Former Humane Society CEO offers new insight about working with rescue partners

Published: Nov. 17, 2023 at 5:14 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - A former Humane Society leader is giving some new insight into how the organization is supposed to operate. It comes as the southern Arizona rescue group is promising change, months after hundreds of small animals in their care disappeared and have been unaccounted for.

The Humane Society of Southern Arizona believes the mice, rabbits, guinea pigs and other small animals may have been frozen and used as food for reptiles, not rescued.

Last week, Humane Society of Southern Arizona board chair Robert Garcia revealed that his organization tasked with saving and adopting pets, had transferred more than 300 small animals in their care to a single breeder in Maricopa County.

An unlicensed breeder, The Fertile Turtle, that HSSA now believes froze more than 200 of the animals for reptile feed.

“That’s why we do the work that we do, is to protect them,” Maureen O’Nell, a former CEO at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, said to 13 News. O’Nell agreed to speak with 13 News about the industry standards and best practices that should be followed.

“Working with rescue partners is absolutely imperative for the work that we do. It is critical for life-saving work,” she explained. Practices like vetting rescue partners to make sure they are legitimate non-profits and in good standing.

As previously reported by 13 News, the Phoenix breeder who received the animals is not licensed as a business according to the Arizona Corporation Commission. O’Nell said typically a group like HSSA would work with many rescue partners to help.

“But for one group to take on that many animals, it’s unheard of,” she said.

In an email to volunteers sent back in September, former Humane Society CEO Steve Farley wrote about The Fertile Turtle, saying, “HSSA has worked successfully with that family-run, family-funded rescue for more than a decade.”

O’Nell led the HSSA from 2013 to 2015 and said she had no recollection of them. The HSSA said those running The Fertile Turtle claimed the small animals were placed with families, but they have provided no documentation or records of adoptions. O’Nell also noted a reputable organization would collect records and share those records.

The Fertile Turtle has not responded to multiple requests for an interview.

The HSSA board is not answering any questions until their report into their investigation is completed early next month. On their website, HSSA notes they are taking steps to ensure this does not happen again, including working to strengthen their policies and procedures, as well as create direct channels to the Board such that employees and other concerned persons can raise issues without fear of reprisal.

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