Repeated rehomings to cruelty suspect Kaiden Orie Graham squanders longtime Humane Society of Utah reputation for cruelty investigation
MURRAY, Utah––For the second time in 30 days a regionally significant humane society has some explaining to do about a serious cruelty case coming to light shortly after an executive director departed for apparently greener pastures.
Former Humane Society of Utah executive director Vaughn Maurice III, heading the organization since May 2019, hit the road to head the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency in Modesto, California, on June 20, 2022.
That was the very day upon which KSLTV reporter Josh Ellis disclosed criminal charges filed on May 17, 2022 by the Cottonwood Heights Police Department against multi-time Humane Society of Utah adopter Kaiden Orie Graham, 20, whose animals repeatedly met violent, negligent, yet apparently un-investigated ends.
Failure of adoption screening echoes Pennington case
News of the Graham case broke a month after former Kershaw County Humane Society employee Caroline Dawn Pennington, 47, was charged with mass animal neglect after 28 dogs and two cats were found dead in their cages at her home near Columbia, South Carolina, on May 22, 2022.
Acting Kershaw County Humane Society director Jamie Woodington tried to answer questions about the Pennington case, but the severely decomposed animals were apparently all long dead before Pennington succeeded six-month executive director Bob Citrullo in January 2022.
Citrullo, who went on to head the Humane Society of Union County, North Carolina, moved on again in June 2022 to become executive director of the Humane Society of Harford County, in Fallston, Maryland.
Neither Citrullo nor the Humane Society of Utah have answered questions from ANIMALS 24-7 about the Pennington and Graham cases, respectively.
“Farewell to the troops”
If Vaughn Maurice, meanwhile, had anything to say about the Graham case, how the Humane Society of Utah made a farce of adoption screening, and what the society might do about it, he certainly did not mention it in his June 20, 2022 “farewell to the troops” posted on the Facebook page of the Humane Society of Utah.
Instead, acknowledging no fault for any failures whatever, Maurice boasted that “We opened a new clinic in St. George and purchased a large lot for future St. George expansion. We did this while eliminating all our debt, building up over $3 million in reserves, and growing from a $6.2 million annual budget to nearly a $9 million budget.”
But as the financier Bernstein remarks in the 1941 film classic Citizen Kane, “It’s no trick to make a lot of money, if all you want to do is make a lot of money.”
Who is Vaughn Maurice III?
Protecting animals from cruelty, the original and most fundamental role of an animal humane society, requires a certain amount of moral vision as well as fundraising success.
Maurice brought to the Humane Society of Utah, and now to the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency, a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University, a master’s degree from the University of St. Francis, and prior experience as the executive director of the WildCare wildlife rehabilitation center in San Rafael, California; director of development for the Animal Legal Defense Fund in Cotati, California; general manager of Dogs for the Deaf in Medford, Oregon; and executive director of the St. Tammany Humane Society in New Orleans, Louisiana, now renamed the Northshore Humane Society, no relation to the venerable North Shore Animal League of Port Washington, New York.
Maurice’s long resume should have included sufficient experience to learn a bit about the importance of adoption screening, plus employee and volunteer supervision to ensure that “best practice” procedures are followed.
“Best practice” procedures usually include doing home visits to the premises of young first-time adopters, and adopters of multiple animals within a short time frame.
Suspect boasted “Yes, I am mentally ill!”
Maurice might also have learned something along the way about investigating suspect animal injuries and returns, and referring cases for criminal investigation and prosecution.
Indeed, one might expect a semblance of awareness about doing cruelty investigations and prosecutions to have remained at the Humane Society of Utah, even ten years after the 2012 retirement of legendary cruelty investigator John Paul Fox, whose forty years on the job with the same humane organization put him in the top ten of longest tenured employees in the history of U.S. humane work.
Even a cursory online background check of Kaiden Orie Graham might have turned up, as well as his mediocre record as a teenaged hockey player, his social media boasts that, “Yes, I am mentally ill!” and a February 3, 2021 video of him battering a microwave oven to pieces with a sledgehammer.
Said “kaid_grahamcracker” in his accompanying text, “it was 20 to rent the room and then you went into the storage area and weighed buckets full of stuff you wanted to smash and for glass stuff to throw at the wall is was 15 per pound and we did it twice 20 each time and then the smash room we filled a bucket up that was about 40 pounds and smash room stuff were 2$ per pound and then I saw the microwave and was like um yes I wanna smash so we weighed it and it was 52 pounds still at 2$ a pound S0000000.”
For those keeping score at home, that was nearly $200 spent on an orgy of breaking up junk.
But Graham did not have extra money to spend.
On February 23, 2021, Graham posted, “I have to get a second job, I owe the government money, I still don’t have my W2 from Walmart [his apparent employer for a time] for taxes, I’m very thin on money, I had to start my job late because of quarantine so I won’t even be paid for another week and a half, I’m lonely and absolutely stressed beyond all reason and I just want a hug.”
Adopting animals cost less than smashing junk
Just wanting a hug might have impressed someone as reason for adopting a pet, even without the resources to take care of a pet.
