Activists pressure big donor

The city and animal rights activists' effort to make someone pay for past horrific conditions at the Las Vegas Valley's main animal shelter might lead to some of the nonprofit's purse strings being cut.

Lied Animal Foundation officials said that the former chairwoman of the foundation, who has been singled out by the activists and a scathing Humane Society of the United States report, has been responsible for the shelter's ability to meet operation expenses such as payroll, electricity bills and buying medicine.

Janie Greenspun Gale gave $800,000 between 2003 and 2006 to pay for staff and other expenses at the animal foundation, according to the Humane Society report. On top of that, she paid $11.6 million for the construction of a new animal shelter.

"The organization could not have stayed open to this point without Janie's contributions," said Chris Robinson, executive director of the foundation.

Her most recent contribution was $160,000 in April to meet payroll, Robinson said.

Gale, who is still on the foundation's board and plans to remain, said she still would look to raise money for more buildings at the Lied Animal Shelter, including a cat adoption center and administrative offices. But, she said, she did not think she would be needed to pay for operation expenses because of cost cutting.

She never anticipated having to spend this kind of money, she said, and admitted she did not know how much she had spent over the years on the foundation.

"It was always a call, 'Quick, we need this, we need that.' 'Animals are sick and the animals need medicine.'"

Despite the current dependence on Gale's money, activists continue to call for her to resign from the board and contend it is necessary for the Animal Foundation to move forward.

"Do I think Janie Greenspun is a generous person? Yes," said Gina Greisen, director of Nevada Voters for Animals. "Do I think because she's generous she knows how to run a shelter? No."

How much money the shelter would have needed if it were run properly was unclear, she said.

"If she wants to still help, she could step back, put the money in a trust. But she should not be in any policy-making position," she said.

The Humane Society report said that large financial support from a primary donor can come with costs. It brings "expectations for control and engagement that are not appropriate in any non-profit organization, and certainly not in one of this size with significant taxpayer support," the report said.

The city, county and North Las Vegas are required to make sure the shelter is in compliance with their contracts. Activists have criticized the local governments for not monitoring the situation at the shelter.

But the Humane Society said that Gale's standing in the community might have influenced oversight.

"Both the staff and the contracting agencies come across to the HSUS team members as loath to 'rock the boat' due to the considerable influence and involvement exerted by the board chairperson."

That is a charge Gale denies.

"If I had so much influence, why couldn't I get more money from the city" to pay for expenses, she asked.

Gale, sister of Las Vegas Sun Editor Brian Greenspun, resigned as chairwoman of the foundation after February's inspection by the Humane Society.

The Humane Society report found sick animals at Lied were ignored and left to die in their cages, dogs starved in overcrowded runs, and incoming animals were not vaccinated.

Rampant disease and overcrowding at the shelter "arose not by accident or out of ignorance, but as a result of a systematic policy that prohibited the euthanasia of surplus healthy and, in numerous cases, sick animals," the report said.

Both animal-rights leaders and Robinson said the need for Gale's money is the result of local governments not paying enough to shelter homeless animals.

Las Vegas, Clark County and North Las Vegas have agreements to pay the Animal Foundation for sheltering services, which they are required to provide under state law.

Tina Trenner, an animal-rights activist, said the Animal Foundation underbid to secure the contracts with Las Vegas in 1995 and then again to start providing services in 2005.

"The Animal Foundation negotiated the deals. They wanted them so bad, they undercut anybody that was in line," she said. "It's nobody's fault but their own.

"As long as Ms. Greenspun is forking over the money, you tell me how anything is going to change," she said.

Gale said she had no intention of resigning from the board, pointing to the new direction at the shelter.

"I'd be happy to walk away from it all, but I'm still needed if we're going to solve this problem," she said. "We're trying desperately to do the right thing by these animals."

She acknowledged that her efforts to not euthanize many animals caused overcrowding.

The Animal Foundation, she said, did not anticipate the number of animals that would be brought in when the former spay/neuter clinic bid to contract with Las Vegas. That agreement went into effect in 1995 and expired in 2005

As for the recent agreements with Clark County and North Las Vegas, she said: "We had numbers run to see if this was feasible. We just had the wrong numbers is all."

Mayor Oscar Goodman announced a city investigation earlier this month to find out who was responsible for conditions that led to 1,000 animals being euthanized in February.

He did not want those responsible for conditions associated with the Animal Foundation to remain, and he promised that the report would "name names."