No-kill failure leaves city without an animal shelter
FORT SMITH, Arkansas––As of July 17, 2019, just over a month from now and maybe sooner, the second-biggest city in Arkansas is likely to be without a functional animal shelter and humane society for the first time in 81 years.
Anticipating the loss of the shelter, Fort Smith animal control officers reportedly quit impounding animals on June 1, 2019.
Flooding along the Arkansas River has hit Fort Smith hard in 2019, but that is not what put the HOPE Humane Society underwater, in foreclosure, drowning in pit bulls and now without the contract to operate the Fort Smith Animal Shelter which for 81 years kept the society afloat.
Accountability, maintenance, & management issues
Accountability issues are part of the HOPE Humane Society morass. The HOPE Humane Society has yet to post either audited financial statements or IRS Form 990 for either 2017 or 2018.
Years of neglecting maintenance of the Fort Smith Animal Shelter are another part of the crisis. Almost every visible surface needs pressure washing and paint.
Administrative instability has contributed, along with apparently excessive reliance on volunteers to do work that most successful humane societies reserve for trained professional staff.
Distilled mission down to saving pit bulls
But the biggest problem, contributing to all the rest, including chronic overcrowding to the point that animals have allegedly suffered, may have been that the HOPE Humane Society condensed the mission of the organization down to just preserving the lives of behaviorally problematic pit bulls, in an all-out attempt to go “no kill.”
This appears to have been done at any cost to everything else that the community funded the HOPE Humane Society to be doing, through donations, bequests, and the animal control housing contract, and in disregard of why the HOPE Humane Society itself said it existed.
“The purpose of this society is the prevention of cruelty to animals, the relief of suffering among animals, the placement of animals in responsible homes, and the extension of humane education,” says the mission statement of the HOPE Humane Society, incorporated in 1937 as the Sebastian County Humane Society.
Elaborates the HOPE Humane Society web site, “We promote the notion that human and animal life are interdependent and that all animals, human and non-human alike, have needs and rights; most importantly, the right not to be abused but to be loved and respected for who they are.”
On April 1, 2016––April Fool’s Day, appropriately enough–– the then newly renamed HOPE Humane Society embarked upon a two-year plan to transition the Fort Smith Animal Shelter, which it had operated since 1940, to no-kill.
Tried to do 10 years worth of work in just two years
There was never any realistic chance, based on the accomplishments of other shelters which have either made or attempted similar transitions, that the goal could be achieved.
As recently as 2011 the Fort Smith Animal Shelter euthanized 5,725 dogs and cats, a rate of 45.4 per 1,000 human residents of the service radius, which includes Sebastian and Crawford counties in Arkansas, parts of two other Arkansas counties, and a bit of neighboring Oklahoma.
This was about four times as many animals per thousand people as the U.S. national average, and ten times as many animals per thousand people as are euthanized at all the shelters combined that serve the major metropolitan areas––both in the U.S. and worldwide––in which anything approaching “no kill” animal control sheltering has actually been achieved.
To get Fort Smith Animal Shelter intake down to where “no kill” might have been a reasonable goal, based on real-world achievements, would have taken a decade-plus of intensive spay/neuter outreach and education to reduce the numbers of animals in need.
Ordinance mandating s/n for pit bulls might have helped
While puppies are seldom surrendered to animal shelters in communities with successful spay/neuter programs, seven puppies were abandoned at the HOPE Humane Society door as recently as May 15, 2019. The abandonment was reportedly captured by a security camera, but the puppies were there for twelve hours before being discovered.
This suggests that the security camera was not monitored, and therefore was essentially useless for ensuring either humane care of animals or prompt response to any sort of emergency.
Legislation requiring sterilization of pit bulls––and strict enforcement of the legislation––could have helped. Almost all of the dogs the HOPE Humane Society was left with after losing the Fort Smith animal sheltering contract were pit bulls, many of whom had been there, or in fostering, for many months. Among the last dozen pit bulls in the kennels, after many dozens were transferred elsewhere, was one whom the HOPE Humane Society management said had been kenneled for 471 days.
