In the weeks following unfavorable media coverage of purported shortfalls at the Humane Society of St. Lucie County, the organization has issued a scathing response, one that apparently did not make it to the county until a member of the media sought comment regarding it.
The Humane Society of St. Lucie County’s chairman of the board of directors, Mary Jean Navaretta, released a six-page response rebutting the concerns raised in the inspection report and questioning the motives behind the inspection’s timing.
“The timing of the visit, three and four days before the renewal of contracts with the City of Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County respectively, evidences a deliberate attempt by certain private individuals to purposely interfere with contractual relationships and exacerbates rather than ameliorates a situation brought on in large part to the inadequate compensation for services that these jurisdictions pay,” she wrote.
The City of Port St. Lucie’s contract with the Humane Society is not due for renewal until next September.
For its part, the county has taken issue with Navaretta’s decision to release a response to the media instead of sending it to the county, as well as with the Humane Society’s lack of participation in commission discussions.
“The County understands Ms. Navaretta’s concerns and frustrations,” wrote Communications Director Erick Gill in a statement released to the media. “However, no representative from the Humane Society [chose] to speak [at] the informal meeting or the regular County Commission meeting where the Board discussed the County’s concerns with the Humane Society contract.”
As a result of the inspection in September and the subsequent discussions among the County Commission and Fort Pierce City Council, separately, both governments opted to renew on a month-to-month basis a contract with the Humane Society to continue providing housing and care for Animal Control.
“This was done so after county staff completed a throughout review of the Humane Society’s finances and found that the non-profit organization had been deficit budgeting for the past few years,” Gill wrote. “County Commissioners and staff have concerns about the Humane Society’s finances as well as facility issues that were discovered during an inspection of the Glades Cutoff facility.”
In September, an inspection was conducted at the Glades Cutoff facility, which found the facility in need of some attention. Among the concerns raised were issues of staffing, cleanliness and heat.
The Humane Society took issue with those concerns in its response.
“Recent misinformation and unfair media coverage have tarnished our image,” reads the opening line of the response’s synopsis penned by Navaretta.
She released a six-page response, which characterized the inspection as more of an attack on the facility. As evidence, Navaretta pointed to the time of day of the inspection and the sheer number of people in attendance.
“The animals are fed at 11:00 and thus the time chosen by the ‘visitors’ is the precise time that the animals’ meals would likely be processed, a fact known to the former volunteers accompanying the committee,” the response reads. “Ordinarily, it is after lunch that the rounds and cleaning of the kennels would be performed, a fact not evidenced in the reporting. The kennels do not have individual attendants that monitor each animal’s excretory cycles. Common sense dictates that at various times evidence of canine bodily functions will be present in individual kennels.”
As for the heat in the facility and lack of air conditioning, the Humane Society pointed to the professional architects who purposely engineered the building without A/C.
Those professionals “advised against the installation of air-conditioning since, in their opinion, air conditioning is conducive to the spread of infection and disease,” the response states. “Fans are utilized to offset high temperatures.”
Still, temperatures inside the building were reported as being around 90 degrees, with fans running.
Navaretta raised issues with the lack of funding from local municipalities as to why the Humane Society is operating the way it is. Staffing has been cut. Salaries have not been increased. Staffers do not get benefits. A veterinarian is there only a couple days a week.
An analysis of the two Humane Society facilities, according to Navaretta, showed an operating cost of $445,000 over a seven-month period, from Oct. 1, 2017, through April 30, 2018.
In that time, the governments paid nearly $299,000 – leaving more than $146,000 for the Humane Society to cover via fundraising and its thrift store.
“The Humane Society has repeatedly brought its operational deficit to the attention of the governmental entities,” Navaretta wrote. “To bridge the gap between the costs of services provided to the City’s and County’s animals and contractual income, the Humane Society embarked upon new fundraisers, such as Paws in the Park and the Putt for Paws Golf Classic and initiated capital campaign efforts.
“While the Humane Society has stepped up to serve the animals entrusted to it, the jurisdictions have repeatedly failed to sufficiently pay for the actual services provided,” she continued. “Adequate compensation for services, not political posturing and ‘finger pointing,’ is needed.”
Gill said the county is in the process of scheduling a joint meeting or workshop with the municipalities and the Humane Society to address the financial issues. He said they would expect to discuss ways to lower cost and/or raise additional revenue “to continue this relationship, which has been in place for more than 30 years.”
Both the Humane Society of St. Lucie County and the county itself agree on one point – the care and treatment of the animals at the Humane Society is paramount.
“The Number One priority for the County is the safety and welfare of the animals,” Gill wrote. “We hope by having an honest, open discussion will all of the parties involved – we can come to resolution that protects the animals and is the most cost-effective solution for taxpayers.”
“The Humane Society remains grateful to those who support its mission and are willing to assist in performing that mission. The animals are not helped by criticism motivated by personal agenda. The Humane Society Board is committed to use its limited resources to provide for the animals entrusted to the Humane Society. … We ask the City and County to join us in rallying behind those animals that rely on us to plead their cause.”