Morris mostly told the humane community what it wanted to hear
NEW YORK, N.Y.––Julie Morris, 63, an American SPCA staff member since 1990, and a 41-year veteran of humane work, died on August 3, 2019 after a multi-year battle with cancer.
Among the best-liked and most recognized people in animal welfare, Morris was widely eulogized as a leader, but an ANIMALS 24-7 review of her writings and web postings over the past 30 years found her often affirming what had already become widespread belief, seldom challenging the status quo, especially after joining the ASPCA.
Born on December 30, 1955 in New York City, where she spent most of her life, Morris attended high school in Bethpage, Long Island.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in secondary education from Eastern Michigan University, Morris also attended the Bowling Green State University graduate zoology program.
Shelter career began in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Morris’ career took a turn, however, when in 1978 she accepted a job as a shelter attendant at the Humane Society of Huron Valley in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“I’d never been to a humane society in my life, but the idea of working with animals appealed to me,” Morris told Anita Kelso Edson of Animal Sheltering magazine in 2016.
“Over 10 years, she worked her way up from kennel attendant to executive director,” wrote Kelso-Edson.
Adoption screening insight
In Ann Arbor, Morris recalled to Edson, “We were turning down a lot of potential adopters. Yet we were taking in mountains of animals—15,000 a year—litters and litters of puppies, purebreds, everything.”
Wrote Edson, “Morris arranged for the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research to survey the people whose applications were denied. Most of them acquired a new pet within a month.
“We learned that we hadn’t stopped people from adopting,” Morris concluded. “We only stopped them from adopting one of our animals. And most of those who did get a pet elsewhere hadn’t had them vaccinated, spayed or neutered, or seen a veterinarian—all services we would have provided.”
Moved to the Michigan Humane Society & then the ASPCA
Morris revised the Humane Society of Huron Valley adoption procedure to emphasize placing spayed or neutered animals in homes.
“By the time she left the HSHV,” Edson said, “adoptions had skyrocketed, and annual intake had fallen to 8,000.”
Moving from the Humane Society of Huron Valley to the three-shelter Michigan Humane Society, Morris was director of operations there for about two years before joining the ASPCA.
Was last director of operations for ASPCA animal control shelter
Morris was also initially director of operations at the ASPCA, overseeing the then newly built animal control shelter that was turned over to New York City when at the end of 1994 the ASPCA returned to the city the animal control contract it had held for 100 years.
By the end of 1992, however, Morris had become the ASPCA director of shelter outreach, doing essentially the same job she did for the rest of her career. Her job title, however, evolved into “senior vice president of strategic animal welfare partnerships.”
Among the first topics that Morris influentially addressed as ASPCA director of shelter outreach was animal shelter design, from a perspective including her frustration with the former ASPCA animal control shelter. Supposedly “state-of-the-art” when built, that shelter required extensive renovations within two years, just to be functional, and was already considered conceptually obsolete when the ASPCA left it to be used by the then just formed New York City Department of Animal Care & Control (now called the Animal Care Center of New York.)
Praised “stunning example of the cutting edge”
The San Francisco SPCA in 1996 opened Maddie’s Adoption Center, considered the first of a new approach to shelter design. A year later the Wisconsin Humane Society completed a much less expensive shelter incorporating similar ideas, followed in 1997 by the opening of the present Oregon Humane Society shelter.
The main entrances of these “mall concept” shelters literally resemble the entrances of shopping mall. Major departments are accessed through storefront doorways.
Now emulated by shelters worldwide, the mall atmosphere was then so unique that Morris in 1999 devoted an entire page of the ASPCA Animal Watch magazine to describing what she termed “A stunning example of the cutting edge in animal sheltering.”
“The Future of Animal Shelters”
Morris and Tracy Basile returned to Morris’ 1999 theme in a 2007 article entitled “The Future of Animal Shelters.”
“What’s the first thing you notice when you walk into an animal shelter?” Morris and Basile asked. “The deafening roar of the dogs? The overworked staff? That smell? At the Oakland, California city shelter, people see colorfully painted murals designed by award-winning artist Laurel Burch. Visitors to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, see dogs running, playing and digging in the earth. The San Francisco SPCA offers the weary human traveler a respite at a coffee bar. To ease the stress on felines, humans accompanying cats to the Houston SPCA walk into an entrance separate from the one used with dogs.