Predictably, in the three years since April Fool’s Day 2016, the HOPE Humane Society mission as practiced day-to-day appears to have narrowed to the slogan that was eventually emblazoned beside the shelter door, alongside a 10-foot-high pit bull painted by University of Arkansas communication director Rachel Rodemann Putman:
“Be kind. Work hard. Rescue dogs.”
Even those six words were ignored for several weeks preceding May 31 and June 1, 2019.
Forgetting “the relief of suffering among animals” and that “human and animal life are interdependent,” and forgetting especially that “all animals, human and non-human alike, have needs and rights,” even forgetting “Be kind” to sentient animals other than pit bulls, the HOPE Humane Society promoted a fundraising “Hooters Crawfish Boil” that ran for six hours each day.
The HOPE Humane Society promoted boiling crawfish alive to help fund efforts to rehome an inventory of as many as 100 pit bulls before “handing over the keys and closing its doors for good,” as KFTA television news put it five days later.
Margaret D. Ravenscroft
Some might say the HOPE Humane Society is closing for very good, as it long ago ceased serving the animals and the 126,000-plus residents of Fort Smith and suburbs in a manner consistent with either the original Sebastian County Humane Society mission statement or the version posted to the web.
For that matter, the HOPE Humane Society in recent years also operated in apparent disregard of the November 11, 1940 verdict of the Arkansas Supreme Court that allowed the Fort Smith Animal Shelter to be built in the first place.
The first $8,500 toward the construction of the shelter, equivalent to $155,154 in 2019 dollars, was donated in 1938 by Margaret D. Ravenscroft, of Santa Barbara, California, who at about the same time endowed several other funds for “unfortunate dogs” around the U.S. and Australia.
Then-Sebastian County Humane Society president Della Carr Bailey, who opposed a Fort Smith ordinance requiring that dogs be vaccinated against rabies, sought to freeze the funding with a lawsuit. Bailey contended, as Associated Press summarized, that “the society had failed to meet some of the conditions of Mrs. Ravenscroft’s donation, including the requirement that the city repeal its ordinance requiring compulsory vaccination of dogs.”
The Arkansas Supreme Court held that complying with Ravenscroft’s conditions did not require enforcing policies which did not actually benefit “unfortunate dogs,” were contrary to maintaining public health and safety, and contradicted the intent of the donor that Fort Smith should have an animal shelter.
“Great strides” had shelter at double capacity in just six months
From out of the ruins of the failure and foreclosure soon to shutter the HOPE Humane Society may come a new humane society, genuinely founded on the understanding that all animals suffer, including the understandings that none should ever be boiled alive, and that rehoming pit bulls who have already killed or injured other animals and humans, or whose behavior otherwise indicates that they cannot safely share homes with other animals and children, is not “the placement of animals in responsible homes.”
The Fort Smith Animal Shelter, after several expansions, had a maximum capacity of 300 animals. Six months after the April Fool’s Day 2016 decision to go no-kill, the HOPE Humane Society claimed to be “making great strides,” but acknowledged that “There are 400 to 500 animals in the shelter at any given time.”
Mobile adoption vehicle
At the same time, the HOPE Humane Society told donors, “The shelter spays or neuters and microchips every adoptable animal who comes through the shelter.”
Also, the HOPE Humane Society announced, “A free range cat room and kitten room have been completed, repairs to our air conditioning have been done, and puppy boxes have been added to the lobby.”
An adoption advertising campaign had begun.
“We are also excited to say that thanks to a national foundation, we have received funding to help purchase a mobile adoption vehicle,” the HOPE Humane Society said.
More “great strides”
But the HOPE Humane Society still needed $45,000, a reasonable donation target, to “begin repair and replacement of” 200 dog kennels.
Two years into the attempted conversion to no-kill, in April 2018, the HOPE Humane Society boasted that “Since 2013,” three years before the no-kill plan became policy, “we have adopted out over 2,000 cats and over 4,800 dogs into loving homes and to loving families.
