Will the end of Spring bring change to the Humane Society of Indianapolis?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2002:
INDIANAPOLIS–Marsha Spring, 59, executive director of the
Humane Society of Indianapolis since 1988, resigned on February 21,
four days after Indianapolis Star reporters Bill Theobald and Bonnie
Harris revealed that Spring had used credit cards and checks issued
by the humane society to pay for “purchases from high-end women’s
clothing stores, gas stations, a spa, and animal product
suppliers, among others, including items bought during personal
vacations on Florida’s Sanibel Island.”
Spring even used a humane society check to pay for
reupholstering her dining room chairs in November 1996, Theobald and
Among the key sources interviewed by Theobald and Harris was
Nancy Ogle Karn, the Humane Society of Indianapolis business manager
from 1990 to 1997, who co-signed the check for the reupholstered
Spring, humane society board president Lucius Hamilton, and
treasurer Monte Korte responded that Spring had promptly repaid the
amounts of all the checks and charges in question, and that all of
her actions were acceptable under ethical guidelines set by the
board. Spring said she had Karn pay for the reupholstered chairs
with a humane society check because they were mistakenly delivered to
the humane society office while she was away. The check was among a
stash of signed blank checks that she kept in a safe, Spring and
However, attorney Marilyn Moores, heading the Indianapolis
city task force on animal care and control, told Theobald and Harris
that the use of the credit cards and checks for personal purchases
could be seen as loans made in violation of Indiana state law, which
does not allow charities to lend money to officers and staff.
Nonprofit law experts consulted by Theobald, Harris, and ANIMAL
PEOPLE agreed without exception that even if the transactions were
completely legal and all of the money was promptly repaid, they were
still bad practice for any institution which relies upon public trust.
Spring also “bid $875 and won a Disney World trip” and “bid
$550 and won a Persian rug valued at $881” at auctions of donated
items held to benefit the humane society, Theobald and Harris
reported. Standard nonprofit ethics usually do not allow executives
and board members to win prizes donated to their organizations,
especially not with bids of less than market value.
Resisted low-cost fix
Spring “was paid about $82,000 in 2001,” Theobald and Harris
wrote, up sharply from the $62,400 she received in 1999, according
to the most recent available Humane Society of Indianapolis filing of
IRS Form 990.
As executive director, Spring presided over extensive
expansion and modernization of the humane society facilities, and
built financial reserves of about $6.6 million, more than two and a
half times the size of the organization’s annual budget. Under
Spring, the humane society also took over management of the
Indianapolis pound. But Spring adamantly resisted adding
high-volume, low-cost dog and cat sterilization to the humane
society repertoire of services.
“We don’t have the funds to start such a clinic,” Spring insisted.
Criticized by Zionsville emergency room physician Scott
Robinson, M.D., for slow progress–or none–in reducing shelter
killing of homeless dogs and cats, Spring published newspaper ads
claiming a 90% adoption rate, and later mailed appeals claiming a
99% adoption rate. When Robinson challenged her claim, she admitted
that she was referring only to the rate of adoption among the
relative handful of dogs and cats offered for adoption.
Overall, the Humane Society of Indianapolis was and is
killing about 70% of all dogs and cats received. Most are never put
up for adoption. The Humane Society of Indianapolis and other
shelters in the city killed 26.8 animals per 1,000 human residents in
1998, about 15% more than the Indiana statewide average.
Robinson opened the Foundation Against Companion Animal
Euthanasia high-volume, low-cost dog and cat sterilization clinic a
year later. Since then, the Indianapolis toll has fallen to the
state average of 22.7 animals per 1,000 human residents, but still
lags 26% behind the U.S. norm.
Yet until Theobald and Harris began intense coverage of
animal care and control in Indianapolis in mid-2001, however,
Spring and the Humane Society of Indianapolis board showed little
interest in changing their approach to achieve improvement.
For their efforts in 2001, Theobald and Harris on February
19 won the George Polk Journalism Award for metropolitan
reporting–making them apparently the first reporters ever to win
major national honors for animal care-and-control coverage.
The George Polk award is presented annually by Long Island
University in honor of a CBS reporter who was kidnapped and killed in
1949 while covering civil strife between Communists and monarchists
in Greece. The incident somewhat paralleled the recent murder in
Pakistan of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl.
Theobald, Harris, ABC producer Lisa Lubin, Cat Fancy
contributing editor Susan Easterly, and ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt
Clifton are to present a panel discussion about animal issues and the
news media on April 28 at the No More Homeless Pets conference in
Other alleged misuse
The Spring case echoed ongoing investigations involving
animal control departments and humane societies in several other
* Plano, Texas, on February 6 notified city animal
services manager Peggy Richman that she was to be dismissed for
“unlawful endorsement of city checks and misuse of the city credit
card,” allegedly documented by “credit card statements showing
repeated misuse of the card for many personal items, including but
not limited to boots, clothes, household items, sporting goods,
vehicle equipment, and a kitchen appliance.”
Many such items might be legitimate needs of an animal
shelter, but receipts substituted for the originals suggested
otherwise, reported Plano Star Courier staff writer Johanna M.
Brewer. For example, Richman allegedly submitted a receipt showing
that she spent $417.82 on August 23, 2001, for a dog trap purchased
from Bass Pro Shops.
“A fax sent to the city by Bass Pro Shops shows a total of
$417.82 charged to the city’s charge card for ‘snakeskin boots’ and a
high performance bow-and-arrow set,” Brewer wrote.
“Charges have yet to be filed in the case,” Brewer
continued. “Richman, a 15-year animal services supervisor in
Arlington and Lewisville [Texas], before joining Plano, said she is
innocent of suspicions raised by the officials who fired her.”
* A criminal charge of theft was filed on February 11
against Laura L. Smith, 64, of Riverside, New Jersey, treasurer
of the Burlington County SPCA from 1993 until 1999. Associated Press
reported that Smith was charged with taking money without proper
authorization, “to pay herself a salary and bonuses, as well as to
pay her auto insurance and telephone bills.”
The Smith case was among several under scrutiny by the New
Jersey State Commission of Investigation, as described by ANIMAL
PEOPLE in May 2001.