How could such unbelievable events happen at Haven Humane Society of Redding?
• This flier advertised an organizational meeting at Haven Humane Society for dog weight-pulling enthusiasts. To watch an example of dog weight-pulling, click on this YouTube video that shows the event practiced elsewhere in the U.S. (Update: The location was recently changed to a Perko’s Restaurant.)
• And there’s this first-hand account from some Haven insiders about conditions in which cats and kittens were recently found:“Many of the cats were sneezing. Several had what appeared to be eye infections. Others were covered with fleas. No empty cages anywhere. One cage had 10 cats from five different age groups: a young mother cat nursed six kittens, two of which were old enough to be weaned. An adolescent cat paced inside the cage, while two tiny kittens, no more than 2-weeks old, were lying still. At first it appeared as if they were dead, and that their eyes were not yet open. Closer inspection showed that the kittens’ eyes were actually swollen near-shut with infection. “A 50-gallon container marked “Kitten Chow” was empty. In the storage area – usually stocked with canned dog/cat food and specialty animal food – were fewer than 15 cans of dog food and two small, very dented cans of adult cat food. No kitten food or formula. In place of animal food on the shelves were several boxes of condiments (mustard, mayonnaise, etc.). “In another cage were two tiny kittens of nursing age with a chunk of unidentifiable meat in their food bowl. It resembled a slab of raw chicken breast. The kittens were near-bursting – so young they required stimulation in order to eliminate their bladders and bowels, too young to eat regular food.”
•Finally, there’s the mind-boggling human angle. Meet Norm Ryan, Haven’s previous CEO: Hired May 2007, “retired” April 2008, investigated by Redding police less than two weeks later, arrested June 18 on embezzlement-related charges, arraigned July 25, free on $25,000 bail as he awaits trial. (We have something new to report on that front under the heading: Things aren’t always what they seem.)
• Within the last few months, by some count, nearly 20 Haven staff, volunteers and board members have left the shelter. Some said they fled a dysfunctional, hostile work environment. Some said said they were fired or forced out. Some said they quit in frustration and/or disgust. Some said their positions were suddenly eliminated, only to magically reappear on Craigslist. Last, some said their positions appeared on Craigslist even before their employment was terminated. This unprecedented talent-turnover has left the shelter lacking crucial institutional memory, animal-welfare experience and skill.
• Many longtime Haven employees said they’d love to explain what exactly’s happened to them and the animal shelter. Many mentioned mandatory Haven contracts that threaten dismissal for disobedient workers who air Haven’s dirty laundry.
Meanwhile, the majority of Haven’s board will not talk, return calls or reply to emails. (Note: I suggested in an earlier post that board members couldn’t talk because they’d also signed papers similar to shelter employees’ shut-up forms. I’ve since learned this may not be true, though I’ve yet to find a board member who’ll talk, let alone confirm or deny anything.)
As Nadine Bailey, Haven’s board treasurer put it, “I cannot talk, nor will I talk.”
Is there hope for Haven? Perhaps.
On Aug. 1 Ray John became Haven’s newest director. He and I talked at length a week or so ago about his vision for Haven, and why he thinks he’s a good leadership fit for the organization, despite his lack of animal-shelter experience. The final story in this series will feature John’s take on Haven, and his plans to help it heal.
Even so, John is quick to remind us that he knows nothing about Haven’s past, which is why he limits his discussions to the future.
Unfortunately, one important piece of John’s missing-information puzzle remains firmly entrenched within Haven. It’s something identified many times by a variety of Haven supporters as the root cause of Haven’s current troubles. With a few surprising exceptions, over months of interviews, most Haven insiders spoke both on and off the record about this single issue.
In a perfect world, reporters quote all sources on the record.
But once in a while a story comes along that warrants telling, with or without names, on or off the record.
Haven’s tale is one, illustrated by this shelter loyalist:
“I served on the Haven board for (many) years. Under the guidance of such excellent leaders as Tom Little, Bob Timone and Joel Warner, I saw it grow into a strong, highly respected organization dedicated to improving the lives of animals,” said one dedicated Haven supporter.
“Then, over the past year and a half, I have watched it – as the saying goes – go to hell in a handbasket. It has been heartbreaking. For many months I’ve tried to get the other side of the story.”
This week, we will continue with the other side of the Haven story.