Humane Society of Southern Arizona FAQs: Small Animal Transfer
Updated November 15, 2023
A letter sent on HSSA’s behalf indicated SDHS knew the small animals were going to "one" “rescue”? Is this accurate?
The referenced statement is not accurate. On September 25, 2023, HSSA sent a letter to SDHS asserting that SDHS knew the small animals would be transferred to one rescue. HSSA based its position on information provided to it at the time. Since then, HSSA has learned new facts that are inconsistent with its prior understanding, and that directly refute what former HSSA employees stated had been communicated to SDHS, and when such communications occurred. A former HSSA employee led SDHS to believe that the small animals would be transferred to more than one rescue, inclusive of HSSA. SDHS had no knowledge whatsoever regarding the involvement of Colten Jones or the Fertile Turtle, and it had no reason to believe the small animals would not be adopted out as pets.
Updated October 25, 2023
The questions set out below have arisen several times in HSSA’s communications with the community. Responses to these frequently asked questions (FAQs) are provided to assist our community in understanding the events at issue. HSSA’s investigation into the small animal transfer and the status of the animals continues. The responses set out below may change as HSSA learns new facts, and HSSA will update these FAQs as new information becomes available. HSSA is committed to transparency and addressing the concerns of the community.
QUESTIONS RELATING TO THE TRANSFER AND ANIMALS
How did HSSA become involved in this transfer?
In July 2023, HSSA was asked by the San Diego Humane Society (SDHS), a sister organization (humane societies operate independently), to consider the transfer of small animals and provide adoption support. HSSA’s former leadership team agreed to the transfer and, according to those leaders, worked to coordinate the transfer with Trevor Jones, an individual with whom HSSA had worked in the past. On August 7, 2023, 318 small animals, including mice, rats, guinea pigs, and rabbits, were received in Tucson.
Is it common practice for HSSA to receive animals from other rescue organizations?
Yes. It is common to transfer animals among rescue organizations to help assist with adoptions; however, it is rare for so many animals to be transferred at one time.
Was this transfer approved by HSSA employees outside the executive leadership team?
No. Key members of HSSA staff who should be consulted in the event of a large transfer were neither informed nor consulted.
What is HSSA’s policy for vetting placement and determining the number of animals that can be received?
HSSA has policies in place relating to transfers. These policies, however, were inadequate for this situation and, in any event, were not followed. To rectify this, with the support and guidance of other animal welfare organizations, HSSA will revisit and strengthen its animal transfer policies to ensure this does not happen again.
What happened to the animals once they arrived in Tucson?
The small animals arrived at HSSA on the evening of August 7, 2023. That same night, they were put onto HSSA vehicles that then delivered them to the purported family-run group in Maricopa County.
What does HSSA know of the animals’ status?
HSSA has no certainty regarding what happened to the small animals. The individuals who received the small animals have maintained that 254 of them were placed with families, but they have not provided sufficient or satisfactory proof that would resolve the concerns of HSSA and our community. Other than pictures that could not be verified, the receiving individuals have provided no documentation or records of adoptions. On September 2, 2023, HSSA took back 64 of the small animals, all of which are now in the hands of other animal welfare organizations or have been adopted. HSSA is grateful to those animal welfare organizations (which were appropriately vetted) for their assistance with the small animals.
Are the individuals to whom the small animals were delivered cooperating?
HSSA’s investigator has had communications with one of the individuals and, as noted above, requested evidence confirming the small animals were adopted out and not used as feed. The individual informed HSSA’s investigator that none of the persons who allegedly received the animals want to be identified or participate in HSSA’s investigation out of fear that they will be the focus of unwanted attention. HSSA is not satisfied with this response, as it is willing to take steps to protect the privacy of persons who do not want to be identified. It is HSSA’s policy (as is common amongst animal welfare organizations) to protect the privacy of adopters.
When will the investigation into the small animal transfer be complete?
HSSA previously requested that persons with knowledge relating to the small animal transfer reach out to the Board and its investigator as soon as possible, and preferably by October 20, 2023. The investigator is now working on reviewing the significant number of documents obtained, reconciling information provided by various witnesses, and drafting a written report. The Board expects to review and approve disclosure of the investigator’s report in the coming weeks. Even though the evidence collection phase of the investigation is generally complete, much work remains to be done, and persons with information who have not been interviewed should nevertheless contact the Board at firstname.lastname@example.org or the investigator directly at email@example.com.
Is HSSA considering taking legal action?
HSSA has potential legal claims against certain individuals and, if necessary, will bring those actions forward. The Board will decide on potential legal action following the receipt and consideration of the investigator’s written report. HSSA is not foreclosing any potential actions currently. As noted further below, however, the potential legal actions discussed here would not be directed at SDHS.
Has HSSA reported to law enforcement any of the events relating to the small animal transfer?
HSSA representatives recently met with individuals with significant expertise in animal law / animal cruelty prevention. HSSA’s representatives will, in the coming days, meet with law enforcement personnel to discuss the events relating to the small animal transfer. HSSA has no control over whether law enforcement will take any action related to the small animal transfer, but again, HSSA is committed to exploring every avenue.
What exactly are HSSA and SDHS doing to cooperate with one another?
A representative of SDHS was part of HSSA’s recent meeting with individuals with expertise in animal law / animal cruelty prevention. Both HSSA and SDHS are reaching out to law enforcement as appropriate and both organizations are committed to providing information that may be helpful to any law enforcement investigation. SDHS has retained the services of a private investigator (whose scope and capabilities are different from those of HSSA’s investigator) that will continue to seek information regarding the small animals. HSSA will assist this investigation by providing information obtained through HSSA’s investigator. HSSA and SDHS are in close contact on these matters and are working as a team.
