The Island adoption center run by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) has operated with an average annual loss in excess of $100,000 for the past five years, according to an agency spokesman.
Breaking a silence of several weeks on the operational details of the Vineyard shelter scheduled for closure May 1 by the financially troubled charity, spokesman Brian Adams told the Gazette this week that more than 50 per cent of the operating budget comes over on the boat.
“This has been going on for years,” he added.
The Vineyard shelter is one of three Massachusetts centers scheduled for closure this year, action taken in response to a reported $11.5 million loss in endowment for 2008.
Over the past five years donations to the adoption center have ranged from $100 to $130,000, plus an average of $23,000 in money bequeathed according to Mr. Adams.
However, money from the Vineyard Veterinary Clinic which leases property on the MSCPA land is not included as Vineyard revenue.
Mr. Adams said the annual rent is in the tens of thousands of dollars and does not go toward the Vineyard center but is channeled back to the Boston general fund.
“The rental of that property goes to the organization as a whole but the value of that and much, much more comes back to the Vineyard,” he said.
“Even if we included [the rent] this [the closure] would still be happening,” he added.
The clinic is located in a building in front of the adoption center. Both are on land donated in 1947 by Island resident and animal advocate Katharine M. Foote.
Meanwhile, Mr. Adams underscored that not included in the $250,000 running costs are any central agency expenses, even if directly related to the Vineyard shelter.
“It doesn’t include the time it takes HR [human resources] to find an adopter, designers to make the posters — for me. For example, I’m talking about the Vineyard at the moment but I’m not getting paid out of the Vineyard budget,” he said.
Mr. Adams said they reconsidered their policy on releasing financial details for individual branches to avoid any confusion about the closure.
“We felt there was an impression that the Vineyard donors paid for the operation with its donations. It doesn’t,” he said.
The information is important to those who want to establish an alternative shelter in light of the closure, he went on.
“They should understand these things before they make plans. They should understand what they’re dealing with,” he said. “They’re going to consistently need twice as much money as is raised [in order to operate a center].”
Mr. Adams said that all the MSCPA shelters operate in the red, with money from the general fund and other sources covering the discrepancy between local revenue generation and costs.
Revenue has been eaten away at by top administrator salaries, which according to the latest tax filing in 2007 total over $1 million.
Total compensation including wages and benefits are over $200,000 apiece for five staff according to the tax filing.
Chief executive officer Carter Luke earned $345,000 in wages and benefits. Chief medical officer Ann Marie Manning earned $246,000; vice president of development Alice Bruce earned $203,000; and Angell medical center network president Dana Ramish earned $326,258. According to Mr. Adams her position has since been cut.
Mr. Adams said the organization has received questions about the salary levels in the face of shelter closures.
“People have asked, why aren’t you cutting salaries if you’re closing shelters. The first thing we did was to look at salaries,” he said.
Mr. Luke took $90,000 less in annual salary than his predecessor and has put a pay freeze on himself and other top administrators since 2006.
Mr. Adams objects to the inclusion of benefits in salary totals.
“These are not bonuses, they’re not private cars,” he said.
The organization also cut one senior position — head of information technology, and the president of Angell network, both $200,000-plus salaries. Today there are five instead of seven top administrator positions, Mr. Adams said.
There is increased responsibility for top staff along with the pay freezes, he said, pointing to Kathleen Collins who acts as head of both human resources and information technology.
And the salary review continues, he said.
“They’re being looked at every day. But if the entire management team only took $1 in salary it wouldn’t be even close to covering the Springfield center,” he said, referring to another of the three shelters that will close this year.
Mr. Adams said the cost of operating the Vineyard shelter should not be considered in light of these MSPCA expenditures.
“It’s operated very cleanly, very strictly. We’re not operating on fat here, we’re talking about basics like heat,” he said, keen to dispel the notion that the shelter is an inexpensive operation. Costs at the Vineyard shelter include one full-time salary for director Ronald Whitney. Revenue comes in the form of adoption fees, spay and inoculation services and crematorium use as well as charitable donations.
The agency also makes money from events such as its annual Walk For Animals, and the sale of products including pet food at the adoption center.
The Vineyard contributes about $9,000 to $10,000 for use elsewhere within the MSCPA, he added, including the general fund.
The agency doesn’t count a further average $23,000 in bequest money because of the erratic nature of the income stream, said Mr. Adams.
“It can’t be counted on every year,” he said. For example the Vineyard produced no bequeathal money in 2007, he said.
He said the money comes from relatively small donations numbering in the mid-hundreds rather than from a few big givers.
Mr. Luke is due to make a statement in the coming weeks with specifics regarding the three closing shelters, including the future use or possible sale of the Vineyard property, which is off the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. He has been unavailable for comment since the closure announcement three weeks ago.
Meanwhile various factions on the Island are attempting to address the closure. Representatives of animal control offices of the six Island towns and Mary Alcott of Good Dog Goods in Oak Bluffs decided to form a shelter committee at a meeting held this week at the Dukes County office.
The committee will include two representatives from each town, selectmen, animal control officers and veterinarians, said Vineyard Haven animal control officer Laurie Clements.
Ms. Clements was appointed, along with selectman Tristan Israel, to represent Tisbury at a selectmen’s meeting Tuesday.
She said the committee intends to meet in early March and present ideas to a meeting of the all-Island selectmen later in the month.
She said that a Vineyard coalition would likely lean toward certain practices such as requiring spaying and neutering for any animal going through a shelter. She is also strongly in favor of a no-kill policy, but acknowledges that issue is thornier.
“Someone said, what if you have a 20-year-old cat with one eye and a kidney problem,” she said. “Are you going to spend $5,000 on that animal when you could help 10 dogs get a home? Well that’s when I get up on my soapbox and say you can’t put a price on life.”