ANIMAL PEOPLE investigation: Acting head of North Shore Animal League cleared of old allegations; MAY BE NAMED PRESIDENT OF $59 MILLION HUMANE SOCIETY

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1993:

PORT WASHINGTON, New York––An intensive ANIMAL PEOPLE
investigation of allegations raised against acting North Shore Animal League chief exec-
utive officer J. John Stevenson by his opponents in an eight-year-old lawsuit has con-
cluded that they have no substance sufficient to call into question his fitness to adminis-
trate the world’s largest humane society.
ANIMAL PEOPLE reviewed more than 300 pages of court documents and
interviewed numerous prominently placed witnesses before grilling Stevenson himself
for six and a half hours. Stevenson suggested the unusually intense session, and drove
three and a half hours each way from his home in Connecticut to participate, he said,
because he saw no other way to lay the long-circulating claims to rest. Although
Stevenson’s opponents discussed some of the issues extensively with The Legal Times in
1990, Stevenson said he hadn’t previously defended himself in public, upon the advice
of his legal counsel to avoid action that could be construed as broadening the case.

Upon wrapping up the probe, ANIMAL PEOPLE advised NSAL cofounder
Elisabeth Lewyt and major sources that the editor and publisher are “satisfied that Mr.
Stevenson is an animal person, a decent and humane man of integrity, who would make
an excellent chief executive officer for NSAL.” This unusual step was taken because
ANIMAL PEOPLE had become aware that the mere knowledge an investigation was
underway might have caused some individuals to circulate potentially damaging rumors.
As incumbent, highly popular with staff throughout NASL, Stevenson is
believed to be one of at least two and perhaps three strong candidates to succeed David
Ganz as president of the $59 million no-kill shelter, which last year provided more than
$3.5 million to neutering programs and $2.4 million in other funding to animal shelters
throughout the U.S. and Canada. Ganz resigned March 1. The NASL board is expected
to ratify a successor upon receiving the recommendations of a screening committee
reportedly headed by a retired federal judge.
During his four-year tenure with NASL, Stevenson is credited with a leading
part in setting up the shelter outreach programs and in resolving various conflicts among
the 250 NASL employees. Long known for ignoring critics, both actual and imagined,
NASL has become markedly more responsive since Stevenson succeeded Ganz on an
interim basis.
The charges against Stevenson concerned his actions as attorney and board
president of the Humane Family Foundation between December 1984 and April 1988.
The Humane Family Foundation, a conservative animal welfare group, was founded as
Humane Information Services in 1965 by the late Frederick L. Thomsen, a consulting
economist and former USDA director of marketing research, who hired his longtime
assistant Emily Gleockler as secretary/treasurer. She lived in the upper floor of a two-
story house in St. Petersburg, Florida, whose lower floor was the HIS office. Thomsen
also founded a lobbying arm, the National Association for Humane Legislation.
From the beginning, HIS and NAHL stressed reform rather than abolition of
industries that use animals––for instance, in Thomsen’s words in a 1971 newsletter,
“promoting industry-wide adoption of humane methods of killing the many millions of
mink utilized for fur garments,” instead of opposing the wearing of fur. At the time,
this approach was shared by many leading humane organizations. When Thomsen died
on April 3, 1978, leaving Gleockler as executrix of his will, Humane Information
Services was already positioning itself as a buffer between the meat and fur industries
and the incipient animal rights movement.
The Will
“I hereby notify my executrix and the board of directors,” Thomsen’s last
instructions stated, “that I will consider it a breach of faith if my legacy is placed in an
endowment fund, all of which would not be used up within at least 20 years of my death.
I have not earned at hard labor and saved at considerable personal sacrifice this estate for
the purpose of having it serve as an indefinite sinecure for a bunch of salaried profession-
al do-gooders. It will be up to the staff to make the society perform in such a way as to
be self-supporting at least in 20 years’ time after my death, and preferably before this.”
