Animal advocates ready to square off | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Animal advocates ready to square off

Jeff Munson, Tribune city editor

Critics of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society, which closed its shelter in January and put its property up for sale, want to start an animal rescue and spay-neuter organization.

South Shore businessmen Jerry Bond, Rich Hodge and three others who have charged the current Humane Society board with squandering thousands of dollars, will meet Wednesday to discuss how to build a nonprofit organization from the ground floor.

“The Humane Society has said that the community will not support an animal shelter,” Bond said Monday. “We think they’re wrong. We believe the community won’t back the Humane Society.”

On Jan. 4, the three staff members plus the executive director were given notice they would be laid off Jan. 31. It was the second time the shelter closed in six years for financial reasons.

With the Humane Society being 100 percent donation dependent, the funds raised were not enough to keep the shelter open, according to Judy Brown, the group’s treasurer.

Dawn Armstrong, who served as executive director of the Humane Society, has deferred all comments to Brown.

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Bond and others have charged that the shelter hasn’t been forthright with its accounting and have repeatedly been denied access to IRS tax forms by board members.

According to financial information filed with the IRS on Form 990 in 2000 and 2001, the agency’s assets and expenditures are consistent with what the group has publicly stated.

On Web sites that track nonprofit organizations — Guidestar.com and the California Attorney Office Web site — in 2000 the agency’s total assets were listed at $448,502, with revenue that year of $61,960.

The main asset is the building. They are still making payments on the vacant building.

In the 2001 filing, revenue to the Human Society was $166,873 and expenses were $220,932, resulting in a deficit of $54,059. The spike in revenue was from a grant.

The bulk of the expenses was the $68,927 mortgage payment to El Dorado Savings and Loan, followed by salaries and wages for its three employees, which amounted to $67,376 and its former executive director, Dawn Armstrong, who drew a salary of $39,958 for the year.

Other expenses appear to be consistent with running a nonprofit operation.

“I’m happy to see that someone got to see the 990s because there have been several of us who have asked to see them and they’ve given us bank statements,” Hodge said.

Brown said the Humane Society has never been investigated for financial mismanagement and maintains that the cost of operating the facility was more than what was brought in through grants and donations.

Before the shelter closed, Brown estimated its operating cost was about $10,000 a month.

According to a statement by the board of directors, the property on 1063 Magua St. has been appraised at $450,000. Proceeds from the sale of the shelter property will fund ongoing programs, resume suspended programs and possibly add new ones. All work is voluntary.

Brown, the mayor of South Lake Tahoe, and other board members insist the society has been forthright.

“In my three years as a board member, I’ve never seen a problem with accounting,” Brown said. “It is a shame when people have an ax to grind make these kinds of unsubstantiated statements.”

Contacted last week, the Attorney General’s Office reported that all forms and filings have been current, but because of laws regarding confidentiality, declined to say if the nonprofit organization had ever been investigated or audited.

If an audit were to happen regarding finances, it would go to through the Attorney General’s Office. Brown said the society has never been audited.

Critics of the Humane Society have not taken their concerns to El Dorado County law enforcement officials. According to a clerk, there have been no complaints filed through the District Attorney’s Office over the past eight years.

At one point, Bond had gone to the District Attorney’s Office to demand the 990 tax form. But after discussing it with others, he decided to drop the issue and focus his energy on starting the new group.

Bond conceded that he doesn’t think there has been illegal activity.

“My issue with them has been total gross incompetence and mismanagement,” Bond said. “There are so many glaring irregularities, but I don’t think there has been anything illegal.”

Hodge said the new organization, which doesn’t have a name, will focus on providing money for spay and neutering of animals. Once the group gets its nonprofit status, it will begin having fund-raisers, hopefully beginning in the fall.

“Our hopes are to get a productive organization that will address the needs of animals in our community,” Hodge said.

South Shore veterinarian and nine-year Humane Society volunteer Patricia Handal said that unless the critics are in the trenches, their public criticisms should be dismissed as uninformed and without merit.

Even though the society’s doors have been closed, it has been busy, Brown said. The society is using a $3,500 grant for spay-neuter procedures.

Brown said collection coin banks are located in South Shore business where people can drop their spare change. The money collected is used for local emergency veterinary charitable assistance and low-income, spay-neuter vouchers. The emergency pet food bank continues and the society is working with social service organizations and individuals to distribute pet food as needed.

There is no national organization or agency to help with these local needs, Brown said.

The Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA helps with referrals to specific breed resource groups and networking. They support local animal shelter adoption programs by producing the Pet of the Week in the Tahoe Daily Tribune and referring to a variety of animal shelters in the Greater Lake Tahoe region.

Local animal shelters for emergency placement and adoption include:

n El Dorado County Animal Control, (530) 577-1766

n Placer County Animal Control (530) 546-4269

n Pet Network of North Lake Tahoe, (775) 832-4404

n Carson City Animal Services, (775) 887-2171

n Douglas County Animal Control (775) 782-9061

A volunteer trainer is on call to help with problem-solving to keep pets happy in their homes.

All society programs and free information are available by calling (530) 577-4521.

Jeff Munson may be reached at jmunson@tahoedailytribune.com

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