“These designs succeed,” Morris and Basile argued, “because they rock the status quo of what animal shelters are supposed to look like and how they are supposed to function.”
The Mayor’s Alliance & “no kill”
Morris in 2004 helped to form the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City’s Animals, an umbrella for more than 100 small local dog and cat rescue organizations who partner with the Animal Care Centers of New York City and the ASPCA to promote adoptions.
The goal of the Mayor’s Alliance is to make New York effectively a no-kill city, in which no healthy dog or cat is killed due to lack of space in shelters and fostering programs.
But many small organizations that have been part of the Mayor’s Alliance at various times have run into animal hoarding issues, a problem that Morris warned against in March 2010, albeit with specific reference to the often troubled Toronto Humane Society, rather than to any of the rescues in and around New York City.
“Some shelters in their quest to be no-kill either end up hoarding animals or keeping them way too long and not thinking of quality of life,” Morris said. “To warehouse animals for years in a small cage so you can say the animal was not euthanized, but the animal is suffering, is insane.”
Brought the Humane Alliance into the ASPCA
Morris was among the voices in animal sheltering who realized that doing more effective high-volume, low-cost dog and cat sterilization would be essential to actually getting any large community to “no-kill.”
Recalled Morris’ ASPCA obituary, “Early on, Julie championed the work of the Humane Alliance,” formed in 1994 in Asheville, North Carolina both to do high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter, and “to train veterinarians across the country in high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter services.”
In 2015 Morris helped to broker a merger that made the Humane Alliance part of the ASPCA program.
National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy
Morris was also involved from inception in the National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy.
The National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy was formed in 1993 by leading national humane organizations after ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton assembled and published an extensive body of data from animal shelters around the U.S. which demonstrated that the then-generally accepted estimates of shelter intake and killing were more than twice as high as the dismal enough reality.
For example, a year later Clifton found that as of 1994, shelters were killing about 5.4 million animals per year. Clifton continued to assemble annual updates of the data through 2014, by which time the toll was down to about 2.7 million animals per year.
The National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy spent two years conducting a formal academic study of 1994 shelter data, published in 1996, which affirmed that the 1994 toll had indeed been about 5.4 million animals.
After that, the National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy funded a variety of further academic studies which mostly just confirmed and updated data already on record from earlier studies, for example about the longevity of pets in homes and reasons for animals being surrendered to shelters.
As well as serving as National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy board president, Morris was also for 20 years a consultant to the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation on animal welfare grant programs; founder and board president of the Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey; and served on the board of directors of Emancipet, a low-cost spay/neuter program based in Austin, Texas.
Morris in January 2005 introduced the ASPCA Imagine Humane website, assisted by animal sheltering Bert Troughton, Karen Medicus and Sue Clement, to share information about shelter management.
But Morris’ most remembered involvement in animal welfare came later in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit Gulfport, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 29.
Helping to coordinate more than 400 rescuers from nearly 100 organizations who had assembled at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, Louisiana, 60 miles north of New Orleans, Morris worked from her office in New York City, but in 2015 recalled “working 20-hour days for weeks on end, which often involved 3:00 a.m. phone calls from ASPCA staff deployed at Lamar-Dixon, with two other staff waiting on hold for her.”
The Lamar-Dixon operations were directed on site by incident commander Dave Pauli of the Humane Society of the U.S., experienced in many previous disasters, beginning when Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in August 1992.
Morris worked most closely with the displaced Louisiana SPCA team headed by Laura Maloney and Laura Lanza, later helping them to secure grant funding used to replace the Louisiana SPCA shelter.
Could Katrina have been foreseen?
Of the estimated 50,000 to 70,000 dogs and cats kept as pets in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, rescuers brought about 7,000 to Lamar-Dixon.
As many as 5,000 animals were handled by unofficial rescue operations that were more loosely coordinated by the Best Friends Animal Society.
“Nobody knows how many people successfully evacuated with their animals,” Morris told media.
Offered Morris in an August 28, 2015 retrospective on Hurricane Katrina, “I don’t think anyone could have predicted the massive flooding and damage and the hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who became temporarily or permanently homeless.”
But Katrina was predicted. No one paid attention.
In truth, though, the whole disaster was quite accurately predicted by New Orleans Times-Picayune reporters Mark Schleifstein and John McQuaid in an August 2002 series about the lack of local planning for a Category 3-4 hurricane. Schleifstein later won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Hurricane Katrina after it happened.