QUESTIONS RELATING TO THE IMPACT OF THE TRANSFER
How has the transfer affected HSSA’s employees?
HSSA’s employees are highly dedicated people who do the work they do because they love animals and support HSSA’s mission. These events have caused HSSA’s employees significant pain and heartbreak. HSSA is working to provide support and assist employees who are struggling emotionally.
Is it true that HSSA employees are being threatened or harassed?
Understandably, members of the public are upset and angry about the small animal transfer and how it came to be. HSSA shares many of these feelings. However, negative comments and feelings have been directed at HSSA employees, the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with the transfer. Anger and frustration directed at HSSA employees is only harming the morale of dedicated people who are committed to animal welfare, is misdirected, and must stop. Members of the public who would like to express their concerns are welcome to contact the Board at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Has there been an impact to HSSA’s finances as a result of the small animal transfer?
Yes. Many community members have expressed disappointment in the events leading up to and following the small animal transfer and have withdrawn their support. HSSA is a private, non-profit organization that depends on the generosity of the community to fund its operations. HSSA understands and shares in the community’s disappointment and HSSA pledges to learn from this and be better. HSSA hopes to one day regain the confidence and trust of those who have withdrawn their financial support.
Is it true HSSA is going to shut down?
No. HSSA is committed to learning from this terrible situation and emerging from this a better, stronger organization.
QUESTIONS RELATING TO THE BOARD AND ITS KNOWLEDGE
When did the Board of Directors find out about the transfer?
The Board first learned of the small animal transfer on August 31, 2023, when HSSA’s former CEO indicated the transfer had occurred. At that time, the Board was informed the small animals were successfully transferred to a private, family-run group in Maricopa County that had strong community resources and connections, and that, to avoid animals being dumped at their doorstep, did not want its information to be made public. The Board was also advised that HSSA had worked with this group on prior occasions.
When did the Board become concerned about the animals’ welfare?
In early September 2023, the Board began receiving communications from HSSA employees and members of the community regarding the small animals’ welfare. The Board then started monitoring the situation and asked HSSA’s former leadership for information and documents relating to the transfer. The Board was advised by HSSA’s former leadership that the small animals were safe and that they had represented, on HSSA’s behalf, that HSSA would maintain the confidentiality of the receiving group/persons. On September 29, 2023, the Board first learned of Colten Jones and his related business, the Fertile Turtle, from the former leadership team and the media. This caused immediate and significant alarm, as the discovery of this business and what it did was not consistent with information previously provided to the Board.
How did the Board respond to the information re: Colten Jones?
Despite multiple requests for information on who was involved in the transfer, September 29 was the first time the Board heard of this individual. Following a Google search and review of the Fertile Turtle website, the Board, to its utter shock and dismay, learned about the reptile farm business. Later that day, the Board’s Chairman called for and held an emergency Board meeting. HSSA’s former leadership team was suspended on that date and their employment with HSSA ended a few days later.
What steps has the Board taken to ensure this does not happen again?
Board members are meeting with staff, volunteers, donors, and other community members to learn about their concerns, to identify shortcomings (at the Board level and otherwise), to learn about how HSSA can be better in the future, and to rebuild trust. This will be a long process. HSSA welcomes all input on how it can be better in the future. Board members intend to meet or have met with animal advocates, sister organizations, and partners in the animal welfare sphere to ensure all expectations are met and that HSSA provides the highest level of animal care. Among other efforts, the Board will work to strengthen HSSA’s policies and procedures, as well as create direct channels to the Board such that employees and other concerned persons can raise issues without fear of reprisal.
Has anyone on the Board resigned regarding the small animal transfer?
No, and Board leadership is not aware of any intended resignations. As is common with non-profit organization boards, from time-to-time members rotate off, resign, and are replaced. In the last few weeks, the Board added one new member, which brings the Board’s current membership to 16 people, all varying backgrounds, ages, and perspectives. One Board member will rotate off in the next few weeks as she is reaching the end of her second three-year term, and is term limited under the applicable bylaws.
How much does the Board get paid? Is the Board going to return to HSSA any of that money?
Board members do not receive compensation for their service to HSSA; they serve on a strictly volunteer basis.
QUESTIONS RELATING TO NEXT STEPS
Is HSSA going to publish a report on the findings of its investigation?
Yes. Because the investigation relates to former HSSA personnel, and because it has involved various individuals who HSSA wants to protect from any form of reprisal, there are portions of the report that will be redacted and/or not made public. HSSA anticipates making a redacted report public in the coming weeks.
Is HSSA’s relationship with PACC going to change?
Yes. Pima Animal Care Center and HSSA should work together to improve outcomes for animals in the region, and HSSA is committed to being a better partner to PACC. HSSA will make strengthening its relationship with PACC a top priority.
When is HSSA going to replace its leadership team?
The Board appointed Beth Morrisson to be HSSA’s new interim CEO. Ms. Morrison’s appointment will last approximately six months. You can read more about Ms. Morrison, her background, and her appointment here and here. The Board will launch a search for a permanent CEO and will establish a search committee that will include various constituencies. HSSA is in the process of revising its top leadership position job descriptions and will soon post openings for a permanent CEO and interim and permanent COO.
Is there litigation anticipated between HSSA and SDHS?
No. HSSA and the SDHS share a common mission. HSSA’s Board has been in contact with SDHS's senior leadership, and both organizations are committed to their mission and learning the whole truth about the small animal transfer. The relationship between the organizations at this point is warm and cooperative, and HSSA is grateful for this.
Responses to these frequently asked questions (FAQs) are provided to assist our community in understanding the events at issue.