A spokesman for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) yesterday denied that a lack of caution is behind a multimillion-dollar investor loss which led to the closure of the Vineyard animal shelter, announced a fortnight ago.
The Vineyard branch of the MSPCA is one of three state shelters which will close this year due to a loss of $11.5 million, or a quarter of the total endowment for 2008. Spokesman Brian Adams blamed the shortfall on the economic crisis as a whole.
“We still have a brilliant team of investors, it’s their financial expertise,” he said, adding that no investment is approved without the board of directors. He said the charity was not among the victims of multibillion-dollar ponzi schemes that targeted charities.
”It’s not [Bernie] Madoff, and it wasn’t people like him. We weren’t fleeced,” Mr. Adams said yesterday.
The charity has been tight-lipped about the financial status of the Vineyard shelter — and MSPCA chief executive officer Carter Luke has declined to comment on the closures, following a brief written release. Mr. Adams said a further announcement will be forthcoming in the next few weeks.
“Right now he and his senior staff are just really busy,” he said. “He will publicly comment, once he can come forward with concrete options, for those wondering what will happen to animals, the buildings and so on.”
Not yet available are operating costs for 2008, the crucial year during which the organization reportedly lost a quarter of its endowment.
But annual reports show the charity has been operating in the red for several years. In 2007, the organization reported an operating loss of over $1 million.
Thast year the MSPCA took in $49.1 million from contributions, a figure which includes investment gains according to Mr. Adams. Its operating expenses were $50.5 million.
When Mr. Luke took over as CEO in 2006, he reported that the organization was carrying an $8.6 million debt. The endowment has shrunk steadily over the past decade, from $74 million in 1999 to $52 million in 2006, to a reported $46 million for 2008.
Meanwhile the charity continues not to disclose the financial particulars behind the Vineyard closure. However Mr. Adams said money put forward by the community for the Island shelter is a small percentage of what is required to sustain it.
“Money from Boston and from elsewhere is used to sustain Martha’s Vineyard,” he said. “But every branch operates in the red.”
Mr. Adams said the organization is made whole by donations to the general fund and by revenue generated from other sources.
“The money we make [from the endowment] is a small portion of the operating revenue. A lot of it is driven by the services we provide,” he said.
Among those services are inoculations, spay procedures, and on the Island, cremation.
Mr. Adams worked to dispel any notion that donations made to the Vineyard MSPCA branch end up in Boston or elsewhere.
At the same time he pointed to a staggering statistic, that a New York state animal welfare charity receives more money from donors in this state than the MSPCA, due to confusion arising from its name: the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (ASPCA).
“People think they’re making a general donation but we are completely separate,” he said.
Regardless of the confusion, Mr. Adams was adamant that when people donate to the Vineyard shelter, the money is spent on the Island. Donors are specifically asked where they want their money to go, he said.
“We make it very clear,” he said. “We work hard to be careful on that.”
As the Island prepares for the May 1 closure of the Edgartown shelter, several groups are mobilizing.
Some refuse to accept the decision as final; a save the Vineyard MSPCA group on Facebook, the social networking site, has 1,500 members.
Owner of Good Dog Goods and Oak Bluffs selectman Kerry Scott is spearheading among town leaders to find an alternative shelter.
Acting on behalf of the Oak Bluffs selectmen, she said she has enlisted the support of many Island leaders for a nonprofit initiative to protect Island dogs and cats in conjunction with animal control officers.
“We all realize this is a disaster,” she said yesterday.
Using as a model the Falmouth nonprofit group Dogs For Life, Ms. Scott wants to organize a regional shelter run by volunteers. The Falmouth organization shares building space with animal control, which covers building maintenance and utility. The nonprofit takes in strays which are unclaimed after 10 days.
“Everyone’s on an even footing. The psychology is pretty sound,” Ms. Scott said of the organization’s volunteer setup.
“I don’t think there will be huge costs,” she added. “It works extremely well over there, we need to look across the Vineyard Sound. We need to control our own destiny.”