As Houston Humane Society Troubles Mount, Board Stays Silent

One down, several more to go.
One down, several more to go. Courtesy of a former HHS employee
One down, several more to go. - COURTESY OF A FORMER HHS EMPLOYEE
One down, several more to go.
Courtesy of a former HHS employee
For years, the Houston Humane Society's board of directors ignored complaints from employees and volunteers about a bullying, racist shelter director and derelict executive director, causing a nonprofit that drove away staff members and has been unable to find a full-time veterinarian for at least four months, former employees and volunteers told the Houston Press.

The lack of a staff veterinarian has caused the clinic to close randomly throughout the week and often on weekends, including this past weekend.

Board members — including a veterinarian and former prosecutor for the Harris County District Attorney's Office — have declined to discuss the complaints with the Press, and would not verify whether longtime shelter director Edward Perez resigned last week, after the latest round of complaints against him.

Sources close to the Houston Humane Society shared an email from executive director Sherry Ferguson, stating that Perez resigned "after many years of dedication to the HHS and the animals we serve." Ferguson wrote that she accepted Perez's resignation "with reluctance," saying that Perez was "instrumental in our fight to end cruelty, abuse and neglect of animals."

Ferguson's characterization of Perez does not match what former employees and volunteers told the Press.

A former adoptions manager recalled a situation in 2011 where Perez barred staff from feeding — for two days — a group of feral kittens that had been brought to the shelter. Perez didn't want to deal with the kittens defecating, especially since they were all slated for euthanasia, according to the former manager, who asked that her name not be used. (It should be noted that former Harris County prosecutor Belinda Smith did not join the board until two years after this incident.)

"They were tiny little kittens. They were not as big as my hand," the woman said. "On the humane society's watch, they were not fed."

The former manager also claimed that, when she started in 2009, Perez had not been working with rescue groups, which most shelters depend on for foster networks and to ease overcrowding. Perez's reasoning? Perez said he didn't want to "deal with a bunch of menopausal women," according to the ex-manager.

Once the manager reached out to rescue groups, the nonprofit was able to find homes for an additional 250 or so animals a year, the woman said. Some rescues — including a beagle and a German shepherd group — took senior and heartworm-positive dogs who, up until that point, had little chance for adoption and were generally euthanized.

Animal welfare has also been an increased concern with the nonprofit's limited and random clinic hours. Ironically, though the board includes veterinarian Cynthia Rigoni of All Cats Veterinary Clinic, the humane society has no full-time vet.

Former animal cruelty investigator Joe Guerra told the Press via Facebook that "it has become common routine for the clinic to close on weekends when a fill-in vet cannot come work for them. They also close the clinic during the week. They are open about 50-60% of the month since this has been going on... They have been lying to the public and telling them that they are closed because high volume of surgeries, but that is not true. They post a sign on their front door every time they close saying that. But it's another one of sherry and Edwards lies to the public [sic]. And the board still sits in their asses and allows it."

Ferguson, whose salary is $151,651, according to the organization's latest tax filings, is rarely onsite, sometimes disappearing for months at a time,  the former employees and volunteers allege.  Ferguson, like other upper level staff, has failed to return calls and emails, although we did manage to briefly speak with Ferguson last week.

"I have nothing to say to you," she said, before hanging up.

Under the watch of Ferguson and the board, former employees and volunteers say Perez routinely harassed and mocked volunteers who were gay, intellectually challenged or disabled.

"I don't know why they would keep on turning a blind eye," said one volunteer, who said she had to intervene when Perez verbally abused an intellectually challenged volunteer.

While Perez's resignation is a major step forward, we hope the current board members will either ramp up their involvement or step down. And, although she apparently feels otherwise, we believe Ferguson owes the public an explanation. If anything, it appears that whatever animals the the Houston Humane Society has saved over the years has been in spite of Ferguson and a parade of apathetic directors. The dedicated and hardworking employees and volunteers deserve the gratitude of the public, and an apology from Board President Connie Reeves Cooke, as well as Cooke's husband and son, whose only interest in the Houston Humane Society is making a couple of thousand a year from it, as the Press previously reported.

The staff and volunteers are also owed apologies from board members James Griffing (and wife Nancy, who also makes money off the place); Keith Thayer, Pat London, Beverly Brannan and Tony Roubik.

However, they probably shouldn't hold their breath.
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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow