LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Inexperienced leadership, too many animals and too few staff.
A former shelter executive says all of that has contributed to an escalating crisis at The Animal Foundation.
When he tried to make problems public, he says he was fired.
He’s telling his story exclusively to 13 Investigates.
The Animal Foundation is the largest open-intake shelter in the country.
As 13 Investigates reported, it was already in crisis when Hilarie Grey took over as CEO in late January. She was hired despite having no prior experience as a shelter operator.
Grey came from working in corporate communications.
Aside from a brief stint as a volunteer board member at the Nevada SPCA, her background, like almost everyone on The Animal Foundation’s board, is in marketing and public relations–not animal welfare.
As we continue our reports on the systemic issues within The Animal Foundation, we learn more about what it takes to run an animal shelter, and it’s not easy.
It’s dirty work, tiring and emotional for the staff, and stressful for the animals.
When The Animal Foundation took on contracts to shelter animals for three local jurisdictions, critics say they bit off more than they could chew.
“These are marketing people! These aren’t shelter medicine people! These are public relations (PR) people!” said Gina Greisen of Nevada Voters for Animals.
She and many others believe an emphasis on public image over proper management has been the shelter’s downfall.
“Presently, what’s being led is a marketing and PR campaign,” said former Animal Foundation Chief Operating Officer James Pumphrey. “And I believe that our community and our elected officials are being lied to.”
One of those elected officials is Las Vegas City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman.
“Until we see somebody who has the experience… That actually has animal shelter experience, that actually has operational experience… Until they have somebody in that position, we are not going to see changes,” said Seaman.
James Pumphrey had that experience.
After performing an independent shelter assessment in December at The Animal Foundation’s request, Pumphrey was asked to relocate from Reno and his job at the Duffield Foundation to join the shelter’s leadership team.
“I was hesitant to take the job,” Pumphrey said, but eager to help and hopeful his sheltering experience would make a difference at a higher level.
“I was promised that the shelter assessment would be implemented but as soon as I got there, within a few weeks, I was told to–or pressured–to edit the assessment that I completed.”
Edits that he says would’ve whitewashed problems, painting a less-than-truthful picture for donors and the elected officials who oversee the Foundation’s contracts.
“And when I declined to do so, I had a sinking feeling that the ethics that I’ve lived my career by were being put in a conflicted place,” said Pumphrey. “I wanted to make the changes but I was being asked to present ‘progress, not problems’.”
He says he was asked to fudge the numbers on facility capacity to make it look like The Animal Foundation had things under control.
Darcy Spears: “They wanted you to lie about what they could accomplish, what they could handle?”
James Pumphrey: “They would. That and what changes needed to be made on the jurisdictional level. They wanted to present a view that everything was okay and that we were going to meet the challenge. And we knew that it wasn’t going to happen.”
We’ve repeatedly asked shelter leadership and top board members for comment on Pumphrey’s allegations. They have not responded.
Pumphrey says, “They should be leading the approach of, hey, we have too many animals in our facility than we can properly care for.”
Despite the conflict, Pumphrey says he soldiered on, advocating for better paid and more experienced staff, particularly in the veterinary department.
“I encountered animals that weren’t even being examined for three to four days. Two in particular were shocking to me. Two dogs had broken pelvises and they had received no examination or no pain management for over three days. It was unacceptable. And I brought those concerns directly to the CEO and received no help or participation in that.”
In July, Pumphrey took it upon himself to write a progress report on the December assessment.
Darcy Spears: They weren’t asking you for that document, but you felt it was important for them to see it in black and white?
James Pumphrey: “Correct. I felt it was needed. I also felt it was needed to offer solutions and a pathway forward.”
Internal emails confirm he gave the report to CEO Hilarie Grey and Board Chairperson Kevin Murakami. Neither responded to 13 Investigates’ repeated requests for comment.
Pumphrey says he’s familiar with that, and when he asked to meet with Grey about the report, he says he got “no response.”
Darcy Spears: “What happened when you brought it to the attention of the president of the board?”
James Pumphrey: “Two days later, I was fired. I think it was that the message that I was delivering internally was different than the message that they wanted to deliver externally.”
Darcy Spears: “And that’s just putting your head in the sand.”
James Pumphrey: “It was. And that’s why they’re where they’re at today.”
After The Animal Foundation fired Pumphrey, they lost another valuable asset.
Dr. Kate Hurley and her team at University of California Davis–some of the nation’s top shelter medicine experts–had been consulting with and advising The Animal Foundation.
Dr. Hurley said they cut ties with the Las Vegas shelter after Pumphrey was fired because he was the only one they trusted to be their eyes and ears on the ground, and remaining leadership had no sheltering experience.
Darcy Spears: “Do you think that the current leadership is capable of admitting those problems and taking the steps forward that need to be taken to keep animals and staff healthy and safe?”
James Pumphrey: “I don’t know if they’re capable. I know that they’re unwilling. And I think animals–and our community–is paying the price.”
For a previous report, when we asked about Pumphrey’s firing, shelter leadership said they could not comment on personnel matters.
The Las Vegas City Council is expected to discuss The Animal Foundation on Wednesday, Oct. 19 in the regular council meeting that begins at 9:00 AM.
Anyone who wants to participate will be allowed to speak during public comment.
According to the agenda, Las Vegas Animal Control will present information about its practices involving the animal shelter, and the City Attorney’s office will talk about the contract.