Ex Connecticut Humane Society PR Chief Dishes On Its President

January 9, 2010
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Copyright © 2010, CtWatchdog.com

A former Connecticut Humane Society public relations director is backing up allegations that the Society’s president – Richard Johnston – bullies and verbally abuses employees on a regular basis.

Cheryl D. Rice, who now runs her own public relations and marketing business from her central Connecticut home, says she was one of many employees who was fired by Johnston.

“I was pretty well stressed to the max after a year in that ‘regime’…  my personal experience as an employee involves being bullied and berated at every turn,” Rice wrote me in e-mails.

During the 11 months that Rice said she worked at the Society in 2004, she said all managers of shelters and several senior managers were either fired by Johnston or quit.

As an example of abusing employees, Rice said that Johnston would publicly reprimand senior staff by sending everyone copies of voice mails he sent to individuals who had somehow offended him.

Rice said that she was once a target of that management tool when Johnston sent her a voice mail criticizing her for failing to attend a meeting he thought she should have gone to. That voice mail was then sent to all others working for the society who had access to voice mail.

Since Johnston is both the executive director (president) and chairman of the board of directors, Rice said there is no one supervising Johnston. She said all board members are chosen by Johnston as chairman of the board.

Besides those duties, Johnston – a former state senator – is also a lawyer and a practicing real estate agent. Rice said Johnston was frequently absent from work to handle his real estate business.

Rice said that to this day she doesn’t know for sure why Johnston fired her or what she did to anger him. She said Johnston gave her a reason for firing her – not properly proofreading a letter – but it was such a minor matter that it could not have been the real reason.

Rice is the third former Society employee who has publicly criticized Johnston. In my previous columns two people who were fired for what they claimed to have been union-organizing activities accused Johnston of financial and management improprieties. The Society – with main offices in Newington and shelters in Westport and Waterford – has more than $60 million in assets and has a $5 million a year budget for the 8,000 or so animals that come through its facilities.

As the result of those written complaints sent to me, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has ordered an investigation into Johnston’s activities.

Johnston has refused to comment, and his present public relations chief blames the union organizing effort as the reason for the negative publicity. She threatened libel suits against those made the allegations and those who passed them on (which would be people like me).

Any present or former Humane Society employee who wants to provide confidential information to the attorney general should call 860-808- 5020 and ask to speak to Assistant Attorney General Gary Hawes.

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26 Responses to Ex Connecticut Humane Society PR Chief Dishes On Its President

  1. Shelley on January 9, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    There are obviously numerous previous employees that have been taken advantage of and who have witnessed this man’s abuse of power. I hope you all come forward to make a change! Isn’t it an amazing thing that the masses can still be heard and make a difference. Right on! I pray this will be resolved and justice will be served. Bless the animals and the employees who try to protect them.

  2. NS on January 9, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Stand up and stand out, let your voices be heard!

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  4. H. on January 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Cheryl Rice and the others who have spoken out are HEROES in my book!

  5. siam girl on January 9, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    I WORKED @ CHS FOR 12 YEARS. I WAS LUCKY ENOUGH TO WORK THERE FOR A FEW YEARS BEFORE RICHARD CAME ALONG!!! THE STORIES I COULD TELL YOU ALL WOULD MAKE YOUR HEADS SPIN!!! I LEFT BECAUSE OF RJ I WAS STRESSED OUT AND SICK ALL THE TIME.HE IS BI-POLAR WE ALWAYS SAID THAT ABOUT HIM.HE USED TO BRING HIS BABY INTO WORK WITH HIM THE GIRLS IN THE UPSTAIRS OFFICES WOULD GET STUCK WATCHING HER…RJ ALWAYS DROVE COMPANY CARS FOR HIS OWN USE EVEN BACK THEN, HE DID TAKE THEM AWAY FROM ALL OTHER EMPLOYEES WHEN HE 1ST GOT TO CHS. HE WOULD ALWAYS COME IN LATE AND LEAVE TO DO HIS OWN BUSSINESS STUFF DURING CHS TIME. WHAT THOSE EMPLOYEES ARE SAYING IS TRUE WE TRIED TO GET A UNION GOING BUT RJ STOPPED THAT BY FIRING THE PERSON WHO HAD STARTED IT INTO MOTION!!! REMEMBER THAT RICHARD??? WE DO. HOW ABOUT THOSE COMMERCIALS FOR CHS WITH THE GIRL AND HER FAMILY? RICHARDS KID AND HIS PETS. IT TOOK 20 YEARS OF WAITING TO SEE THIS HAPPEN TO YOU RJ BUT NOW YOUR S…….d!!!!!!!!!

  6. Ivona on January 9, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    Cheryl, it takes a great deal of courage for you coming forward and I cannot applaud you enough. Johnston bullies so harshly that it frightens anyone to the core to stand up against him. You and everyone else involved is doing what is necessary to finally have the CHS run the way it was intended. I hope, wish, and pray that our goals are met for the sake of the animals! The more voices that are heard the louder we are. I hope that Johnston’s “connections” in the legal system don’t cripple our efforts for the greater good. Too many, far too many, people have come forward for this to not continue any further. As stated many times the truth shall set us free! Long live humanity!