But another obvious way to look at Graham’s situation should have been that the adoption fees for five unfortunate animals the Humane Society of Utah turned over to Graham may have added up to less than the cost of smashing junk..
Recounted Josh Ellis of KSLTV, “Graham adopted seven dogs between March 2021 and January 2022. According to court documents:
“Graham adopted Ragnarok in March 2021. The dog weighed 57.6 pounds and was healthy when adopted from the Humane Society of Utah. Graham returned the dog to the society weighing 43 pounds.”
That by itself should have prompted a “do not adopt” notice in the Humane Society of Utah screening system, and an investigation of probable criminal neglect.
Five dogs in 150 days
Yet Graham was allowed to adopt two more dogs, Layla and Heidi, whom he also returned to the Humane Society of Utah within weeks. Why Layla and Heidi were returned, and in what condition, Ellis did not mention.
“After returning the second and third dogs,’ Ellis continued, “Graham adopted Gravy on July 11. Gravy was healthy when adopted. Graham called the Humane Society the next day, claiming Gravy had a seizure and fell from the couch. Three days later, Gravy was taken to an animal hospital and was euthanized.”
Yet there apparently was still no Humane Society of Utah follow-up investigation.
“Graham adopted Arnold on July 22, 2021,” Ellis said, “and returned him the next day, saying Arnold was not eating, was vomiting, and was falling over.”
At that point, after Graham had gone through five dogs in 150 days, Ellis recounted, “The Humane Society placed Graham on a ‘no-adopt’ list. Exploratory surgery found Arnold had injuries to the liver, including bruising and lesions.”
Even then the case was apparently not referred for criminal investigation and possible prosecution.
Made aware of Ellis’ article by an email from longtime People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals staff member Teresa Chagrin, ANIMALS 24-7 forwarded the obvious questions to the Humane Society of Utah:
• Why was Kaiden Orie Graham allowed to adopt any animal after returning his first adoption 14.6 pounds, 25% of normal body weight, underweight?
• Why was Kaiden Orie Graham allowed to adopt a fourth dog after already having returned three dogs to the Humane Society of Utah?
• Why was Kaiden Orie Graham not referred for criminal investigation and prosecution after the suspicious death of his fourth adopted dog?
• Why was Kaiden Orie Graham allowed to adopt a fifth dog from the Humane Society of Utah after four previous adoption failures, at least two of them indicating reasons for criminal investigation and prosecution?
• Kaiden Orie Graham was put on the Humane Society of Utah “no adopt list” after returning the fifth dog, also under circumstances warranting criminal investigation and prosecution. Why was this overdue investigation not pursued?
• Finally, what is the Humane Society of Utah doing to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again?
Consequences of inaction
Since the Graham case had already begun to receive national attention, one might have expected the Humane Society of Utah to have glib stock answers already prepared, ready to send to questioning donors and media, but apparently not.
Meanwhile, the repeated failure of the Humane Society of Utah to investigate and initiate prosecution of evident alleged cruelty had further consequences.
Explained Ellis, “On July 29, 2021, Graham adopted Freya from a West Jordan pet store. The dog was treated for a broken leg two weeks later. Graham said Freya broke her leg on equipment at a dog park. The wound was treated, but Graham did not return to get the bandage changed weekly, and Freya’s leg was amputated due to infection.
“On January 17, 2022, a woman told police she saw Graham beating a dog in a car,” Ellis continued. “The witness also said she and her daughter saw Graham ‘pick up the dog (by the) neck and begin swinging the dog from the dashboard to the seat, hitting the dog’s head on both.’”
“Police also said Graham had cared for a chinchilla that died, and he gave varying accounts of how it died. Witnesses told investigators Graham owned two cats at one time, and they both died under suspicious circumstances,” Ellis mentioned.
Still no criminal charges were filed.
“Honeymoon” led to bust
Graham on April 11, 2022 posted a GoFundMe seeking donations toward the cost of a “honeymoon” with his new “husband.”
The “honeymoon,” indirectly, brought Graham’s arrest.
Graham was finally charged with four counts of torture of a companion animal, each a third-degree felony, after one of Graham’s co-workers, worried that his dogs might be neglected while he was “out of town,” did the home check the Humane Society of Utah should have done 14 months earlier, after first rehoming a dog to Graham.
“The coworker said Graham let her know the front door was unlocked,” Ellis wrote, “and she was ‘consumed’” by the ‘heavy odor of urine and feces coming from within.’
“She told police she found a small puppy, named Loki, behind a door in need of medical care and a second dog, Freya, in a locked kennel with urine and feces.
“According to court documents,” Ellis reported, “a Cottonwood Heights Police Department officer arrived and determined the apartment was ‘unsafe for human and animal occupancy’ before contacting the Salt Lake County Health Department and animal control officers.
“That officer said Loki, a 5-month-old Shiba Inu puppy, appeared dehydrated, had a cauliflower ear and ‘when he attempted to get up, he circled one way and fell over.”
According to court documents, Ellis reported, veterinary examination discovered that “Loki had broken ribs in various stages of healing, a spinal injury and a leg injury, along with a broken jaw and severe head trauma that had caused blindness.”