“Since we started our no-kill plan in April 2016,” the HOPE Humane Society claimed, “we have decreased the number of cats put down by 93%, the number of dogs put down by 87%, and the plan is not complete yet. We have increased cat adoptions by 144% and dog adoptions by 232%.”
Fox 24 News reporter Haley Hughey, however, on July 18, 2018 mentioned that the HOPE Humane Society had “130 people on a wait list to surrender their animals,” a bottleneck believed to have been contributing to animal abandonments.
Saved 16 animals & sent 119 to other shelters
Countered the HOPE Humane Society, “In June 2018, Fort Smith animal control officers took 261 animals to HOPE Humane Society. Of those, only 62 animals were able to be reunited with their owners and only 46 of the 62 animals returned to owners were claimed within the city’s imposed ‘5-day stray hold.’ This means that 16 animals with owners would have been euthanized,” if the HOPE Humane Society had not continued to hold them beyond the city-funded mandate.
“HOPE was able to transfer 119 animals out to other no-kill shelters to be adopted and HOPE was able to get 54 adopted out to new owners,” the humane society statement added.
By then the average number of animals housed per day, the HOPE Humane Society said, had increased to “450-500 animals on any given day,” but critics alleged that the society was housing substantially more.
800 animals in space for 250
At a September 4, 2018 town hall meeting called to discuss the Fort Smith Animal Shelter overcrowding problem, shelter personnel acknowledged having “almost 800” animals on the premises, according to KFSM reporter Casey Frizzell.
“They say they will have to start euthanizing animals if they don’t find a solution soon,” Frizzell told KFSM viewers.
The town hall meeting brought a $10,000 donation from the First Presbyterian Church,” Frizzell mentioned, but the overcrowding problem remained far from solved.
New director lasted six weeks
In February 2019 the HOPE Humane Society hired a new executive director, Jarrod Ricketts, an 11-year U.S. Air Force military police dog handler from Van Buren, Arkansas, who had subsequently served as an animal control officer in Greenwood, Arkansas.
Ricketts and HOPE Humane Society board president Sam Terry on March 23, 2019 welcomed Fort Smith city director Neal Martin to tour the shelter.
Reported Martin, “There are still 405 dogs at the facility. The maximum capacity [for dogs] is 250. Many dogs never get out of their cages because there are not enough volunteers to take them out and walk them, and there are just too many dogs. Many cages have feces and urine [in them] because the dogs don’t ever get out of their cages. Because of the over capacity, there are [temporary] cages all over the facility to house these dogs. The roof is leaking and they have duct problems.”
Ricketts was fired in the first week of April.
“I was caught off guard, I was blindsided, I’m shocked, and I’ve heard from a lot of people that they’ve seen a lot more change in the six weeks that I’ve been there then they have had in the past three years,” Ricketts told Veronica Ortega of KFSM News 5.
Ricketts, summarized Ortega, said “There are only two reasons why he can see for the sudden dismissal. The first setting was expectations and holding employees accountable, and second was his beliefs on euthanasia. Ricketts says HOPE is a no-kill shelter, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t euthanasia. He says that can happen at any shelter for various reasons like health or behavioral issues.”
The HOPE Humane Society told media only that it had “elected to recruit and hire a new executive director.”
Fort Smith pulled the plug
The beginning of the end came, the HOPE Humane Society announced, when “At a special study session held on May 20, 2019, the City of Fort Smith Board of Directors declined to renew its contract with the HOPE Humane Society to impound animals from Fort Smith Animal Control,” essentially because the city board was unwilling to increase the $640,000-a-year contract amount to enable the society to continue to indefinitely house several hundred more pit bulls than the rated capacity of the shelter.
One former volunteer alleged that the HOPE Humane Society at the time had, besides the several hundred pit bulls in the building, nearly 400 more in fostering. There was no way for ANIMALS 24-7 to verify the claim, but almost every photo and video posted by the HOPE Humane Society itself and by active volunteers in 2018 and 2019 showed pit bulls. Few images showed cats or dogs of other breed types.
