Humane Society of Southern Arizona Press Conference: November 30, 2023
On Thursday, November, 30, 2023, the Humane Society of Southern Arizona (HSSA) held a news conference to present the final report from the independent investigation into the small animal transfer that occurred on August 7, 2023.
A summary of the findings includes:
- The factors that led to the decision to accept the small animal transfer from San Diego
- Who was responsible for the decisions made regarding the small animal transfer
- The actions HSSA is undertaking to instill better oversight and management of the organization to make it stronger
- A commitment to pursuing civil legal action
Humane Society of Southern Arizona and San Diego Humane Society
November 9, 2023
Humane Society of Southern Arizona (HSSA) and San Diego Humane Society (SDHS) are providing an update regarding the transfer of small pets from SDHS to HSSA on August 7, 2023. As we now know, HSSA transferred 323 animals to an individual named Colten Jones. Ultimately 62 animals were returned to HSSA and we have worked since their return to determine the outcome for the missing animals.
We have now received new information that sheds light on the likely outcome for the remaining animals. The day after receiving these animals, Colten Jones sent a text message seeking assistance in processing a high volume of Guinea pigs and rabbits for food. We know that Mr. Jones runs a reptile breeding company called The Fertile Turtle. A part of this business includes selling both live and frozen animals for reptile feed.
The board, staff and volunteers of HSSA and SDHS share our community’s outrage and this latest piece of information that clearly indicates Mr. Jones’ intention to use these animals as feed instead of finding them adoptive homes. We are heartbroken for every one of these animals and every individual who shares our concern for them.
We have a responsibility to seek definitive answers about the fate of these animals. We've consistently stated our commitment to pursuing legal action when warranted. In light of this recent information, SDHS will collaborate with its legal advisors to advance both civil and criminal proceedings, and HSSA is considering legal action as well. To facilitate further investigation, both organizations encourage anyone possessing relevant information to contact the Tucson Police Department, referencing Case #P2311020076.
Additionally, HSSA’s internal investigation has concluded, and its report will be published in early December. SDHS’s investigation is ongoing. These investigations and corresponding recommendations are critical to ensure this tragedy never happens again and that those who are responsible are held accountable.
We appreciate those in our community who have continued to seek answers as to the final outcome of these missing pets and have been instrumental in uncovering new information. We will continue to update you as more information becomes available. Both HSSA and SDHS have dedicated web pages for updates, which can be found at hssaz.org/from-our-chair/ and sdhumane.org/transportupdate.
Humane Society of Southern Arizona Retains Interim CEO
October 16, 2023
The Board of Directors is happy to report the Humane Society of Southern Arizona has hired Beth Morrison as Interim CEO, effective October 23, 2023. A copy of the news release regarding this announcement can be found here. You can also find information about Beth's background and experience here.
Beth will manage the day-to-day at HSSA until a permanent CEO is hired, including implementing a new approach to how HSSA interacts with all internal and external stakeholders. The Board has directed Beth to transform HSSA's culture into one that is more transparent, more open to new ideas and constructive input, one that manages conflict in a timely, productive, and sensitive manner, and one that encourages and puts into action input from experienced staff doing the hard work of serving the animals.
The Board believes Beth is the type of leader who will make sure all staff, donors and volunteers feel valued and heard. This will help transform HSSA into an even better organization in the pursuit of its mission.
With an interim CEO in place, the Board will now turn its focus toward hiring an Interim COO who is experienced in animal welfare operations. A job posting for the Interim COO will be available at www.hssaz.org soon.
Finally, the Board’s small animal investigation continues. The investigator has interviewed a significant number of persons from inside and outside HSSA. We anticipate this Friday, October 20, will be the last day of the investigation’s fact-gathering stage, and that the investigator will then begin work on a written report for the Board to review. Anyone with information regarding the small animal transfer who has not been interviewed should email the investigator as soon as possible at email@example.com. When the investigator’s written report is available, we will share as much of that report as we can with all stakeholders.
Thank you for your continued support of HSSA.
New Information Regarding Small Animal Transfer
October 5, 2023
On behalf of the Humane Society of Southern Arizona Board of Directors, I apologize for how long it has taken the Humane Society to respond to recent events that have negatively impacted the organization’s reputation.
