The Texas Humane Legislative Network pushes for animal-friendly laws, and encourages responsible ownership, a la spaying and neutering your pet. But it appears that the Network itself is neutered when it comes to supporting its dedicated volunteers.
We're talking about an alleged incident where the Houston Humane Society's shelter director berated and humiliated two Network volunteers who were scheduled to operate a booth at the HHS Fun Run charity March 23. The volunteers were asked to keep their mouths shut by the Network's executive director, because he wanted to take the "high road." We call bullshit.
The alleged incident occurred when the volunteers were parking in a staging area by Sam Houston Park. One of the volunteers stated in an email that, although a Houston police officer allowed them to park behind blockades, a "large bearded man began waving his arms and yelling" that they could not park there.
This man turned out to be Edward Perez, a fellow who former HHS employees have described as a toxic combination of verbally abusive bully and teacher's pet -- the teacher in this case being HHS Executive Director Sherry Ferguson. (Ferguson also sits on the Network's advisory board).
Perez started from a baseline of hostile and then accelerated to intimidating, according to the volunteer, who we'll call Sara, because she asked us not to use her name.
Sara explained that even though she and a fellow volunteer told Perez they just wanted to unload their merchandise (and a puppy), and they'd move their truck afterwards, Perez wasn't having it. She also told him it was a public street and they had every right to park there. Thing is, you never say stuff like that to a bully, because it reminds them that, even though they might have a walkie-talkie or a clipboard or a fancy lanyard, they're severely inadequate people. And there's nothing worse than a bully who's just been reminded why he's a bully. (Perez did not reply to an email seeking comment).
Sara writes that she also told Perez that she was waiting on four other volunteers, some of whom were driving in from the Woodlands. Again, Perez was not pleased, according to her. He repeatedly threatened to tow the volunteers' truck, she writes. Finally, they had enough, and the volunteers told him they would leave -- but that "We don't deserve to be treated this way."
She continues: "But Edward kept on and on and continued to try to argue with us. We kept responding that we were hurrying, that we were leaving, and could possibly leave faster if he would just respectfully leave us alone while we packed up."
This allegedly incensed Perez even more; Sara writes that he shouted at the couple to "get your shit and go now!"
"Edward never stopped," Sara writes, "he continued to yell at us and berate us until all our doors were closed and were driving off. It was humiliating and completely disrespectful."
Perez's behavior was allegedly so awful that the president of the Network's Houston chapter emailed an apology to volunteers on March 24: "My sincere apologies go out to all volunteers that were involved in Sunday's debacle at the HHS Fun Run. Basically, our set up volunteers arrived and were verbally attacked and intimidated by the shelter manager of HHS, Edward Perez....We will never be involved with any HHS events again. There is nothing anyone there could say or so to make up for this man's behavior."
Sara writes: "It is devastating that this person is so high up at HHS and that he uses his power to belittle and abuse people that are volunteering their time for a worthy cause to help animals. It is extremely unsettling that Edward is in power at the shelter. I shudder to think how he treats the innocent animals at HHS."
We wonder, too. But see, it's hard for us to get any information from the Houston Humane Society. That's because we wrote about a lawsuit -- later dropped -- filed by a former employee, who accused Perez of sexual harassment, among other things. From that point on, any time we wanted to write about HHS -- even to promote adoption -- we were directed to the non-profit's attorney. Because that's how legitimate animal rescues work: they muzzle up and tell you to talk to their lawyer.
However, we were pleasantly surprised to at least get a non-statement about this hubub from Ferguson herself: "The issue has been greatly distorted, blown totally out of proportion and has been resolved by the Executive Director of HHS and the President of THLN."
While Network Executive Director Rick Bousquet told volunteers in an email that "apologies were exchanged for any inappropriate comments or actions," Sara told us she never received an apology. Maybe she's lying. Either that, or Bousquet is.
"I will be the first to say the incident on Sunday was very unfortunate and I wish I had been there myself, but without minimizing the situation or doubting our volunteers, this is a prime example of taking the high road and moving forward in the best interest of what we are all working for, and [that's] the animals of Texas," Bousquet wrote.
Officially, to us, Bouquet wrote, "...I really don't see much of a write up here as we did have a minor incident on Sunday, but it was dealt with and cleared up with good communications between THLN and the HHS."
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We guess we'll just have to take Bousquet's word for it, because neither he nor Network President Cile Holloway would share their understanding of what happened, and how exactly it was "cleared up."
In fact, it's clear as mud. There are so many points of view, it's like Rashomon up in here. The chapter president describes Perez's behavior as so bad that she doesn't want to work with HHS ever again. But HHS' Ferguson states the incident was blown out of proportion. Sara says Perez swore at her and got in her face. Bousquet says it was a "minor incident." To us, this doesn't sound like anything was resolved.
In our experience, one reason animal welfare non-profits can get a pass on a bad egg is because it's "all about the animals." But the thing is, in Houston, and throughout Texas, there are so many people like Sara who somehow manage to work hard, help animals, and not be jerks. It's a blessing. And it means non-profits don't have to tolerate despicable behavior.
It is about animals. But until stray and surrendered animals can find homes on their own, non-profits need the help of good, caring people. And those people should be shown how much they're valued, not how they're expendable. Not for the placation of a bully and his keeper. Not for anything.