Continued the May 21, 2019 HOPE Humane Society statement, “A central point of disagreement between HOPE and the city is HOPE’s no-kill philosophy, which holds that dogs and cats should not be euthanized for make space for other dogs and cats. As contract negotiations progressed, it became apparent that HOPE’s no-kill philosophy is incompatible with the views of several of our city directors, whose decision reflects the view that animals should be killed after a few days of being unclaimed by their owners.”
“Small-scale animal rescue”
The HOPE Humane Society statement went on to rip the Fort Smith city management for having “failed to adopt a spay and neuter ordinance seven years ago,” five years before the HOPE Humane Society decided to go no-kill, and for having rejected a dog licensing ordinance in 2018, despite a mountain of data showing that there is no intrinsic relationship between dog licensing and overpopulation.
Concluded the HOPE Humane Society statement, “It is the goal of HOPE’s board of directors to continue as a small-scale animal rescue organization,” much as the Sebastian County Humane Society was before Margaret D. Ravenscroft sent her $8,500 to fund building the shelter, “possibly continuing some transport operations, and to continue efforts to persuade city leadership to adopt ordinances that address the very real problems that our city faces.”
Pit bull proliferation brings attacks
First among those problems, as regards animal control, would be the pit bull proliferation which not only filled the Fort Smith Animal shelter to more than three times the rated capacity for dogs within two years of the HOPE Humane Society introducing the no-kill policy, but also is contributing to ever more frequent and serious dog attacks.
Among those of note, Fort Smith residents Joanna Brewer, 42, and Albert Macdade, 74, in May 2016 suffered bites and head and back injuries from an attack by free-roaming pit bulls just six weeks after the HOPE Humane Society no-kill policy came into effect. Macdade, who responded to Brewer’s screams and was knocked down by one of the pit bulls, wounded that pit bull with a handgun. Both pit bulls then ran away.
Harry West, 66, was mauled by four free-roaming pit bulls and his own small dog was pulled from his arms and killed in February 2018. The HOPE Humane Society euthanized those four pit bulls, by agreement of the owner.
In March 2019 a free-roaming pit bull who reportedly already had a history of attacking other animals killed a chihuahua.
Pit bulls evacuated
Following the May 21, 2019 announcement of impending closure, the HOPE Humane Society focused on transporting as many pit bulls as possible to other no-kill organizations, few if any of which were publicly identified.
Spay Arkansas was thanked for providing free spay/neuter to low-income pit bull adopters, leading to the question what became of the in-house spay/neuter program the HOPE Humane Society touted just a year earlier, and why any animals, especially pit bulls, were offered for adoption before being fixed.
The American SPCA disaster response team was “on the ground in Arkansas to assist animals impacted by historic flooding,” according to an ASPCA electronic appeal, but the appeal made no mention of anything done to help bail out the HOPE Humane Society, despite the long ASPCA history of aggressive pit bull advocacy.
Wings of Rescue, sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, on June 8, 2019 flew 300 animals from Arkansas to Washington state, collected from the Conway Animal Welfare Unit, Little Rock Animal Village, the Saline County Humane Society, and the Northeast Arkansas Humane Society. No mention was made of any animals from Fort Smith.
From June 5, 2019 to June 12, 2019 the Fort Smith Animal Shelter population gradually declined from 45 pit bulls to 23, according to Facebook postings.
Fort Smith seeks new shelter contractor
The Fort Smith city board of directors meanwhile authorized city administrator Carl Geffken to prepare specifications for a new animal control shelter contractor.
The new contractor is to be “qualified in the fields of municipal animal control, impoundment, and managing a dog licensing program that would incentivize residents to sterilize their pets,” deputy city administrator Jeff Dingman told Southwest Times-Record reporter Jadyn Watson-Fisher.
Fort Smith city director Neal Martin meanwhile scrambled to counter rumors inflamed by HOPE Humane Society volunteers that the pet cemetery the society had maintained for about sixty years might become a parking lot.
“You’re free to come any time, gather your loved one’s headstone, gather your loved ones remains if that’s what you wish to do,” HOPE Humane Society spokesperson Elizabeth Johnson had told a television audience.
Martin said the city had made no decision about what to do with the property, and had not heard from anyone interested in it.