  7. Harry P. on January 9, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    The Coalition for Change is thrilled to see all of the past and present employees and volunteers that are speaking out and coming forward to support their friends and co-workers who have been abused. We look forward to the day when CHS is no longer the Richard Johnston Society and the organization returns to the original mission of promoting humanity and kindness for all. We will continue to do what must be done and knowing that we have so much support during this process is extremely gratifying for our members.

  8. KM on January 10, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Keep speaking up everyone!

  9. Ted Lipkin on January 10, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Hi Cheryl,

    I can’t believe that CHS was run by such a idiot. Thank you for coming forward. It’s shameful. I go there all the time and check out the dogs, the staff is always up beat and happy. Congratulations to the staff, you are all the best.

  10. Ruth on January 11, 2010 at 11:27 am

    TAHNK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU to Attorney General Blumenthal! When someone in power is allowed to abuse that power it makes it very difficult for those “beneath” him to set things right. The efforts of several “Davids” (as in the David & Goliath saga) have not been able to dethrone the tyrant named Richard Johnston. We all look to you to fix all that is broken at the Connecticut Humane Society. In reading the many, many comments about this situation, it’s interesting to see that there is not one positive comment about Mr. Johnston. The only “semi” positive comment (by his secretary) wasn’t even in of support of Mr. Johnston but rather a threatening letter against those brave enough to speak out against his behaviors. May your investigation unearth every single instance of Mr. Johnston’s abuse of his power and his abuse of the many worker bees who have been there for the innocent animals despite Johnston’s threats and demeaning behaviors. Once again, THANK YOU ATTORNEY GENERAL BLUMENTHAL!!!!

    • Mimma on January 12, 2010 at 1:04 pm

      Could someone please provide an e-mail address for Assistant Attorney General, Gary Hawes, who is investigating Johnston’s activities?

      Thanks.

      • 4 the Pets on January 12, 2010 at 2:10 pm

        I found one in the directory on the Attorney General’s website. It was listed as ‘gary.hawes@po.state.ct.us’.

        Good luck!

  11. uberVU - social comments on January 11, 2010 at 11:40 am

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  12. Ilene Coman on January 12, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    This tells it all. I thank Cheryl Rice and every other present or former worker or volunteer, that has stood up and told Atty General Blumenthal of their horrible experiences. Between them and people from rescue groups that have saved animals from being killed at CHS shelters, there are no shortage of stories about Johnston, his administrators, and the Board of Directors, of which he is Chairman. This article said it all! Cheryl and the other employees and volunteers who have shared their horror stories are not people with a grudge. They are people who were shocked by Johnson’s decisions, policies, and vendettas when anyone questioned what was being done to innocent aniimals. The CHS under Johnston’s leadership is a far cry from what the pubic believes the CHS to be! They don’t take in animals that they should be taking, they haven’t cared for them the way they should, and they have killed so many animals for reasons other than what would be appropriate in a NO KILL shelter! The killing has to be stopped, Johnston and his administration,as well as the Board Of Directors that are in his back pocket have to be dumped, and in their place- people that understand about animal rescue, training, and that know how to make the entire CHS NO KILL! If that’s not done, then it should go out of business, and the buildings can be used by a rescue group or groups that know how to run an efficient and compassionate NO KILL entity.
    I thank Cheryl Rice and everyone else who shares their bad experiences, so that the Richard Johnston Society can be brought down.

    • Lindsay on January 12, 2010 at 10:42 pm

      No Kill is not easily or safely possible. Unfortunately there are people who don’t research breeds and make mistakes in training that can be highly dangerous if the dog remains in society. In a perfect world, no one would be “dog ignorant” and we wouldn’t have behavioral issues in dogs. Hell, in a perfect world shelters wouldn’t be necessary because we wouldn’t have irrisponsible and unnecessary breeding. The purpose of low-kill should allow the most number of dogs possible a second chance, BUT not at the expense of the public’s safety. I’m capeable of taking and training an aggressive dog, using purely positive training methods, to learn to live in society. But this takes an enourmous amount of time and to do this with every dog out there is not feasable. Until we can control breeding practices, there will always be euthanasia for dogs with severe behavior issues. A dog with a bite history, for example, is not considered adoptable because of legal issues. People need to understand the difference betweeen low and no-kill, canine behavior, and a little bit about humane nature to know why the latter isn’t always the best option in the world we live in.