In this letter, I will explain everything that we know as of October 5, 2023, about the transfer of approximately 318 small animals from the San Diego Humane Society to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona on August 7th. The information presented here is based both on internal research as well as the preliminary findings of an independent, outside investigation. We anticipate additional information as the investigation continues and will post updates on the website as they occur.
In July, the San Diego Humane Society contacted the Humane Society of Southern Arizona (“Humane Society”), requesting assistance to transfer these small animals, which included mice, rats, guinea pigs, and rabbits. The transfer was agreed to by then Humane Society CEO Steve Farley and overseen by our former COO, Christian Gonzalez.
The Humane Society Board was first made aware of the transfer on August 31st by the CEO, who communicated to us that the small animals were successfully transferred to a private, family-run rescue group in Maricopa County operated by a Trevor Jones. We were further told that the Humane Society had successfully worked with Mr. Jones on small animal transfers on at least two previous occasions.
It is typical for shelters in a community or region to work with each other to transport animals to improve their opportunities for adoption. We later learned it is NOT typical to transfer animals in such a large quantity.
On September 1, the board was contacted by an employee expressing concerns about the transfer. At the same time, concerns were growing by members of the community contacting the Humane Society, myself and other board members regarding the health and well-being of the animals.
At this time, we began monitoring the situation and attempted to get more detail on the transfer and the parties involved. Our former COO contacted Trevor Jones to request information on the status of the animals and was told that 254 animals had been placed, but that there were no records of the adoptions.
By September 2, Mr. Jones returned the remaining 64 animals that had not yet been adopted. A rescue group from San Diego collected 28 of those animals; today all but 2 have been placed with other rescue agencies or adopted.
Around the same time, we also discovered that Trevor Jones was an individual who routinely facilitated animal adoptions, primarily through personal relationships at his church and in the community and was not a licensed rescue organization.
On September 26, the board directed the commencement of a formal, independent investigation by an outside experienced and credible consultant to get to the heart of what took place from August 7th forward.
On September 29, the Humane Society board first learned of Colten Jones from the media, believed to be the brother to Trevor Jones, and owner of The Fertile Turtle, a reptile farm. Later that same day, I immediately called an emergency board meeting, and the board placed the CEO and COO on suspension.
After reviewing the report, including the details and discrepancies in what the CEO and COO told the board about this situation, the board took corrective action and terminated the employment of the CEO and accepted the resignation of the COO. We did so due to their terribly negligent actions against the mission of the Humane Society, and their failure to follow protocols, among other reasons.
These actions not only undermine the integrity of this organization, but also threaten to undermine the integrity of animal rescues on a much larger scale. Transparency is at the heart of what we do; without it, we have lost the trust of our community.
Regarding the San Diego Humane Society, they asked us for help in finding animals a permanent home. As our sister organization, whose core mission and values align with our own, we wanted to help them. They are not responsible for what happened due to the poor judgment and inappropriate actions of the Humane Society’s former leadership.
To rectify the situation, we have begun a search for a new interim CEO and plan to announce our selection soon. Rest assured that we will hire new interim and permanent leaders that will establish better protocols and communication with our board to make sure that all animals rescued and placed by the Humane Society will be placed in safe environments.
We will also conduct an audit and invite stakeholder input to make additional improvements to regain the public’s trust, making our organization stronger than it has ever been in its 80-year history.
Internally, we are going to meet with our staff, volunteers, donors, and other key stakeholders to work with us to develop stricter criteria that meet the highest standards for any partner that we work with.
Externally, we will meet with animal rights citizens, our sister organizations, and our partners to ensure we are all working together to meet their expectations for engagement and providing the highest level of animal care and safety standards.
To the public, we wish to communicate that the Humane Society has dedicated, loyal and passionate staff that had nothing to do with the actions of the Humane Society’s former leadership team. We ask that the relentless public threats to the mental and physical well-being of our staff stop now. They are misdirected and not appropriate.
We acknowledge that mistakes were made and we are committed to rectifying these mistakes, regaining the community’s trust, and ensuring the Humane Society’s success for another 80 years.
From Our Board Chair
This page will be updated frequently with communications directly from the Humane Society of Southern Arizona Board Chair, Robert Garcia.