Humane Society of Fremont County director Rae was would-be savior of Pueblo no-kill experiment while his own shelter allegedly went to hell
CANON CITY, Colorado––Five weeks after Humane Society of Fremont County executive director Doug Rae told Pueblo Chieftan reporter Tracy Harmon that he knew how to “turn around” the Pueblo Animal Services shelter, following three months of mismanagement by the no-kill Community Animal Services of Pueblo, Rae and the Humane Society of Fremont County are in similar deep excrement themselves.
Reported Tony Kovaleski of “the Denver Channel,” KMGH-Channel 7, “Accusations against the Humane Society of Fremont County include warehousing dogs [in a manner] that creates unnecessary suffering, using expired euthanizing medications, allowing dogs with bite histories to go to a home with a child, and poorly managing dogs who go crazy from prolonged stays in a caged environment.”
Five staff resigned
Five Humane Society of Fremont County staff resigned in mid-April 2019 and took their complaints to the humane society board, just two weeks after Rae suggested that the Humane Society of Fremont County might be able to bail out the mess at the Pueblo Animal Services shelter.
Rae on March 28, 2019 wrote to the Pueblo city and county governments that he and Humane Society of Fremont County shelter manager Kelly Ramos “logged a combined 152 hours in just one week” trying to help Community Animal Services of Pueblo, just before the organization surrendered the shelter management contract.
The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, which previously managed the Pueblo Animal Services shelter, returned to managing it on April 9, 2019.
(See “No-kill” debacle: will Pueblo bring “responsible sheltering” into vogue?)
“Suffering, going crazy”
“We are drowning in dogs who shouldn’t be in kennels, who are suffering, who are going crazy,” Humane Society of Fremont County volunteer Kathy McGregor told Kovaleski. “We are not allowed to tell anybody about it.”
Said Kovaleski, “An example of the problems at the shelter is a dog named Toy Man,” a black Labrador mix. “The dog was recently allowed to go home with a couple who had a young child. Insiders said Toy Man had a bite history and should not have been allowed into a home with a young child.
“Within days of leaving the shelter, Toy Man bit again,” Kovaleski continued. “Former employees and the shelter have confirmed he bit the young child in the face, causing more than 40 stitches.”
Expired euthanasia drugs
On the rare occasions when Rae authorized euthanasia, former Humane Society of Fremont County employee Taylor Staton told Kovaleski, “We only had expired euthanizing drugs––expired by like three or four years.”
The drugs in question, two bottles of Fatal Plus, are rated by the manufacturer as having a shelf life of two years. While Fatal Plus may remain lethal indefinitely, anecdotally it gradually becomes inconsistent as it ages past the rated shelf life.
Staton quit after seven months at the Humane Society of Fremont County.
“I would go home & just lose it”
Another of Kovaleski’s sources, Kelly Ramos, the shelter manager throughout Rae’s tenure, told Kovaleski on camera, “I would go home at night and just lose it. I mean, the job is hard enough without having to be made to use expired drugs to euthanize animals and watch them suffer and die.”
Reported Kovaleski, “Ramos and others said shelter director Doug Rae was responsible for the decision to use the expired medications and not replace them with current meds.”
Ramos, Rae’s first hire after he became executive director of the Humane Society of Fremont County, had been his most trusted employee.
Rae: “I could not be prouder of Kelly”
Posted Rae to Facebook on March 22, 2019, of his attempted intervention at the Pueblo Animal Shelter, with Ramos at his side, “I instructed Kelly to take the operational lead for the entire shelter and to start making wholesale improvements and changes. I gave Kelly full authority to do whatever she wanted to do. And boy did she.
“As I was moving quickly from one end of the shelter to the other with a note pad in hand,” Rae wrote, “I noticed that Kelly seemed to be in her zone more than usual. It was quite something to see Kelly directing employees she just met minutes earlier, getting dirty with every aspect of operations.
“I could not be any prouder of Kelly for the job she did. Kelly was remarkable.”
Flunked state inspection
Ramos’ criticisms of Rae’s management were affirmed by a surprise inspection from investigators with Colorado’s Department of Agriculture, Kovaleski said.
The inspection “uncovered more than a half dozen violations” of state laws and regulations, Kovaleski summarized.
“Many in the group [of current and former Humane Society of Fremont County personnel who came forward] said the heart of the issue is the shelter’s focus on its ‘no kill’ philosophy,” specifically trying to maintain a 90% “live release” rate.
Winograd said Rae ran one of two best shelters
Maintaining a 90% “live release rate” is the definition of “no kill” propounded by the Best Friends Animal Society, Maddie’s Fund, and the No Kill Advocacy Center.
