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HomeCommentaryOpen Forum: Humane Society Board Addresses 'Challenging Times'

Open Forum: Humane Society Board Addresses ‘Challenging Times’

Humane Society of St. Thomas Executive Director Michelle Robbins (kneeling) works with volunteers on Feb. 8 to label crates for transport of the shelter’s animals to facilities on the mainland. (Photo by James Gardner)

These are indeed challenging times for the Humane Society of St. Thomas as an organization, and the HSSTT Board of Directors as a governing body. Although we are in a Code Red position now, our immediate goal is to become financially strong enough through donations and fundraising events to expeditiously bring back our laid-off team members and provide all the animal welfare services that our community so desperately needs. Unfortunately, there have been numerous malicious, inaccurate, untruthful, and defamatory social media posts, and I would like to take this opportunity to provide the facts for those who have been misinformed.

  1. The HSSTT Board of Directors is a nine-person membership elected, unpaid, volunteer body that has never been compensated for its service. Collectively, this Board itself has been responsible for over $5 million in direct contributions, providing credit facilities, and donating both in-kind products and services.
  2. The annual HSSTT operating budget is actually between $1.6 to $1.9 million, with 2022 at
 $1.66 million and 2023 at $1.85 million, with 2024 estimated to be in the same range. HSSTT’s Form 990 income tax returns can be found at hsstt.com. Some of our funds are restricted and cannot be used for payroll. Presently, quotes are being solicited from accounting firms to provide review/audit services.
  3. The Government of the V.I. provides an annual Notice of Grant Award (NOGA) 
commencing on Oct. 1 of each year for only $175,000 to perform services estimated to cost well over $1 million. Please carefully read the following required contractual Scope of Services and visualize the actual personnel and appropriate funding that it would take to perform this multitude of services:A The Grantee will furnish animal shelter facilities at an approved location on the island of St. Thomas.
    B The Grantee will maintain proper housing, food, water, and humane treatment for all lost, stray, or homeless dogs and cats which come into its custody and while in its possession.
    C The Grantee will maintain suitable office hours at the animal shelter for the convenience of the public and for the purpose of transacting business in connection with the duties under this Contract.
    D The Grantee shall, to the best of their ability, capture and impound dogs and cats running at large on the island of service which poses a threat to the public, endangers lives or livestock, or are injured or suffering. The Grantee will hold impounded animals for the required five (5) days and post notices in the media regarding any such impounded animals. If such an animal is injured or suffering the Grantee may humanely euthanize the animal. In such a case, a report of condition of animal, location of animal, description of animal and reason for euthanasia shall be kept. After five (5) days, an impounded animal may be offered for adoption, transferred to another shelter, or humanely euthanized as authorized by law.
    E The Grantee will allow open admission to all stray dogs and cats.
    F The Grantee shall assist in the rescue of dogs and cats trapped or unnaturally restrained and provide humane care if necessary.
    G The Grantee shall report any suspected cases of animal cruelty to VIPD.
    H The Grantee shall be designated as an approved quarantine facility for a period of ten (10) days, space permitting and at the expense of the owner, to provide housing and shelter for an animal known to have bitten a person or animal and for which has been reported to the VIPD and the VI Department of Health. Otherwise, the animal shall be assigned to quarantine at home under the direction of the VIPD and VIDA.
    I The Grantee under the auspices of this Award shall reference the “Dangerous Dog” statute (19 VIC Section 2615c) under the VI Code in reference to managing animals running at-large, or as nuisances in the community.
    J The Grantee shall maintain records of all animals taken into custody and impounded, showing the date, place, reason, and manner whereby the animals were brought into custody with a description of the animal and record of its final disposition.
    K The Grantee will submit quarterly reports to the Commissioner of Agriculture’s designee within 30 days of the close of said quarter to include but is not limited to a summary of the animal control activities and costs related to this contract. Quarter 1 (Q1): October, November, December; Quarter 2 (Q2): January, February, March; 
Quarter 3 (Q3): April, May, June; Quarter 4 (Q4): July, August, September.
  4. The HSSTT facility had been a deplorable, filthy hoarding facility with many dogs incarcerated in 2.5-foot by 3.5-foot cages that would have been shut down in many stateside jurisdictions for numerous reasons, including cruelty to animals, capacity for care and confinement considerations. Today there are no longer caged dogs in the lobby and a much-appreciated major campus clean-up by devoted staff and volunteers has resulted in a much-improved environment.
