EXCLUSIVE: Kauai Humane Society fires two whistle blowing managers

Published: Jul. 3, 2015 at 10:00 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 3, 2015 at 10:16 PM HST
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LIHUE, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two managers at the Kauai Humane Society who spoke out about problems there, including inaccurate euthanasia rates that were more than 20 percent higher than reported publicly, have been fired by the organization.

The two employees complained to Hawaii News Now May 26 that the shelter was under reporting its animal euthanasia rates and that some animals were not being properly cared for and unqualified employees were being hired.  They later made the same complaints to two newspapers that also reported the story.

"We gave a lot of time to the Kauai Humane Society and all of a sudden, we're out of a job now for doing the right thing," said Mana Brown, the shelter's field services manager an employee for more than five years who was terminated June 22 by Penny Cistaro, the executive director of the shelter whose alleged mismanagement he and a group of employees had criticized.

Brandy Varvel, who was the outreach manager at the society and also was quoted by HNN and other news outlets, lost her job on June 22 as well.

"Twelve employees signed a petition supporting Penny's removal.  However Mana and I were the only ones quoted in the media and it appears our firing is a warning to anyone else who'd like to continue to speak out," Varvel said.

Cistaro told Hawaii News Now Friday she can't respond to those charges, because personnel issues are private matter.

"All KHS employees are at-will employees and their employment was terminated," Cistaro said.

Brown, Varvel and other employees first took their concerns to Cistaro in the spring and claimed they were rebuffed.  They then met with the society's board of directors in April, handing over a 50-page document of detailed allegations of alleged improprieties at the shelter, including inaccurate animal kill rates.

But it wasn't until the day after Hawaii News Now's May 26 story in which those whistle blowers questioned the accuracy of the shelter's euthanasia rates, that the society finally corrected its numbers.

Previously, the shelter had incorrectly claimed between 47 and 52 percent of animals in the shelter were put to sleep, but the actual euthanasia rates published the day after HNN"s first report were much higher, in the range of 68 to 75 percent.

Asked to explain the error, Cistaro said for the two years she has been in charge, "the matrix being used to calculate them (euthanasia numbers) wasn't accurate," something she blamed on previous management.

"That has been corrected," she said.

Cistaro said since she took over the shelter two years ago, "Our numbers are trending down in euthanasia and we are increasing the number of animals that are either getting back into the community or transferred to the mainland."

Cistaro admitted the controversies have cost her organization what she claimed are "a couple of donors" including one "substantial donor and what is impacted by this are the animals."

Other sources said a donor who controls a trust worth several hundred thousand dollars earmarked for the shelter will no longer donate and another donor who's given several hundred thousand to the Kauai Humane Society in recent years is also withholding future donations until the director steps down.

A third major donor, a couple who has given $50,000 to the shelter in recent years, also stopped donating, according to sources familiar with the situation.  All three of those donors started withholding money because they were concerned with Cistaro's leadership earlier this year, long before the whistle blowing employees were fired, sources said.

Ron Hinkle of Kalaheo, a former Kauai Humane Society board member and volunteer for eight years, stopped volunteering his time in early June after the two managers were put on paid leave and under investigation.

Hinkle said he used to drive the KHS bus to local events and helped in the operating room preparing animals for surgery.

"They (the two managers) were put on administrative leave and then subsequently fired for no reason other than being whistle blowers," Hinkle said. "I'm totally in support of the Humane Society and their mission.  It's just the leadership that they have there now is going in the wrong direction."

In late May, Emily Larocque, KHS' president of the board of the directors, told HNN, "The board stands 100 percent behind our executive director."

"We have reviewed programs and policies being implemented by her and believe that she is moving KHS in a positive director for the animals on Kauai," Larocque added.

Brown, the fired manager who's now looking for a job, said, "I just hope everything changes for the better and the board and Penny realize what they've done wrong and really take a step back and look at it and try and fix things that are happening there."

Related link:

EXCLUSIVE: 12 employees call for ouster of Kauai Humane Society head 

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