Crisis at the Humane Society: Layoffs, Euthanizations Spark Outrage Amid Financial Struggles

A recent transport to the states gave more than 309 animals from the shelter a better chance of adoption. (Photo by James Gardner)

In a heart-wrenching turn of events, the Humane Society of St. Thomas found itself entangled in a web of controversy, as the layoff Thursday of 17 staff members provoked a wave of community uproar and accusations. The organization, known for its dedication to animal welfare, now faces a flurry of criticism and questions regarding its financial stability and decision-making processes.

The maelstrom began when those impacted by the layoffs took to social media, expressing their outage of the situation in a barrage of posts that left the community stunned and seeking answers. Michelle Robbins, the executive director of the Humane Society, addressed the public via a somber reply on the organization’s Facebook page, acknowledging the layoffs with a “heavy heart.” Robbins disclosed that the shelter had been grappling with financial woes, operating in the red for an extended period.

The catalyst for the layoffs, as explained by Robbins, was the overpopulation of the shelter and the subsequent demand on staff. She highlighted the strain caused by staff racking up overtime to meet the needs of the animals. The executive director expressed the organization’s commitment to the well-being of the animals, emphasizing that resources were primarily directed toward their care.

Months prior, rumors circulated that the Humane Society was contemplating euthanizing a significant number of animals, exacerbating the already tenuous relations with donors. According to Robbins, this contributed to a decline in financial support from the community. Only one company benefiting from Economic Development Commission tax benefits offered any significant financial support in the past year, leaving the organization in dire straits, she said.

Meanwhile, funds raised through the Pets with Wings program, which recently organized a large-scale transport of over 300 animals, were also never meant to offset the financial burden on staff expenses. Robbins clarified that the cost of caring for the animals amounted to a staggering $1.2 million annually, making it unsustainable without robust community support.

As tensions escalated Thursday, the controversial euthanization of four remaining dogs – which apparently caused one staff member to quit earlier this week – further fueled the community’s anger. Staff asserted that the dogs had become aggressive and posed a danger to people after spending years in the shelter. Robbins maintained that the Humane Society’s euthanization policy remained constant, focusing solely on animals deemed too aggressive to be around people.

But amid the anger and community back-and-forth, the harsh reality emerges—without vital financial support, the Humane Society of St. Thomas now faces the grim possibility of closure. And as its existence hangs in the balance, the larger question of what the island will do without it still remains.