NBC Connecticut Airs Outstanding Series On Humane Society Troubles

March 18, 2010

NBC Connecticut’s Debra Bogstie produced a powerful two-part series this week about the battles boiling at the Newington-based Connecticut Humane Society.

Bogstie is the only reporter who has actually dug into the issues, after CtWatchdog revealed the problems, and came up with fresh material. Click part one and part two.

Some of the more interesting parts of her two-day report are responses she was able to get from CHS board member Chris White, who, along with the rest of the officials, has been relatively silent.

White, who is chairman of the subcommittee looking into allegations by workers and former workers against CHS President and Board Chairman Richard Johnston, defended the nonprofit agency’s paying for Johnston’s real estate and law licenses by saying that Johnston had “acted as a Realtor and attorney for the Connecticut Humane Society, taking no fee for himself.”

Consider that Johnston’s compensation is more than $140,000 and it would be a conflict of interest for him to be paid as a real estate agent or a lawyer representing one of the oldest and best-known charities in the state, White’s defense is sort of hollow. State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is looking into this allegation as the result of written complaints from former workers I sent him in January. Johnston has been on medical leave for the past two weeks and has refused to comment directly since the controversy started in January.

NBC Reporter Debra Bogstie interviews former CHS fiscal assistant Bridget Karchere after her accusations sparked an AG investigation of the CHS. Gombossy photo.

White also had no problem with the society’s paying for liquor purchased by Johnston, claiming it was wine that Johnston gave to employees who worked extra hours. I think we will have former CHS employees responding to that claim soon.

White also disputed the staffing and euthanasia numbers mentioned in the first NBC story, calling them inaccurate and absurd. He provided staffing numbers for animal care workers that indicate an 18 percent drop from 2008 to 2009. He did not provide any new euthanasia numbers, but said he believes there’s a difference of just a few dozen animals between those two years.

White is among half the board members whose businesses receive money for services from the board – something that not all charities permit. White has received more than $30,000 in advertising from the CHS for his Hartford magazine and for his newspapers.

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36 Responses to NBC Connecticut Airs Outstanding Series On Humane Society Troubles

  1. mer on March 18, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    My issue with the potential conflicts of interest is not that Johnston or the Board profit from their positions (it happens with lots of nonprofits and it is legal to a point) – it’s that they profit disproportionately. Board members shouldn’t charge MORE for their services to the Society, they should offer them at a discount. Not so with the honorable board at CHS. This was something Chris White conveniently failed to note in his response to NBC.

    I’d also like to know how many services the Board provides went out to bid first, because I’m sure they all failed in their fiduciary obligation to CHS by passing work on to Board members at whatever cost.

    • Now a former volunteer on March 18, 2010 at 7:17 pm

      I agree, I don’t mind if the board members get business from CHS either, in fact I think that’s great…BUT I agree that those services should be bid on so the “charity” gets the best possible price. The funny thing is…since it’s a charity they are always asking for donations or discounts because they are non profit, so these services should indeed be discounted. Heck as a volunteer, I gave them a non profit discount from the business I manage, one would think the board would give that too….

    • We need you on March 19, 2010 at 9:40 am

      Yes, technically it is legal. But many, many charities do have a policy against doing paid business with board members. Because it just looks bad, period. When you join a board of directors, you should leave your profit-making business outside the door, unless you want to donate products and services to the organization. If you sell to the charity while you are in a position to influence how they spend their money, that does not look good.

  2. Concerned Citizen on March 18, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    The CHS Board should be ashamed of themselves. They are not moving quickly enough and Johnston needs to go, period. Well, at least we know WHO the board members are and if they don’t take action here, they can fully expect picketing and protests in front of their businesses. Time for the Coalition to take this fight to the streets. Do the right thing CHS Board, force RJ out, get rid of the core management team that is loyal to RJ’s incompetence and while you are at it, please submit your own letters of resignation so we can have some real, ethical guidance provided over the organization. You ALL have done way too much damage for too long, time to move on to another charity who will do your bidding and award you with their business. This is a joke.

    • Now a former volunteer on March 18, 2010 at 7:26 pm

      Well, I’m not defending the board however…..if this “investigation” is going to be accurate, I’d prefer they take their time and get it right so in the end, they will see that RJ has to go. The only thing I question is the integrity of the upstairs staff providing them with information they are looking for. I’m glad they are investigating and we have to have faith that they are going to find all the things that have been brought to their attention. As long as the outcome is the same….I’ll remain hopefull and patient.

      • Agree with Now A Former Volunteer, but... on March 19, 2010 at 11:56 am

        I have mixed feelings with regards to the board at this point. I’ve been in contact with many of them, and, while they all assure me that they are looking into the matter, it is clear that some are more committed to the cause than others. A couple are super nice and seem concerned. Some spew empty rhetoric. Some, like Neil Kelleher, didn’t even respond to my email inquiries (I know he received both my emails).