The entire region from Gulfport to New Orleans had in 1957 already experienced a Category 3 hurricane, Audrey, for which it was just as woefully unprepared. Following almost exactly the same path as Katrina, Hurricane Audrey nearly erased the Louisiana coastal communities of Grand Chenier, Creole, and Cameron from the map.
Officially, 390 human bodies were found. The actual death toll easily exceeded 400, about 40% of the Katrina toll, at a time when the region held far fewer than 40% as many people. Whole families were swept out to sea, with no one left to report the missing.
Among the never identified victims was a teenaged girl who drowned clutching a puppy she had tried to rescue. The American Humane Association and the Humane Society of Southwestern Louisiana in Lake Charles recovered just 58 dogs and six cats from the disaster area alive.
Both human and animal victims were hastily buried in mass graves.
“Unprecedented animal rescue efforts”
Morris was more accurate in suggesting, “I don’t think anyone could have predicted the unprecedented animal rescue efforts to save pets from rooftops, damaged homes, flooded roadways and other dangerous predicaments.
“One unintended consequence of rescue efforts,” Morris mentioned, “was that some shelters, rescues and individuals, in the name of animal rescue, disregarded basic humanity for the people of the Gulf Coast, especially those economically disadvantaged, and decided that poor people don’t love their pets and they needed saving from them.
“While many humane organizations worked tirelessly to move pets from Lamar-Dixon to waiting shelters across the country where they could be reunited with owners, some pets were scooped up in the name of ‘saving them’ and sent to other parts of the country with little or no effort to locate their owners. A not-uncommon sentiment was that if the animal was not spayed/neutered or had heartworm, the owner was non-deserving of getting the pet back.
Reunification fund followed lawsuits
“To counteract this impact, the ASPCA started a reunification fund,” which “spent close to $1 million reuniting pets with their owners, who very much were grieving for their pets and looking to be reunited.”
What Morris did not mention is that the ASPCA started the reunification fund only after more than 20 families displaced by Katrina, most of them of African American ancestry, filed lawsuits against humane organizations seeking to recover animals whose photos they recognized on web sites offering the animals for adoption.
In most cases the animals had been left behind only because animals were not allowed into evacuation centers for humans, and/or the displaced people had not been allowed to return to flooded areas to retrieve their animals.
“Disappointed & sad”
The most notorious of those cases was brought against then-Hillsborough County prosecutor Pam Bondi, who later was Florida attorney general. Bondi in October 2005 adopted a St. Bernard from the Humane Society of Pinellas County, who had been left at the St. Bernard Parish Animal Shelter for safekeeping after his people, Steven and Doreen Couture, were forced to evacuate by a broken levee. Bondi did not return the St. Bernard to the Coutures until May 2007.
Concluded Morris, “I’m still in awe of the work that animal advocates did (national, regional, local and individuals) to save animals from peril and save them from an uncertain future. However, I remain disappointed and sad when I think what a small number of shelters, rescue groups and individuals did in the name of ‘saving’ animals from their rightful owners.”
Beginning in 2007, Morris oversaw the ASPCA Partnership, described by the ASPCA as a “collaborative, multi-year effort in key cities across the nation from Miami, Florida, to Spokane, Washington—where each community’s animal control agencies, nonprofit shelters, spay/neuter clinics, and local advocacy groups committed to work together to reduce euthanasia of homeless animals.”
Announced in the wake of the April 2007 arrest of football star Michael Vick for multiple offenses related to dogfighting, the “ASPCA Partnership” might also have been called the “ASPCA pit bull push.”
Pit bull adoptions surged in all participating cities––and so did fatal and disfiguring pit bull attacks, especially in Miami, which has subsequently had three pit bull fatalities despite an unenforced pit bull ban, and in Spokane, which has had no human deaths but has had multiple disfigurements and many mauling deaths of other dogs.
(See Miami pit bull ban update, 2017 edition: “No pit bulls” still means “No pit bulls” and Oregon cities move to bar dogs from public areas, scrolling to subhead “Spokane looks toward Salem for example.”)
“Rachael Ray $100K Challenge”
Morris further contributed to pit bull proliferation through promoting the “ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge,” an adoption drive funded by celebrity chef Rachael Ray, whose own pit bull had already reportedly injured at least three other dogs and Ray herself.
“The ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge launched in 2010 and ran annually through 2014,” according to ASPCA publicity.