Whether Gleockler honored the intent of those instructions would be at issue
with a succession of fellow members of the HIS board and organizational attorneys for
more than a decade. Her own minutes of annual board meetings confirm that she con-
served and consolidated resources by firing all other paid staff; balked at hiring replace-
ments, including a proposed executive director to replace Thomsen; eventually moved
that she should become the sole employee; dissolved NAHL in June 1985; terminated
the HIS publication (which under Thomsen had grown from a newsletter called Report to
Humanitarians into a newspaper, The Humane Report, circulating 19,000 copies);
bought a new Jeep Wagoneer with HIS funds in November 1980; and suspended
fundraising, causing HIS to lose tax-exempt status as a public charity in 1981. It became
instead a private foundation, obliged to pay taxes on interest income––but taxes amount-
ing to much less than the rate of return on Thomsen’s estate. Gleockler also secured
salary increases upping her own compensation from $8,400 a year at Thomsen’s death to
$44,400 under a 10-year contract by late 1986 (as part of the settlement agreement in the
eventual lawsuit against Stevenson).
Program activities included funding the development of a restrainer system for
use in kosher slaughterhouses; working to replace decompression chambers, then widely
used for euthanizing dogs and cats, with more humane methods of euthanasia; funding
research into the use of the paralytic drug T-61 to kill mink
(an approach now widely considered inhumane); and dis-
tributing information on how to “humanely” cook live lob-
sters. Organizational minutes and correspondence during
this period include repeated warnings from Gleockler that
“anyone from the younger generation who might be entrust-
ed with HIS in later years cannot be depended upon to con-
tinue the organization as we would want,” due to “the ill
feelings caused among livestock producers, scientists, etc.,
by the ‘animal rights’ people.”
Enter Stevenson
Stevenson joined HIS on the recommendation of a
mutual acquaintance, Philanthropy Times publisher Henry
Suhrke, who also served briefly on the HFF board.
Formerly on the staff of the Ohio attorney general,
Stevenson was a nationally recognized expert on nonprofit
law, but beyond having pet dogs, had no background in
animal protection. Gleockler had the bylaws amended to
admit Stevenson to the board, then had him elected board
president, Stevenson recalls, before he even met her. As
legal agent for HIS, Stevenson upon Gleockler’s instruc-
tions sought to relocate the foundation to a state where she
could be the sole director. Unable to find one, he relocated
it to Pennsylvania, which required only two
directors––himself and Gleockler. Also with Gleockler’s
encouragement, he sought funding for the stillborn Humane
Family Video Project from umbrella groups representing
more than 40 agricultural organizations and corporations
serving agribusiness. Aimed at school children, the video
series had, as one stated goal, “to promote the eating of
meat,” by presenting a positive image of farmers. The pro-
ject was to be carried out by the Bush Center for Child
Development and Social Policy at Yale University, where
Stevenson’s wife, Dr. Matia Finn-Stevenson, has worked
since July 1, 1979.
When a rift opened between Gleockler and
Stevenson later in 1985, Gleockler cited Stevenson’s corre-
spondence with meat industry front groups in accusing him
of indifference toward animals and a negative attitude
toward animal protection. Stevenson drafted a particularly
self-damaging memo on July 19, 1985, concerning the
revision of a draft video curriculum to eliminate at request
of the front groups a section titled “Animals and children
have feelings.” But on the very same day, Gleockler wrote
to a third party with a copy to Stevenson that, “During the
past few years we have been criticized and actually harassed
by the new animal rightists and activists who want us to join
them in working to abolish the use of animals in the labora-
tories, the eating of meat, the wearing of fur, etc. Theirs is
a very unrealistic approach, and we refuse to waver in our
philosophy.”
As late as November 20, 1985, Gleockler urged
Stevenson to approach the fur industry for funds as well,
suggesting that HIS, by then renamed HFF, could “offer a
label for fur products reading something like: Manufactured
from skins of animals humanely raised and dispatched,”
above the HFF logo. She lamented that “stupid humanitari-
ans” and “activists’ propaganda” had probably precluded
getting “contributions from animal lovers for this venture.”
The rift opened abruptly a few weeks later, much
as rifts between Gleockler and others associated with
HIS/HFF had. By December 1985, Gleockler was attempt-
ing to fire Stevenson, accusing him of failing to inform her
of financial agreements in connection with the video pro-
ject––although they appear to have been in the annual bud-
get statement she signed only three months earlier.