        At any rate, things are heating up and it is not going to get any easier on the board from here on out.

  3. Donna Ploss on March 18, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    I resent the implication that it’s nothing more than a bunch of animal advocates trying to stir up trouble. I went to donate a dozen dog beds to the poor dogs that were surrendered, in an effort to prevent them from being forced to sleep on cold, hard concrete.Instead, Kitty Baker, now in charge of cat adoptions took the beds to the back room and told me she was saving them to give out to people who adopt dogs.That didn’t sit right with me so I went back the next day, seized the beds, and proceeded to donate them and alot of other things including blankets, sheets, cat litter etc., to a NON-KILL shelter, the Meriden Humane Society,that is in NO WAY AFFILIATED with the CT. Humane Society.Animals at the CT Humane Society are being killed at an alarming rate.Animals, such as cats, when forced to live in close quarters in cages, with many different senses in the air, tend to be cranky.Can you blame them?Mr. Johnston thinks that is good enough reason to kill them.Get rid of Johnston now!!!Hire someone who has the compassion for animals and the willl to find them loving homes, instead of a lust for greed and power.

    • Now a former volunteer on March 18, 2010 at 7:28 pm

      Donna did you write or call any of the board members? I think it’s important they hear what you have to say. I feel that hearing from someone from the outside would be a huge plus. Many times, I’ve seen this as well…nice stuff comes in as a donation and some of the Management team take it for their “fosters”….people are dropping things off for the animals that are IN THE SHELTER…the ones living in a foster home have couches, beds and carpeted floors to lie on….the ones in the shelter are left in the kennel with a blanket…what’s wrong with this picure…?

  4. Focus on March 18, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    I agree, Concerned Citizen! I don’t think that the Board of Directors personally feels enough of an impact from the events at CHS.

    It is time to picket their businesses.

    It is also time to take out that full page ad in the Hartford Courant Sunday edition.

  5. Now a former volunteer on March 18, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    The first thing I notice is that he is disputing the numbers that were provided to him by someone in the financial office. Now, the ONLY thing I can say to that is that payroll records will indicate how CHS was staffed back then and he can see how many names are no longer on the current payroll list. Total them up and you will see that there is a vast difference. IN a recent coalition meeting, we tallyed OVER 50 names just off the top of our heads of employee’s who have turned over iin the last 4 years. If I were to name names, right now…I’d be able to list about 11 adoptions counselors who worked sat or sun when I was there. If you compare that to NOW, there are maybe 4 adoption counselors but two of them are actually incoming animal care staff but since there are no other adoption people on saturdays, they have to do double duty….On Sunday there is basically TWO adoption counselors…In comparison there were 7 when we were fully staffed….I’d be happy to name names….

  6. George Gombossy on March 18, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    The following is an email that a volunteer received:

    The Board of Directors has approved some recent changes to the shelter euthanasia policy, and we wanted all of our volunteers to be informed. The new policy is detailed below. Let me know if you have any questions. Thank you!


    Melissa Zaluski
    Director, Volunteer Services
    Connecticut Humane Society
    860-594-4502 x.6203

    The bullet points below detail euthanasia guidelines:
    • Both behavioral and medical conditions are reasons for euthanasia.
    • All behavior euthanasia decisions will be made by a team of individuals representing several aspects of shelter management and expertise.

    • The team in Newington includes:
    o The Shelter Veterinarian
    o The Manager of the Shelter’s Newington Medical Department
    o The Newington District Manager (who is a Licensed Veterinary Technician)
    o The CHS Behaviorist
    o A senior member of the Newington Animal Care Team
    • The team in Westport and Waterford includes:
    o An approved member of the Medical Team
    o The District Manager
    o The Behavior Team Member
    o A Member of the Animal Care Team
    • As and when necessary, potential euthanasia cases will be discussed in detail by these teams, and all members must participate.
    • Each animal will be presented formally by a detailed history and list of medical or behavioral concerns. All participants will have recently interacted with the animal being discussed.
    • Before a decision to euthanize, there must be a consensus among all members of the group. Consensus is defined as unanimity or only one dissenting member.

    • Now a former volunteer on March 18, 2010 at 7:30 pm

      I think it needs to go ONE STEP further, it needs to state that failure to comply will result in some sort of accountability….whether that be termination or whatever. This is a GREAT STEP from the board, I applaud them for getting things moving. It’s a start, lets keep the faith that more changes are coming down the road.