      • Ilene Coman on January 13, 2010 at 6:00 am

        When talking about CT Humane Society, it is not about the NO KIll, It is about them unecessarily killing puppies, dogs, kittens, cats when they weren’t perfect in looks and behavior or in retaliation. Rescue groups have had to pull animals from the CHS to save them from being killed, and then the animals ended up having wonderful lives. I have heard of this time after time. Yes, there may be the rare aggressive dog that can not be trained but this is not what we’re talking about. The public has no idea that the CHS actually kills dogs and cats, and not just the rare aggressive cases! People that faithfully donate to the CHS would be SHOCKED to hear what has been going on at the CHS! That is what I’m talking about! In this case
        As for overall NO KILL policies- no, it’s not easy to do and there are all kinds of factors that work against making a shelter NO KILL. But it has been done in many, many shelters throughout the country. And that is not in a perfect world.

        • Tusken Raider on January 14, 2010 at 6:17 pm

          Yes, it is true that “no kill” has been done in many shelters in the country. Unfortunately in a lot of “no kill” shelters dogs and cats will live their entire lives in a kennel because they are so aggressive. I have seen cases of dogs being born in and dying in the same shelter. The aggressive dogs do not even get walked or touched by humans. It is a shame that some people think they are doing the right thing by keeping a dog alive while it is mentally in anguish.
          While there are some “no kill” shelters that are trying to place dogs that can potentially hurt someone there are shelters all over the country that still use gas chambers and “kill” thousands of new born puppies daily b/c there is no room for them.

          • Shock & Awe on January 15, 2010 at 1:45 am

            Well said “Raider”. The fraud of “no kill” shelters is that most humanely euthanize for behavioral and medical problems. Conversely, shelters which are truly “no kill” are nothing more than prisons in which many animals live out a bleak and agonizing existence. Imagine, being thrown into a prison for a life sentence where you do not speak the language, have no idea why you’re there, and rarely see the light of day. Humane? I think not. The injustices under the Johnston regime are many, but perpetuating the myth of the no kill shelter is not one of them.

        • Lindsay on January 14, 2010 at 10:14 pm

          what exactly is your connection to CHS, if you don’t mind me asking?

          • Lindsay on January 14, 2010 at 10:14 pm

            sorry, should mention i’m refering to Ilene

        • Yet another former on January 15, 2010 at 9:07 am

          I can’t help but wonder where you are getting this information from. Puppies and Kittens are sacred in shelters and are not “killed”. In fact I understand that Mr J has just increased the adoption fee for puppies to make more money off of them. Dude, do reality check, people come to CHS to rescue a dog or puppy, jacking up the price and then informing them they still have to complete the vaccinations “on their own dime” is going a little over the top. $200 dollars for a puppy from a shelter, that’s mad!

          • Lindsay on January 18, 2010 at 7:06 pm

            Actually breed specific rescues will charge much more than this – the fee covers the spay/neuter, all INITIAL vaccines (obviously you must pay for any required boosters once the dog is yours) and the cost of food and housing for the animal during it’s stay. It’s basically an average figure because some dogs have a shorter stay than others. Younger animals are more expensive becuase they require more care in the first year. You wouldn’t go to a breeder and expect them to pay for furrther vaccination nor do they pay for spay/neuter, and you can reasonably expect to pay at least $1000 to obtain a puppy from a reputable breeder. The reality check is to open people’s eyes to the real cost of owning a pet. If you can’t afford $800+ a year on food, vet, and accessories then you shouldn’t be getting a pet regardless of the price you pay for that animal.

  13. volunteer on January 12, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    I enjoy my time volunteering at Newington, but I do feel for the staff. They are grossly underpaid for what they do and show a genuine love and compassion for the animals they take care of. However I do not agree with the notion that that they run a no-kill shelter. I have seen many dogs put down for reasons such as food agression and mild dog agression that could have been taken care of with some help by the staff if they had time to do it. They are understaffed and a basically cleaning people most of the day when they should be working with the animals to help them be adoptable to the home they deserve instead of being killed. Most of the excercising is being done by volunteers who really enjoy what we do, but to make us responsible for training and socialization after a few hours of so called training is ridiculous. Give the staff more help, let them do what they want to do, work with animals and perhaps it is time for Mr. Johnston to step down. There is not one staff person I have talked to who has anything good to say about him and the way he treats them and they should take steps to put the executioner in check and reavaluate there decisions.

    • Also a Volunteer on January 13, 2010 at 12:05 pm

      The CHS does not claim to be a no kill shelter. They claim to be a LOW kill shelter.

      • Mer on January 24, 2010 at 1:48 pm

        That is correct. However, CHS purports to use euthanasia sparingly in cases of extreme illness or when an animal is too dangerous to be rehabilitated.

        In reality they kill dogs for minor behavioral issues because they will cost more to train and maintain than the CHS will recoup in adoption fees. That is not the purpose of being low kill.

  14. annesheart on January 22, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    Yeah, Cheryl, for publicly coming forward. I knew the 3 PR people before you, going back to the poor old man who was fired shortly after Richard came on board. The ones I worked directly with were abused, emotionally, as was I, in the same types of emotional games as you describe. There were public and private humiliations, big retributions for small infractions, and being set up to take the blame for things you didn’t want to do in the first place. It has taken 20 years for someone to organize enough that people feel safe speaking out. I would come forward publicly, but I’m still afraid.





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