Beleaguered Lake Tahoe Humane Society dissolving; Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe to serve South Shore
After nearly two years of trying to regain public trust in the wake of embezzlement by its former executive director, Lake Tahoe Humane Society is officially dissolving.
In its place, the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe is expanding operations to fill the void left in the South Shore community.
“From the beginning the vision and the highest priority of the current Lake Tahoe Humane Society board has been to restore animal welfare services to the South Lake Tahoe community,” Stephanie Nistler, executive director of the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe, told the Tribune. “And they worked really hard over the last year and just realized that if they worked directly with us that we would be in a better position to restore services to the community quickly.”
Nistler’s words echo a message posted on the Lake Tahoe Humane Society’s website by the nonprofit’s board of directors, who struggled to rebuild trust and restore services that were slashed after news of embezzlement allegations by former Executive Director Niki Congero emerged in April 2017.
Congero pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement in September after an 18-month investigation found she had spent $59,664 of local Humane Society money for personal reasons.
Congero has since been released from custody, according to El Dorado County jail records. As part of her plea agreement, she was ordered to repay the money taken from Lake Tahoe Humane Society.
Congero’s actions did severe damage to the nonprofit, which announced roughly a year later that it was cutting most of its services as it underwent “restructuring.”
A month later, an entirely new board of directors was selected. The board quickly got to work enhancing transparency and undertaking efforts to improve the nonprofit’s financial position.
The damage, however, was too great an obstacle to overcome.
“We realize that the suspension of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society services took a toll on the community and our goal was to restore those much needed services,” states the message posted on the Lake Tahoe Humane Society website. “With that in mind, we are excited to announce that the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe will expand their services to our community.”
The current Lake Tahoe Humane Society board members — all of whom were selected about one year after Congero was fired — will join the Truckee-Tahoe organization’s board, with the goal of providing additional knowledge of the South Shore area.
Restoring services to South Shore
For more than a year the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe has received calls from South Shore residents inquiring about certain services, including the nonprofit’s low-cost spay/neuter program.
A similar service offered by the South Shore-based Humane Society was stopped after the organization reported the embezzlement to police.
Previously the Truckee-Tahoe nonprofit was unable to provide the program beyond its service area of Truckee, Sierra County and eastern Placer County. However, with its expansion into the South Shore, those services are now available to qualifying community members once again. (The application for a voucher can be found here.)
The ultimate goal, according to Nistler, is to establish relationships with local veterinarians so that qualifying residents can use their vouchers without traveling outside the South Lake Tahoe area.
For now, those hoping to access the program will have to travel to the North Tahoe or Truckee areas for the actual procedure.
Aside from restoring the spay/neuter program, the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe is taking over a program that provides pet food to low-income residents. The program, previously ran by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society, will continue uninterrupted, Nistler said.
There also are long-term aspirations of having a paid staff member — ideally a person living in the community — based on South Shore.
“My goal and my hope is that will be sooner than later,” Nistler said. “I think that will be really helpful.”
The Truckee-Tahoe nonprofit also hopes to establish an office on South Shore. The Lake Tahoe Humane Society is in the process of selling its building on Emerald Bay Road. Any profit from the sale will go toward programs and services on South Shore.
It’s uncertain when those future goals will be realized, since they depend on having the necessary funds.
One service the Humane Society won’t be bringing to South Shore is an animal shelter. El Dorado County operates several shelters across the county through its animal services division. Rather than create a redundant service, the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe will work with the county.
Despite the touted benefits, Nistler and others likely will have to contend with perception issues, if for no other reason than the nonprofit’s name.
Nistler said they have already heard from a couple of people who expressed concern that the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe is a Truckee-centric organization.
“The truth is that we have serviced a much broader area than Truckee for a long time. For over 15 years we’ve been providing spay/neuter services as far north as Sierra County and to all of eastern Placer County … so it shouldn’t be a concern,” she said. “We just want to help and we’re excited to start providing these services and resources to people that really, really need them.”
In the message posted online, the Lake Tahoe Humane Society board offered similar assurance, writing that the Truckee-Tahoe organization brings “tremendous expertise and experience.”
“This is a big step for all of us and I think that the community is going to benefit from it,” Nistler said.