Toxic work environment inside a palatial building at Seattle Humane

The Seattle Times has lambasted a glossy animal shelter: Seattle Humane, for not carrying out the promises that they made when raising $30 million to build what they describe as a palatial shelter on three floors, the largest non-profit animal shelter in the Puget Sound region.

Seattle Humane
Seattle Humane interior. Photo: Nathan Winograd email to me.
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Nathan Winograd has picked up on The Seattle Times article and also criticised them. He says that between 2015 and 2018 Seattle Humane campaigned for donations to raise $25 million to build a new animal shelter. They promised donors that the new shelter would have a 60% increase in adoptions. They also said that they would take many animals from death row at high kill pounds. In all they spent $30 million on a 57,000 square-foot building which I have to say looks magnificent in the photograph.

Winograd says that in 2019 the shelter only adopted out a single extra animal compared to adoptions at the old facility. The following year was worse when Seattle Humane took in 64% fewer animals. This was at the height of the pandemic when shelters across the state saw a drop in animal intakes. Fair enough, but Seattle Humane’s decline in intakes was twice as steep as other shelters across Washington.

The Seattle Times reporter(s) spoke with 30 former and current employees and volunteers at the non-profit. They say that these people described an organisation that was (and apparently remains) plagued with chaotic policies within a toxic work environment. They shared what I guess must be confidential documentation to support their claims. They asked to remain anonymous to avoid damage to their careers.

One person has been named, I guess voluntarily, Deirdre Mayer, who said that she loved her job and the terms and conditions included free medical insurance and eight weeks’ vacation but despite that she couldn’t stay, she said. She said that “It was sickening to watch.”

Allegedly there was an internal revolt by staff when matters came to a head in the summer of 2019. The shelter decided to euthanise a dog with little or no notice to staff. The incident caused the CEO at the time to resign 13 days later.

Trudeau, a 7-year-old Labrador retriever mix, was euthanized by Seattle Humane in 2019, sparking an internal revolt in the organization. (Stephanie Seek)

The incident referred to is described as a ‘catalyst’. It happened in the summer of 2019, as mentioned, when Seattle Humane decided to euthanise Trudeau a seven-year-old black Labrador mix which shocked several staffers and volunteers. The dog had been surrendered to the shelter the previous year. It acted aggressively towards other dogs but was affectionate towards people. He was fostered in 2019 and described as very docile and very lovable by the foster carers. Apparently, he lunged at another dog injuring the foster carer and Seattle Humane ordered them to return Trudeau to the shelter. He was euthanized two months later on the eve of July 4 having given two hours’ notice to volunteers and staff. He was diagnosed as suffering from extreme stress. It seems that staff took this as indicative of a poor managerial culture.

The new CEO said that there was a lack of leadership at the time and that the tone at the top has changed. But apparently the non-profit still employs senior managers from that difficult era. They struggle to perform to the same level as other non-profit animal shelters in the region it is claimed.

Seattle humane have a fundraising advantage because of their status. Donations provide 90% of their budget. In a single night they can raise more money than other shelters do in a year. Despite this financial advantage the number of animal intakes and adoptions was a fraction of those of other smaller shelters in the region at the height of the Covid pandemic.

As an excuse for their performance, Nathan Winograd states that the shelter said that their goals when raising donations for the new building were “aspirational”. In other words, they were not fixed targets. Winograd says that that might be acceptable if the shelter had adopted out 50% more animals but they adopted out only one additional animal.

Another excuse apparently that Seattle Humane used to explain what appears to be a very bad performance is that they don’t have to improve because they are already a great shelter. They state that they have the highest save rates in the country at 99%. Winograd says that this is a misleading statistic because they are a private shelter allowing them to pick and choose which animals to taking as opposed to a municipal shelter.

He also states that the 99% save rate is highly suspect. He refers to The Seattle Times report. As stated, they had access to documents. Allegedly they indicate that more animals were killed than reported publicly. Seattle Humane blames this on a computer glitch due to ‘incorrect coding’ in their words.

Another excuse for poor performance that Nathan Winograd refers to is that Seattle Humane no longer want to save more lives. This is a reference to a new policy as promoted by Austin Pets Alive, Best Friends and the National Animal Control Association which is called “community sheltering”. It’s a euphemism for putting animals back into the community from where they came or in other words doing nothing about them and not providing sheltering. The idea is not to accept strays at the shelter. Apparently, staff tell people who find stray animals to re-abandon them.

The video below from Nathan Winograd is an example:

If you want to read more on this topic, I would of course highly recommend The Seattle Times article (click to go there) which provides charts and statistics to add some detail.

1 thought on “Toxic work environment inside a palatial building at Seattle Humane”

  1. WTF? “The idea is not to accept strays at the shelter. Apparently, staff tell people who find stray animals to re-abandon them”.


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