    • Maureen on March 18, 2010 at 8:54 pm

      I applaud the decision to create a formal team for making euthanasia decisions. The problem that I have with the current configuration of this team, especially in Newington, is that the majority of the members of the team are the very people who have been accused of making bad euthanasia decisions in the past. The token team members who have not sided with these managers (who happen to be their superiors) are most likely not respected by the managers and are probably fearful to fully stand by their opinions for fear of disciplinary action. This is the same way the organization has operated for years. If you get on the bad side of those in power, it will have negative repercussions on your employment. Why not put the decision-making power in a third party until a determination can be made about the allegations against the judgement of these managers?

      • Now a former volunteer on March 18, 2010 at 9:48 pm

        Well that’s an interesting point. I wasn’t sure who the 5th person was on the list….Eric? So your right, he could be bullied into going along with a decision. The difference being that BIG BROTHER is watching now so they will have to be careful. If the numbers creep back up again, it will be known and seen. The worst case scenario at this point is that the board has gotten WAY MORE involved in the day to day operations and this is GREEEAT! They need to know, they need to see and they need to ACT….

        • Mer on March 19, 2010 at 1:52 pm

          Eric was seemingly, intentionally excluded from the euthanasia meeting. Someone slipped and he found out by accident. They had planned on telling him moments before the meeting started – the assumption being he then wouldn’t have had time to familiarize himself with the animals on the hit list, in my opinion.

          I’ve never seen an organization work so hard to act against it’s own mission statement.

    • OMG on March 18, 2010 at 9:58 pm

      This letter is just a cover up. They are still euthanizing the same way they always have. They are trying to cover thier a##’s better, excellent point made
      by Maureen is that these ARE the same people who have been responsible for the ridiculously high euthanasia numbers going on now for years. The place is just a mess and needs a serious clean-up!

    • Time to be A Real No Kill Org. on March 19, 2010 at 7:53 am

      The “detailed euthanasia guidelines” that have been updated are barely guidelines. A true euthanasia policy defines who lives and who dies and the exact reasons for coming to such conclusions. The broad sweeping statement about animals being euthanized for “medical and behavioral” reasons is absurd.

      What is your policy on feral cats? What is your policy about killing healthy dogs with treatable behavioral conditions like resource guarding and dog reactivity? What is your policy about exhausting all behavorial and medical treatment options before healthy animals are killed? It there a financial threshold to determine what medical conditions are not treated?

      This is not a proper euthanasia policy. This is simply a procedure to involve many people who already are participating in the status quo. What better opportunity for the CHS to begin moving toward the national trend to no longer accept the unecessary killing of our most needy and deserving companion animals. This is a true disappointment.

      • Now a former volunteer on March 20, 2010 at 8:55 am

        I agree with EVERY point you made…However, it IS a start in the right direction and that is what we are aiming for. Sure, there needs to be a SET standard in the “policy manual”. There also needs to be a new testing for animals. We have to move one step at a time. The good news here is that the board has taken the first step and made the Society know that they are being watched.

        While those people in the committee were also part of the problem before, they now have to do it as a group. If there is one holdout, that holdout needs to be brave and stand up and say NO! We will continue to monitor from the outside as well. The board will listen if you provide evidence rather than blowing things out of our blowhole.

        Chris White was disputing the numbers that were provided to NBC 30….payroll register’s can be checked from prior years, compare them to now = truth. We ran reports on Euthanised animals for Jan and Feb so those numbers ARE indeed accurate.

  7. Donna Ploss on March 18, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Hey Focus, I agree…time to picket the place. That’ll get more attention. I’m game if you are.

  8. Chucky_Dee on March 18, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    I don’t know much about CHS – other than what is coming out now – But between this and some other recent business episodes, it really seems that a passive, ineffective board rarely seems upset by the mess they have allowed to happen. I find it impossible to tell if they “really didn’t know!” or got a little somethin-something out of it to ‘let’ those things happen .

    Either way – there seems to be little long term responsibility !

    • Now a former volunteer on March 18, 2010 at 9:52 pm

      I am not sure it’s the “really didn’t know” angle…the problem has been that RJ hasn’t been up front with them, he CHOSE what information they would give them and what he wuold keep to himself. THIS is why they need to stand up to him and say Buh BYE! He’s had his power for too long, he’s bullied enough people, it’s time to cleanse the presidency and start the rebuilding.

  9. uberVU - social comments on March 18, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by ctwatchdog: NBC Outstanding Series On Conn Humane Society Troubles http://bit.ly/9vnbNu via @AddToAny…

  10. Blessed to be a Former Employee on March 18, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Managers at CHS are given a “Conflict of Interest” form to sign. I wonder if the board members are required to do the same? In regards to why the wine was purchased….that’s a first that Richard would ever show appreciation for working extra hours. In fact, if you’re an employee at CHS you deserve less recognition since the attitude among management is that you’re lucky to be working for CHS and receiving a paycheck. No one should have to be subjected to the dysfunctional way CHS operates and the stressful environment Richard has created. The BOD needs to move forward with a decision and post his job opening. Gee, I wonder how many people would apply for Richard’s job? As so often reminded “CHS gets hundreds of applications..everyone wants to work at CHS.”

