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Pat Hope, a former volunteer with Toronto Human Society. (Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Pat Hope, a former volunteer with Toronto Human Society. (Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

A humane society that's short on shelter Add to ...

As an employee in the Toronto Humane Society's fundraising department, there was one kind of phone call that Ann Ray said she dreaded more than any other.

A donor would call and ask for a tax receipt for a cash donation, and there would be no record of the money.

"We did get a lot of calls or people coming in that claimed making donations that there was no record of, or we couldn't find record of," she said.

One man in particular sticks out in her mind. He had adopted a cat in April of 2007, she could find record of that.

But there was no record of the $200 he said he'd given as an adoption fee.

"I didn't know what to say to him, and I looked and I looked for that paperwork," she said.

Ms. Ray quit her job in February of 2008.

"I left because of my conscience, I couldn't keep working there," she said, adding that when she started in 2006, she thought she had landed her dream job.

Ian McConachie, a spokesman for the THS, said that cash donations don't go missing and that record keeping at the shelter is thorough. He said that callers are sometimes looking for fraudulent tax receipts, and that that might account for those calls.

But an investigation by The Globe and Mail has found that in spite of the society's resources, including hundreds of volunteers, about 80 staff and approximately $10-million in annual donations, former THS workers nevertheless report they were short of essential food, medication and other supplies needed to run the shelter.

Also, an analysis of the financial history of the THS between 2002 and 2007, based on financial data reported to the Canada Revenue Agency, reveals a steep decline in its assets-to-liabilities ratio, a measure of financial viability.

In 2002, the ratio of the society's current assets to current liabilities was 1.51, meaning for every dollar of liability the shelter had access to $1.51 in assets to pay it off.

By 2007, that ratio had plummeted to 0.12, meaning the society had only 12 cents toward every dollar of debt.

Now the financial strain has begun to reach the animals, according to veterinarians, veterinary technicians and volunteers.

The exact financial picture is hard to pin down, as gaps exist between the numbers presented to THS members and to the CRA.

In 2006, the society reported a shortfall of more than $1.9-million to its members, but reported a shortfall of more than $3-million to the CRA.

In 2007, the shelter reported a $846,494 surplus to members, but reported a $239 deficit to the CRA.

Mr. McConachie attributed the gaps to the amortization of the shelter's new cat sky house - an addition to the shelter that allows better air quality and natural light to flood into a space where hundreds of cats are kept - and said that the CRA numbers and numbers presented to the board were based on different accounting methods.

Meanwhile, the debts seem to be piling up. Former staff and volunteers say that supplies and medications often run out and they are often forced to make due, feeding cat food to kittens or rationing pain medication.

Mr. McConachie said that this is untrue, and that the shelter ensures that volunteers and staff have access to the supplies they need.

Simone Rodrigue, who has volunteered with the THS for five years and volunteers currently in the kitten nursery, said that volunteers often bring their own towels and kitten milk-replacement formula because the shelter is chronically short of supplies.

She said that during her most recent shift, on Saturday, she cleaned kittens who'd become caked in feces with dish soap because she couldn't find any shampoo in the kitten nursery.

"I think the most pressing concern is that funds and people are completely mismanaged," she said. "A ton of really good people who worked there were often fired for ridiculous reasons, or sometimes no reason at all."

Lindsay Neilson, a veterinary technician, said she was fired last week for talking on the phone once while at work and for leaving her post to vaccinate a kitten without permission.

"There was a dog who'd had a cyst removed from his leg, and because we were out of pain medication he didn't receive any pain medication for five days," Ms. Neilson said.

Two weeks ago, Ms. Neilson noticed three kittens that had aspirated on milk formula fed to them by improperly trained volunteers. She appealed to a veterinarian to have the kittens euthanized, but was told that the shelter couldn't spare the euthanol.

"So six days later these cats died in their cage. They couldn't be fed, they couldn't go to the washroom, they just died suffocating, basically," she said.

Pat Hope, a volunteer in the shelter's kitten nursery, often found that the shelter didn't have the type of food required to sustain her mewing charges.

For nearly six years she spent her Friday nights convincing pink-nosed newborns to drink from a syringe or a bottle.

It was a delicate business. If she fed them too slowly, the kittens would starve; if she fed them too quickly, they would drown in the milk.

In her last year at the shelter, in 2008, Ms. Hope noticed that the kittens were receiving less and less attention from staff. She became concerned too many were dying of neglect.

Ms. Hope outlined her concerns regarding the availability of staff and supplies in an e-mail to the shelter's volunteer co-ordinator. When she didn't get a response, she wrote to management in June, 2008.

That July, she received a response sent on the behalf of operations manager Gary McCracken: "Dear Pat, I write with respect to your e-mail of June 30, 2008.

While any program can be improved, your criticism is too harsh … At this time, I request that you take time out as a volunteer in the nursery until further notice."

Ms. Hope was subsequently "fired" from her volunteer position.

Mr. McConachie said that Ms. Hope was the only kitten nursery volunteer the shelter had dismissed, and that she was dismissed for disrupting the other volunteers.

"She claimed on many occasions that the kittens were dying in greater numbers than in previous years," he said. "We looked into it, it was not true. She sent abusive e-mails to staff members and even referred to one of them as a buffoon. We asked her not to return, as we found her disruptive to the kitten nursery and the other volunteers there."

But Sabrina Polla, who volunteered in the kitten nursery for six years, said she was dismissed in April.

"The letter I got said that I had unfairly criticized the competence of the management of the nurseries," she said.

James Planck worked as a volunteer co-ordinator at the society for a little more than a year. Before he was fired last year, he was asked to dismiss the shelter's kitten feeders.

"I was told by the board president [Tim Trow] 'Tell these volunteers to not bother coming any more for the kittens, let's get those lazy technicians feeding them,' " Mr. Planck recalled.

So he did some calculations.

Given that at the height of kitten season, in the summer, there were about 300 volunteers working rotating shifts around the clock to keep the kittens warm and fed, Mr. Planck calculated that at $10 an hour, it would cost the shelter nearly $250,000 a year to pay staff to feed the kittens.

"The man had no concept what it takes to feed these animals," Mr. Planck recalled.

Mr. McConachie said Mr. Trow and the THS value their volunteers.

Some members have become concerned that legal costs are absorbing too much of the society's budget. The THS is enmeshed in a court battle to save Bandit, a pit bull the province ruled should be euthanized. It is suing the Hamilton SPCA for libel. In the recent past it has engaged in legal battles with the Teamsters union and to gain custody of an 85-year-old widow's cockatoo.

Inquiries to Mr. Trow regarding the society's legal costs were met with a curt letter, informing them costs were "appropriate."

Financial statements obtained by The Globe show that in the first nine months of 2007, the THS spent $92,190 on legal costs, and in the first six months of 2008, $51,683 was spent on legal fees.

Mr. McConachie said that these numbers were appropriate for the charity.

"Somewhere out there in Toronto, there's a little old lady on a fixed income and her last $20 of the month goes to the Toronto Humane Society thinking she's helping a cat or a dog," said Mr. Planck. "So it just makes me sick to think of the money aspect of this place."

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