Rae, a former Hickory Farms operations manager, in a 2009 interview credited his interest in humane work to having met No Kill Advocacy Center founder Nathan Winograd at a Best Friends No More Homeless Pets conference in 2002. Rae has said he attended the conference after having had to euthanize his own dog after the dog mauled a child and he could not find a no-kill shelter to accept the dog.
Winograd in 2017 honored the Humane Society of Fremont County under Rae’s management as purportedly one of the two best in the country.
Why 90% “live release” rate is 100% nuts
But using a “90% live release rate” as a measure of animal shelter performance is that it fails to take into account that far more than 10% of the animals a shelter receives may be inappropriate for rehoming, especially if successful spay/neuter programs minimize intake of accidental and unwanted puppies and kittens.
As the number of heathy and recoverable animals a shelter receives drops, the number of dangerous dogs the shelter receives may hold steady, for instance, yet become an ever higher percentage of the animals in the shelter. This in turn means the shelter cannot continue to have a 90% “live release” rate without taking ever more chances in rehoming dangerous dogs.
“I didn’t see this coming”
“During a 25-minute on-camera interview,” Kovaleski said, “Rae took personal responsibility and accountability for everything addressed by his former employees and volunteers. At the end of the interview, Rae started tearing up and said, ‘It just hurts, it just hurts. I should have never let this happen. But it’s not going to happen again. You have my word on that. I think I’ve learned a wicked big lesson here.’”
Rae, who has lost several previous shelter management jobs for similar reasons, also insisted to Kovaleski, “I didn’t see this coming for the life of me.”
Current and former Humane Society of Fremont County staff and volunteers wondered on social media how Rae could have walked through the kennels for the four and a half years since he was hired without seeing the severity of the problems that the Colorado’s Department of Agriculture inspections confirmed.
Rae claimed he could teach Pueblo how
An equally obvious question is why Rae believed he could resolve the problems at the Pueblo Animal Services shelter while similar problems festered at the Humane Society of Fremont County, literally right under his nose.
Wrote Rae on March 28, 2019 to the city council and county commissioners of Pueblo, “There is no reason why the Pueblo Animal Shelter cannot have the same success, the same prestige, the same trust of the community, elected officials, and the media,” as he claimed for the Humane Society of Fremont Count.
“In fact, in order to see that happen,” Rae said, “I reached out to several people at Community Animal Services of Pueblo after it was awarded the contract [to manage the Pueblo Animal Shelter] and asked how Fremont Humane could help. I was prepared to do whatever I needed to do to make sure this transition was as smooth as possible. I was also ready to welcome Community Animal Services of Pueblo employees to Fremont to be trained and/or send my staff up to Community Animal Services of Pueblo to make sure that CASP employees were adequately trained and followed progressive, professional protocols that exceed industry standards. None of that happened.”
Pueblo also followed the Winograd formula
Community Animal Services of Pueblo was established by the 40-year-old Pueblo no-kill organization PAWS for Life, which––like Rae––promotes the 90% “live release” rate, and promised to get the city and county of Pueblo to that goal.
Said Rae, “I can confidently say that Community Animal Services of Pueblo failed because of a dysfunctional PAWS board that has no idea how to manage the Pueblo facility.”
After Community Animal Services of Pueblo surrendered the Pueblo Animal Shelter management contract, Rae hired at least three former CASP employees to replace the five Humane Society of Fremont County personnel who resigned, reported Tracy Harmon for the Pueblo Chieftan.
“It absolutely worked out”
“I would have really been in trouble had I not worked in Pueblo and got to know some of the Community Animal Services of Pueblo staff there. The stars must have been aligned because it absolutely worked out,” Rae told Harmon.
Rae said then, on April 26, 2019, that the resignees had, “Done everything they can to try to get me fired or to resign, but I didn’t fire anybody; they all quit.”
The new staff, Rae said, “are wicked nice, and because of Pueblo we are okay.”
Rae arrived at the Humane Society of Fremont County after brief and often controversial animal shelter management stints in Phoenix, Maryland, where he lasted two and a half years; Philadelphia, where a no-kill animal control agency formed with Nathan Winograd’s guidance lost the animal control contract 13 months after Rae was hired; Indianapolis, where he lasted less than a year as animal control chief; and Warren, Rhode Island.
Much of the controversy surrounding Rae at each stop has been associated with dangerous dogs, especially pit bulls, who were reportedly about 80% of the dog intake Rae handled in Philadelphia and about a third of the dog intake in Indianapolis, but 50% of the dogs who were killed because they could not be rehomed.
Despite the numbers, Rae prominently opposed then-Indianapolis city council member Mike Speedy’s 2009 attempt to pass an ordinance requiring that pit bulls be sterilized.
The Speedy draft ordinance was modeled on legislation in effect in San Francisco since 2006 that within two years cut pit bull intake at the city shelter by more than half.
Speedy was soon afterward elected to the Indiana state legislature, where he has served since 2010.