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December 12, 2008 8:06 AM

The inhumane society?


It's not a dog's life at the Colorado Humane Society, according to the attorney general.

Tillie Fong reports:

An Arapahoe County District Court judge is expected to decide next week how to keep the Colorado Humane Society functioning amid allegations by the state attorney general of mismanagement at the shelter.

"This hearing will be based on the appointment of a receiver and a temporary restraining order," said Nate Strauch, spokesman for the Colorado attorney general's office. "We don't believe it should be dissolved. The Denver area needs the shelter."

The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday before Arapahoe County District Judge Cheryl Post.

On Wednesday the AG's office filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Humane Society and three of its officers: executive director Mary Warren, development director Robert Warren and operations director Stephenie Gardner. Mary Warren and Robert Warren are married, and Gardner is Mary Warren's daughter.

The three are accused of mismanagement of CHS, including collecting $3 million in donations illegally, lying about the euthanasia policy for animals and appropriating CHS funds and assets for personal use.

The state is asking that the Colorado Humane Society be put into receivership or be dissolved and its assets put to use by another group. The state is also asking that the Warrens and Gardner be barred from working with CHS.

The Rocky's editorial says the society has allegedly been hijacked by a family of scoundrels.

According to the state's complaint, the Humane Society has been a renegade outfit since at least 2003, thanks to Robert and Mary Warren and their daughter (his stepdaughter) Stephenie Gardner, who run the shelter. The state claims the nonprofit failed to register properly as a charitable organization or to file necessary financial reports, ignored requirements governing a nonprofit's board of directors, diverted donations to the benefit of shelter officers, lied to the public about its euthanasia policy, lied about solicitations for disaster relief, commingled its finances with personal resources, and on and on. The allegations are mind-boggling in scope, covering offenses big and small.

Without a doubt, the most despicable practice alleged by the state's complaint, which asks a court to appoint a custodian to take over management of the nonprofit, is that the shelter enticed animal lovers to make donations through a false description of its euthanasia policy.

"Defendants at times misrepresented that CHS operated a 'no-kill' shelter," the complaint says, "when in fact CHS has always had a euthanasia policy and committed euthanasia."

As of Thursday, the Humane Society's Web site assured the public that "We provide shelter, food and medical treatment as long as an animal's health and heart are willing! This can be a day, a week or even months, if necessary. In only the most extreme situations is an animal put to sleep. Grave illness or injury, advanced age with infirmity or aggression are the only criteria considered for euthanasia. Walk through the shelter and look into the eyes of a dog that has been here for months. The eyes twinkle and the tail wags. If he has not given up, how can we?"

The attorney general argues that not only is this cuddly presentation false and that the Englewood facility "routinely euthanizes animals that are not 'adoptable,' " but that its own employee handbook gives away the game.

"When we have an animal . . . whose adoption is so unlikely that its only future is in our shelter," the handbook says, "we can only prevent suffering by humane euthanasia."

You might well wonder what this nonprofit's board of directors was thinking as the shelter's officers were allegedly running roughshod over every imaginable rule - or why any board would countenance such nepotism to begin with. It turns out that the board was a shell of what it should have been; the shelter's bylaws stipulate seven board members, but that had been ignored since 2004.

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