Four of the 25 shelters receiving cash grants through the Rachael Ray program offered dogs for rehoming who subsequently disfigured people, either in the shelters themselves or soon after being taken home.
“Use Your Words”
Morris summarized many of her beliefs about animal sheltering in a March 3, 2017 essay entitled “Use Your Words.”
“Pet overpopulation,” Morris began, “is a simple phrase often used in attempt to describe a complex, varied and dynamic issue. Though there may be disagreement among groups as to whether overpopulation exists, the better question for any community to consider is whether or not the community has the capacity to care for pets who are at risk or homeless in that community—and if not, how can those resources be made available?”
“There may be regional pockets that have too much supply and not enough demand,” Morris wrote, “but overpopulation as an overall term sends the wrong message.”
“Forever Home” & the Holy Grail
Seeking a “forever home” for a shelter pet, Morris suggested, is “kind of like finding the Holy Grail. Isn’t a loving or caring home enough?”
“No-kill,” Morris continued, “is both aspirational and refers to a host of philosophies and practices around reducing or eliminating euthanasia.
“Euthanasia is literally translated from the Greek root word meaning ‘good death,’ but generally refers to the provision of a humane, pain-free death. Is that the same thing? Is that what happens in all shelters, at all times?
“Most loaded word is ‘adoptable'”
“The most loaded word of all,” Morris said, “is adoptable. The term is commonly used by organizations to denote a set of physical and behavioral characteristics that they deem appropriate for animals available for adoption. But don’t communities differ? Shouldn’t each animal be treated on an individual basis? And what if I (or a member of the public) am interested in adopting an animal who isn’t deemed to be ‘adoptable.’ Does that mean he’s not adoptable? Does that mean I can’t adopt him?”
Omitted from among Morris’ list of questions were, among others, whether a community having a high tolerance for dangerous dogs means a responsible animal shelter should be contributing more dogs to the already risky situation; whether treating each animal on an individual basis should include overlooking genetic traits bred into dogs for 500 or more generations, equivalent in human terms to 9,000 years of systematic genetic selection; and whether any person should be allowed to adopt an animal whose presence will present a continuous risk of death or disfigurement to every other human and animal in the neighborhood.
Covered for David Wills & Scotlund Haisley
Morris appears to have never been personally involved in any of the major scandals that afflicted the several organizations that employed her during her tenure.
But adhering to a creed of saying nothing bad about anyone if she could not say anything good, Morris on multiple occasions over more than 30 years shielded criminality on the part of colleagues and co-workers by repeatedly refusing to testify against them.
Among the beneficiaries of Morris’ silence were David Wills, executive director of the Michigan Humane Society during her years there as director of operations, who was convicted in 1996 of embezzling from the Humane Society of the United States, and Scotlund Haisley, an ASPCA employee early in his career, who went on to work for at least eight other animal advocacy organizations, running into serious issues at all of them, before being charged in early 2019 with armed robbery and domestic violence.
Might have helped bring Wills to justice 30 years ago
Morris’ failure to testify helped to enable both Wills and Haisley to continue their activities for decades after they might have been brought to justice.
Wills is now awaiting a scheduled September 2019 trial in Corpus Christi, Texas, on a federal charge of allegedly trafficking a minor for sexual purposes.
Morris refused to testify against Wills in 1989 when he was suspected of allegedly embezzling $1.6 million from the Michigan Humane Society, but was not criminally charged after multiple former colleagues declined to testify.
Refused to testify against Wills twice more
Morris again refused to testify against Wills in 1995-1996, when as well as being criminally convicted of embezzlement, he was sued by multiple plaintiffs alleging fraud and sexual assault during his time at Michigan Humane and at another short-lived organization that Wills himself founded, as well as at the Humane Society of the U.S.
Among those plaintiffs was Kitty Block, president of HSUS since February 2018.
Morris also refused to testify against Wills in February 2017, after his arrest for allegedly sexually trafficking the minor child, when San Patricio County, Texas district attorney Doug Pettit sought witnesses to provide first-hand testimony about Wills’ prior patterns of behavior at a bail hearing.
Another former Michigan Humane Society employee, Eileen Liska-Stronczer, went even further, not only refusing to testify but also urging others not to, including Morris. Liska-Stronczer died of cancer in November 2017.
Wills has been out on bail ever since.
Haisley, meanwhile, is awaiting trial in Washington D.C. on the alleged domestic violence charges and for allegedly twice robbing a Subway sandwich shop.