  11. Former Employee on March 19, 2010 at 7:24 am

    I actually laughed out loud when I heard the line about liquor being purchased as a thank you to employees. That is absurd. Richard Johnson doesn’t even show up to the annual staff holiday party to say thank you to staff for a job well done. If he handed a staff member a bottle of wine as a thank you for extra work, I think they would faint.

    • Mer on March 19, 2010 at 1:47 pm

      The wine was gifts for employees – around the same time as his “if you’re not with us you’re against us” message regarding the union. I don’t know if this was a “thank you” for not getting involved/not supporting the union or what, but I know for fact it had nothing to do with employees working extra shifts. There is almost no overtime at CHS and when it does rarely get approved it’s the downstairs animal staff working the extra hours, not the upstairs admin staff (who received the wine).

      • Focus on March 19, 2010 at 2:39 pm

        That is the problem with this seemingly insignificant “wine” problem- it’s symptomatic of CHS management’s compulsive lying. No one should really give a rat’s ass if someone gets a bottle of wine as a “Thank You” for working extra shifts, but that isn’t what happened!! Why lie about it? It just makes matters worse! Richard gives out wine to the union busters and then CHS LIES about it and says that it was given to employees for “extra shifts.” Pardon me, but the management people do not work “shifts” and most of them (with the odd exception here and there) certainly don’t deserve any accolades for a job well done.

        • Mer on March 19, 2010 at 6:01 pm

          I totally agree. They are so accustomed to lying without thought they would tell you their turkey sandwich was chicken if you asked.

          • We need you on March 20, 2010 at 11:33 am

            LOL! You said a mouthful (no pun intended), Mer!

      • Anon on March 19, 2010 at 10:55 pm

        I have worked many extra hours at CHS and I had no idea any one of the staff was given wine as a gift. I certainly have never received any recognition for working more hours, especially not from the president himself.

        • WOW on March 20, 2010 at 10:54 am

          I, too, had worked many extra hours as well as gave up breaks and shortened my lunch during busy times. I also fostered many animals and worked with rescues when necessary. Many of us also helped with events. Richard never thanked any of us never mind give us a bottle of wine. What a joke!

  12. Jan Kozlowski on March 19, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    If you haven’t seen it, check out this story that The Stamford Advocate is running:
    Animal Agency Again Under Fire-


    • Now a former volunteer on March 19, 2010 at 9:55 pm

      theres only one word to describe what I just read…YIKES!!!!

  13. Elizabeth Strole on March 20, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I used to volunteer at CHS and had an OSHA related incident that I think merits attention. None of the bottles there are clearly marked, (or at least they weren’t as of a few months ago!) and someone had put bleach in a bottle that looked exactly like the bottle used to break up cat fights.

    One little rascal, Marilyn, was out in the cat condo, and jumped into another cat’s open cage. They hissed at each other and a volunteer quickly asked me for the cat-fight bottle. I handed her the bottle, thinking that it just had water in it, and she sprayed the two cats thoroughly.

    We realized the mistake when we smelled the bleach. We had to wash both cats down.

    Both cats were fine, but it’s the fact that this incident actually took place that points to one of many, many underlying problems. It isn’t that difficult to clearly label a bottle but I guess when you’re busy trying to whatever it is that management does there, you don’t really have time to deal with the animals’ safety.

    • Now a former volunteer on March 21, 2010 at 3:59 pm

      I was in the restaurant business for over 20 years and it was much tougher to pass a Health Inspection yet I never in all those years failed one. Like Liz said, it’s NOT difficult to label bottles and cabinets and keep in them what you are supposed to. OSHA regulations are not difficult to understand, maybe instead of railroading your employee’s….you could get that building compliant.

  14. Deborah Malina on March 22, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Board members business relationships with CHS will be required to be disclosed in the new form 990 just revised by the IRS last year. This is the information return required to be filed with the IRS for all large nonprofits.

    The new format also requires disclosures of other conflicts of interest and payments to board members.

    It also asks if the President and CEO is a voting member of the board.

    Individuals in powerful positions in nonprofits are not allowed personal inurment.

    Maybe the IRS will also look into CHS as a means to brinng about positive change.

    I am a former volunteer of CHS and am a CPA specializing in non profits.

  15. Greyhound lover on April 3, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Debra and George; two great reporters who are willing to speak the truth and risk their necks in doing so.
    Much thanks from the coalition, citizens of CT, and the animals.
    Thank you!

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