Dear PoP – Washington Humane Society Issues

by Prince Of Petworth May 13, 2010 at 2:30 pm 70 Comments

“Dear PoP,

I’ve been a supporter of Washington Humane Society in the past.  However, over the past few months, I’ve had a really disillusioning experience with them, which I just decided to write Mayor Fenty on, and I wondered if you might be interested.  WHS euthanized a very sweet puppy named Shannon who had been fostered by a friend of mine, despite the fact that my friend had made clear that she was ready and willing to take responsibility for Shannon’s care until she was adopted.

I wrote to WHS to express my concerns, and ask for information on how this came about, and after quite a bit of back and forth I got a very disappointing response.  In addition to denying what had happened, despite the fact that much of the evidence was in writing, they told me that they have no policy on euthanasia.  Considering that so much of their fundraising is based on their “good home guarantee” I found the fact that they have no official guidelines on when an animal is euthanized rather shocking.

Also, looking into things, I found a couple of articles from the Washington Examiner addressing WHS management of the DC Shelter (

They referenced a PETA investigation of their practices, including poor hygiene, disease outbreaks, and inhumane killings.

I just wrote a letter to mayor Fenty, attaching one of the articles.  and asking for his response.  I’m not sure if the WHS contract for the shelter is still under review, but regardless, I think people need to be made aware of these concerns.  I hope that WHS will continue to get support, but that people will also push them to better represent the organization’s expressed ideals.”

Full letter to mayor Fenty after the jump:

Dear Mayor Fenty:

I am writing to express my grave concerns regarding the Washington Humane Society (WHS) management of the Washington Animal Shelter, and to request an update from you on how the DC Government is responding to a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) investigation of the shelter’s practices. As a District of Columbia Taxpayer, and a believer in animal welfare, I would like to seek your support to hold WHS to higher standards of animal protection.

I was a donor to the Washington Humane Society for several years. Respecting the enormous challenge of animal protection in Washington, DC, I was incredibly inspired by their “Good Home Guarantee” campaign—the five year plan to end euthanasia of adoptable animals. I visited the New York Avenue shelter on a couple of occasions making donations of food and visiting the animals. While the cat rooms smelled rather thickly of urine, and the dogs appeared unkempt, I always assumed that WHS was doing the very best it could under the circumstances. Based on this assumption, I continued my financial support to help make the vision of a one-hundred percent placement rate for animals a reality.

In March this year, an incident occurred that led me to reevaluate the work of the Washington Humane Society. A close friend of mine, Deanna Gordon, had worked with WHS as a foster for dogs and puppies for several years. Despite experiencing challenges working with the organization, including difficulty communicating with the foster coordinator over animal care issues, she shared my conviction that the organization was doing its best with a difficult job.

In January, Deanna was given care of a 6 month old pit bull puppy named Shannon. Shannon, had been rescued by WHS from an owner who kept her isolated at all times, without any sources of companionship or exercise. While she had been decently fed and was in reasonable physical shape, she was extremely timid and fearful of people and in need of socialization and training. Deanna cared for Shannon for about six weeks along with her own two year old pit bull Daisy. While initially uncertain about whether Shannon would ultimately be adoptable, with the investment of time, the puppy showed remarkable progress. She housetrained herself, learned to walk on a leash, and as she overcome her fear, demonstrated a very sweet social nature to people, becoming a great favorite of the dog park. She showed normal puppy behaviors, such as escaping from her cage and chewing shoes, but nothing that was not correctable with time and training.

Another foster who had met Shannon expressed a desire to adopt her and Deanna turned over fostering to her, with the explicit understanding that Shannon would either be adopted by this family, continue to be fostered, or returned to her. Deanna communicated very clearly to both the new foster and to the WHS foster coordinator, Kathy Vellenga, that if at any time there was a question of Shannon being returned to the shelter, that she would take her back.

On Sunday, February 21st, just a few days after dropping Shannon off with the new foster, Deanna received a call from the foster indicating her intention to return Shannon to the shelter because of common puppy behavioral issues (chewing up things and getting out of her cage when left alone). By the time Deanna called back a few hours later Shannon had already been returned to WHS. Deanna immediately called Kathy Vellenga, leaving several messages in the course of the day, asking about the plans for Shannon and indicating again her willingness to take her back. Having not heard back by the following day, Deanna sent an email to that effect. By the time Kathy returned the call on Tuesday the 23rd, Shannon had already been killed. Kathy gave no explanation other than euthanasia being “better than shuffling her about from home to home.” It is also worth noting that Shannon had already been evaluated and deemed adoptable by the WHS’s own experts and that at no time did she ever show any aggression towards people or other animals.

I felt strongly disillusioned, at this clear indication that for WHS, euthanasia is simply not the last resort. I wrote to WHS as a donor to express my concern and request to be removed from their mailing lists. When I received a reply from their Vice President for External Affairs and Chief Programs Scott Giacoppo, I asked him to look into this incident, and among other things to clarify WHS’s policy on euthanasia.

While initially reluctant to share any information on the incident, Mr. Giacoppo ultimately responded, providing the information that Shannon was killed on the same day that she was returned to the shelter because the foster coordinator believed her separation anxiety (an extremely common issue) rendered her unadoptable. Given all that Shannon had overcome in just a few short weeks, it is absolutely appalling that she would ultimately be killed, with such extraordinary haste, over a common and treatable behavioral issue. Deanna had repeatedly reported to Kathy that Shannon was making tremendous progress and doing very well; it is stunning that a single negative report from a foster, who had cared for her for only a few days, would outweigh this. Mr. Giacoppo denied that Deanna had offered to keep Shannon—despite Deanna’s subsequent sharing with him of emails proving the contrary.

Finally, in response to my request to see WHS’s policy on euthanasia, he said that there was none—to have a policy, he stated, would be “unfair to the animal.” I was stunned, especially given the attention focused by the organization on the effort to eliminate euthanasia, that that this most irreversible action is left entirely to the discretion of individual staff. If you have any questions regarding these conversations, both Deanna Gordon and I can provide the full email correspondence upon request.

During subsequent research I found the Washington Examiner report, attached, on the PETA investigation this past fall, which turned up poor hygiene, related disease outbreaks, and inhumane killing practices. I understand that the PETA President Ingrid Newkirk, wrote you on December 31, 2009 on the results of this investigation. I would appreciate any information you can provide on how you and the DC government are responding to these reports.

I recognize that the Washington Humane Society plays an indispensable role, and that sadly, not all animals are adoptable. That said, I am gravely concerned that an institution that relies on public and donor financing should be operating in this fashion. It is clear to me that while the elimination of euthanasia has proven a useful fundraising tool, it is not supported by any strategy or policy. This, I believe, is something that the public needs to know—and as a publically supported institution, I feel that we have the right to expect better.

Thank you for your attention to these issues. I look forward to your response.

Sarah M. Swift


Subscribe to our mailing list