“An organization on the brink of a crisis” — that’s what a former top executive called The Animal Foundation (TAF) in July.
Those words headline a 23-page report he wrote detailing a toxic environment where animals and staff are suffering, and his dire warnings came true this past weekend when eight staff members resigned at once, causing temporary closure and forcing the chief executive officer to acknowledge the shelter is in crisis.
13 Investigates first exposed crisis conditions at our municipal animal shelter nearly a year ago. The internal report we obtained alleges little has changed.
James Pumphrey, the former chief operating officer of TAF, says he warned CEO Hilarie Gray about the significant issues impacting animal and staff safety and welfare. Pumphrey says he wrote the July progress report to document conditions Gray wasn’t addressing, and to offer solutions.
Pumphrey tells us he was fired days after sending the report to TAF’s, who only wanted to hear about “progress, not problems.”
New pictures from inside TAF, which were shared with 13 investigators, were taken two days before the employee exodus. They document a feline parvovirus outbreak and respiratory disease in one of the dog bungalows.
James Pumphrey’s July report noted ongoing concerns with substandard medical care back then. He wrote, “Parvovirus and panleukopenia treatments were being attempted without the necessary resources to effectively treat, isolate, and ensure an appropriate level of care. Parvovirus is being spread by sick animals to healthy ones due to poor infectious disease management.”
He also said, “Mild and moderate medical conditions were not being examined or provided timely,” as well as that “animals often were delayed treatments and even pain management… Including those with serious injuries like broken limbs…”
Pumphrey’s words in his July report paint a stark picture of ongoing issues first exposed in a 13 Investigation last Fall. He was hired in part to help fix the shelter’s shortcomings.
“The COO, James, was probably the only person that had any experience as far as in shelters, over 20 years… the only person that I was confident could implement and make changes on an operational level,” said Las Vegas Councilwoman Victoria Seaman, who’s been a fierce critic of the municipal shelter since our investigation first aired last Fall. “And it’s always the same run-around, but no clear answers about progress. So, no, I don’t believe that there’s been any progress. And when I do ask questions, it’s always the same story. ‘We’re working on it.'”
Her recent surprise inspection of the shelter revealed neglected animals in filthy cages. It resulted in a letter admonishing CEO Hilarie Gray that the conditions were a violation of the shelter’s contract.
Seaman’s visit came nearly two months after Pumphrey’s report raised red flags about the shelter system “operating at or over capacity at all times,” which he called an “unstable and unsustainable practice.”
Both Seaman and Pumphrey say it boils down to too many animals and not enough staff… Exactly what the eight employees who just quit noted in their resignation letter. As we’ve reported, that’s not a new problem.
“Unfortunately, because they’re so short-staffed, animals often go without the care that they need,” Philena Carter told 13 Investigates in February.
She’d worked at TAF for two months in December and January before she couldn’t take it anymore and quit.
“There are animals sitting in waste. They’re sitting on damp floors with no blankets. They’re scared. They’re mentally declining because we can’t socialize them if we don’t have enough people to even feed them. Everything is getting neglected,” Carter said.
Five months later, Pumphrey documented those same issues in his report, writing of a “critical struggle” to provide basic animal care that compromises adoption, transfer to rescues, the community cat program and reuniting lost pets with their owners.
“And the only thing that is suffering besides our tax dollars is the animals,” Seaman said.
The overworked staff is suffering too, Pumphrey wrote, saying, “Staff members regularly encounter workplace violence from patrons including threats, verbal abuse and attempts at physical abuse.”
He said the small staff has been traumatized leading to high turnover and people having to work excessive hours, “including consecutive weeks without a day off.”
Seaman said, “I have many people that I’ve talked to that were on the inside who find it a very toxic environment and they’re underpaid. It’s a very top-heavy environment with administrators.”
TAF’s latest IRS form posted on its website is from 2020 when total revenue was $12.9 million. $7.4 million of that went to salaries and benefits. The top four executives all made six-figure salaries. The CEO at the time got nearly a quarter-million a year while staff started at just $12-13 an hour.
We asked Hilarie Gray about that back in February.
“Any discussion about leveling the playing field a little bit?” Darcy Spears asked.
“Absolutely,” Gray responded. “There’s been discussion about making sure that we take a look at not just pay scales, but other things that are important to people: education, cost of living increases.”
As of July, nothing had changed according to Pumphrey’s report, where he noted TAF staffers’ starting hourly wage was less than one would make at a fast food restaurant.
The employees who just resigned noted that the low pay holds true to this day.
“Meanwhile, we’re on the frontline getting yelled at every day because no one can answer the phones. Because if we answer the phones, the animals don’t have food. Or they’re dying,” Carter said in February.
At the time, Gray promised that he had changed.
“The team that takes care of the animals, that was very understaffed, is now up to speed on staff,” Gray said.
Again, not true according to the employees who just quit and, before that, Pumphrey’s July report.
He wrote, “Due to staffing levels and challenges, animals were not being fed in a timely manner, not being cleaned the way they deserved, and not being moved through the shelter process.”
He added it’s “nearly impossible for staff to be able to answer phone calls and emails, causing lost pets to stay in the shelter too long, even allowing them to be adopted out to other families or euthanized before a potential owner was contacted.”
He said “staff was being set up to fail” and those words became prophetic when most of the Admissions department quit on Sunday.
“The things that he talked about did not surprise me, but they were pretty appalling,” said Seaman.
Other observations Pumphrey made include kittens being transported to an emergency vet clinic every night at a cost of $30,000 a month but returning each morning weighing less.
He said kittens in the nursery endured “preventable suffering and death” due to understaffing.
Pumphrey also found “dogs on the brink of turning neurotic were not given enrichment training or intervention, expediting their suffering and discomfort… Often, dogs sat in their kennels for days before being taken out by staff or volunteers.”
“I no longer have confidence in the organization,” said Seaman.
13 Investigates reached out to TAF board members Jan Jones and Chairperson Kevin Murakami.
Neither responded to calls, texts or emails.
CEO Hilarie Gray did not respond to 13 Investigates either to provide an interview or statement about Pumphrey’s July report.
The shelter’s marketing department did send the following statement:
“We cannot comment on Mr. Pumphrey’s departure from the organization as that is a personnel matter.”
There is much more to this story, including advisors from UC Davis who’ve severed ties with The Animal Foundation, and allegations of a cover-up.
Look for more on that in the coming weeks as this investigation continues.