  5. This Board, unlike past Boards, had to make the tough decisions that were necessary to keep the facility open. If it had not been for the “one off” sources of off-island federal funding including $222,000-plus in U.S. SBA Payroll Protection Program (PPP) Loans that were subsequently approved by SBA as Grants and $273,000-plus related to COVID-19 Employee Retention Credit (ERC) funds, HSSTT would have ceased functioning as an organization long before last week’s actions. Although all nine Board members are passionate animal lovers, HSSTT must be treated like a business. The reality is quite simply that 40 percent of businesses fail within the first three years, 49.9 percent within five years, 65.8 percent within 10 years, 73.3 percent within 15 years, and nearly 80 percent within 20 years. Unfortunately, 30 percent of all nonprofits close within 10 years. This Board is determined and committed that HSSTT will not be another closure casualty. What would be the alternative for our community?
  6. During my business career I have had hundreds of employees here and in New England and have never had to lay off a single individual, even after my Cable TV company was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. It was heart wrenching to do so to 12 full-time and five part-time HSSTT employees, many with families. And the entire staff was not fired; five employees are now operating the present sparsely populated facility.
 Nevertheless, the Board has the responsibility and obligation to guarantee payment to employees for all time worked, and that commitment could not be fulfilled for all employees going forward with the present limited financial resources.
  7. The Feb. 8 airlift was not organized by the Board, and the Board does not seek or expect any credit whatsoever for it. All the accolades for making it happen go to the team at HSSTT’s valuable program, Pets With Wings (PWW), and the numerous volunteers, rescue organizations and shelters involved in this noble lifesaving endeavor.
 Without PWW, the euthanasia numbers would undoubtedly be much higher. The Board is extremely proud of PWW’s positive impact over the years and all the people and organizations involved to give our island’s animals a better life.
  8. The present Board, which meets at least once a month, never ever has discussed “mass euthanasia” in any Board meeting since our very first meeting on Sept. 19, 2023.
  9. Although all policies, protocols, rules, and regulations are presently under review, the Board has been guided by HSSTT’s Euthanasia Policy established in both 2010 and 2019.
 Animal welfare has evolved over the years, and this Board will make every effort to conform to the practices of comparable shelters and the industry’s professionals.
  10. The euthanasia statistics are the following: Total 2023 intake, 1,327 with 125 euthanized;
 total 2024 intake, 133 with 13 euthanized. Both medical and behavioral conditions are the primary factors for performing necessary euthanasia. None of these procedures was based on space considerations. After professionally evaluating all the hundreds of animals to be qualified for the airlift, only three stateside rejected dogs were deemed 100 percent unadoptable, and had to be humanely PTS. Another has been given a reprieve in a rehabilitation effort. A fourth dangerous and un-handleable dog was brought to the shelter by the owner who requested euthanasia, and with a veterinarian already there, HSSTT provided this community service. The vet also determined that two very sick day-old kittens with attached umbilical cords had to be PTS as well as a paralyzed dog with exposed bone from dragging herself around before coming to the shelter. The Board does not make euthanasia decisions.
  11. On a positive note, the forever dream of having our own medical clinic to serve our community’s animals has finally come to fruition! So many worked to make this happen, HSSTT is thankful to each and every one of you! On Feb. 15 we held our first three-day spay/neuter clinic with Dr. Michelle Mehalick and her team performing 71 procedures.
 Going forward, mass sterilization must be implemented to deal with our community’s animal overpopulation problem.
  12. So far, HSSTT has had negligible financial support from the EDC companies, and it is hoped that these beneficiaries will come to better understand that our community, where an estimated 70 percent of the households have pets, is struggling to care for their animals and provide the necessary medical attention, especially with the fees charged by the island’s two veterinary practices.

In order to stay afloat, HSSTT must have significant financial assistance. Please contribute whatever you can and support our fundraising events, especially our Spring Brunch on March 24 at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas. Please go to hsstt.com for all event information and bid on the fabulous items in the Silent Auction donated by our many generous businesses and individuals.

Also, please visit and shop at our Thrift Store on the campus, HSSTT’s primary revenue source staffed by our cherished employees and volunteers.

Please remember, it is inevitable that the shelter will fill back up and we will need and must have our valuable laid-off team members return. You can help to make this happen by donating to the HSSTT General Fund.

If you should have any comments that you would like to address to me, I can be contacted at 340-642-6852 or rhk0206@gmail.com.

Thank you for caring about our staff and animals!

Kindest regards,

Randy Knight, President, Humane Society of St. Thomas Board of Directors

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