty dog kennels and gobs of space for cats, too.