Relations worsened in January 1986, over funding of
$50,000 and an introduction Gleockler contributed to
Behind The Laboratory Door, an antivivisection treatise by
Christine Stevens of the Animal Welfare Institute, who was
a board member of NAHL at the time it was dissolved.
Explains Stevenson, “The issue was not Behind
The Laboratory Door, nor was it that she chose to fund it.
The issue was that I didn’t know anything about it when
these people I was negotiating with, who were already sus-
picious of me because I was ‘an animal guy,’ suddenly
threw a copy on the table and demanded that I give an
explanation. It was the first I’d ever seen of it.” The fund-
ing arrangement collapsed.
As HFF president, Stevenson sued to oust
Gleockler from the board for allegedly breaching the inten-
tions of the founder, Thomsen, and otherwise dealing in
bad faith. A complex series of legal moves and counter-
moves followed over the next two and a half years, as
Gleockler tried to regain control of the organization while
Stevenson set up a parallel public charity, the United
Family Foundation, in an unsuccessful attempt to continue
the video project and to acquire and run the International
Media Service (a nonprofit evangelical Christian news
agency) as a vehicle for humane information intended to
prevent child abuse. Funding for other HIS/HFF projects
was interupted by the litigious point/counterpoint.
Amid the struggle, Gleockler charged Stevenson
with steering funds to his wife, an accusation refuted by her
supervisor, Dr. Edward Zigler, who affirmed in a written
statement that “Her salary is paid for from the operating
funds of the Bush Center and is not, nor has it ever been,
dependent on any project grant or contract.”
In addition, Gleockler accused Stevenson of
enriching himself, but in fact his top salary with HFF was
$4,200 a month, or $50,000 a year, not a great deal more
than her own at the time, and not extraordinary for either a
fulltime attorney or a foundation chief executive.
Exit Stevenson
Whether Stevenson had the legal right to sue
Gleockler and fund UFF via HFF was never decided in
court, as they were ordered to settle out of court in mid-
1986. Under the settlement, concluded September 12,
1986, the HFF board was expanded to five members,
Gleockler received the 10-year contract, and Stevenson
received a four-year contract. The evident object was to
enable Stevenson to withdraw from the organization with-
out liability. Completing the withdrawal agreement, how-
ever, took another two and a half years. Under this agree-
ment, UFF was to treat funding received from HFF as a
loan, to be repaid with interest, but the payments were
never made because UFF declared bankruptcy under pres-
sure of further legal action by Gleockler’s attorneys––whose
fees Gleockler apparently partially withheld.
While Stevenson has been out of the case for five
years, the disposition of the UFF assets apparently remains
in dispute, and some of the parties involved have run into
trouble for purported conflict of interest. After changing
attorneys at least once more, HFF is no longer actively pur-
suing the matter, according to board member Ted Friend.
There are now three board members––Gleockler, Friend,
and Friend’s father––and about $400,000 of the $500,000
left in the foundation accounts have been dedicated to build-
ing the Frederick L. Thomsen Animal Euthenics Center
under Friend’s supervision at Texas A&M University.
“I’m out of it and good riddance,” Stevenson told
ANIMAL PEOPLE. He admits his correspondence on
behalf of HIS/HFF during 1985-1986 could be used as
damning evidence against him––if taken out of context,
including the oath attorneys take to faithfully represent the
positions of their clients, regardless of personal views.
Stevenson credits his work at NSAL over the past
few years with considerably raising his consciousness.
“I a m an animal guy,” he says of himself. His
dogs (and the ANIMAL PEOPLE dogs and cats) confirm
it. Each of his dogs, abandoned or abused, was adopted
after originally being slated for euthanasia at one of the shel-
ters in the NSAL outreach program.
Of his role in attempting to promote the meat
industry eight years ago, Stevenson admits, “We probably
did step over a line, leaning too far overboard to try to con-
vince these guys they could fund a project to promote
humane values without getting bashed.” Although
Stevenson confesses to eating chicken and fish, he no
longer eats red meat, and says he thinks a lot about vegetar-
ianism, “because I think about the animals now.”
Long-term plans for NASL, if he gets the chance
to implement them, include expanding the new Seniors-for-
Seniors program (see page 18), extending free full-service
veterinary care to pets of the indigent, and improving the
quality of NASL veterinary service by adding more special-
ists to the staff.
––Merritt Clifton
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