Noah’s Wish founder Terri Crisp resigns; state probes use of Katrina funds
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2007:
SACRAMENTO–“As of today, [founder] Terri Crisp is no longer
associated with Noah’s Wish, Inc. in any capacity,” the Noah’s Wish
web site announced on March 28, 2007. “We wish her well in her
Signed by the “Noah’s Wish Board of Directors,” the message
disclosing Crisp’s departure followed two days after a similarly
signed March 26 acknowledgement that “Noah’s Wish is in the midst of
an ongoing civil investigation by the California Attorney General’s
office concerning funds received by Noah’s Wish during Hurricane
Noah’s Wish told the Chronicle of Philanthropy in November
2005 that it had received $6.5 million in donations after Katrina.
“Tax documents for Noah’s Wish obtained by the Sacramento
Business Journal reported revenue of $8.4 million, almost all of it
from contributions, between July 1, 2005, and Dec. 31, 2005,”
reported Business Journal staff writer Kelly Johnson on March 30,
“Some $4.8 million was in unrestricted assets,” Johnson
said, while $1.5 million was declared as “temporarily restricted
Charitable donations are deemed legally “restricted” when the
donors in some manner expressly communicate, at the time of giving,
that the donations are meant exclusively to serve one particular
purpose. A vague statement such as “to help animals” does not
restrict a donation, but a statement stipulating “to help the New
Orleans animals” or “to help the Katrina animals” might be construed
as a binding restriction.
Elaborated the “Noah’s Wish Board” in their March 26
statement, “The California Attorney General has taken the position
that certain funds donated to Noah’s Wish during this period, and its
immediate aftermath, are restricted, and may only be used for the
animal victims of Hurricane Katrina, rather than the animal victims
of other disasters or for general disaster preparedness.
“Noah’s Wish disagrees with the Attorney General’s position
with respect to those funds,” the board said, “but is working
cooperatively with the Attorney General toward a timely resolution of
Added the March 26 board statement, “In response to the
California Attorney General, Noah’s Wish has set aside the disputed
funds, and agreed not to use those funds pending final resolution of
“Noah’s Wish is unable to predict when the matter will be
resolved,” the March 26 board statement continued. “Because Noah’s
Wish does not presently have access to the disputed funds, it is
unable at this time to continue to provide disaster preparedness
services and volunteer training.”
Johnson reported that Noah’s Wish “was preparing to close its
El Dorado Hills headquarters. About a dozen workers have resigned or
been laid off since late last year. Staff members are being paid
through April 11,” but as of the end of March, “only the office
manager remained at the El Dorado Hills headquarters to close things
Wrote Johnson, “The California Attorney General’s Office has
been investigating the organization since last summer. According to
documents obtained by the Business Journal from a former employee,
an accounting firm hired by Noah’s Wish to examine its books
concluded that it would be impossible to conduct a reliable audit.
Stated a letter from John Waddell & Co., Certified Public
Accountants, “A significant portion of corroborating evidence such
as vendor invoices, receipts, deposit slips, and other supporting
data were not maintained during the period that the organization was
responding to the needs of animals during Hurricane Katrina. The
records that remain are not sufficient to permit the application of
auditing procedures that would be adequate for us to express an
opinion on the accompanying financial statements.”
Lori Polk, chair of the Noah’s Wish board during Katrina,
“left the board the month after the hurricane,” Johnson disclosed.
Polk told Johnson she resigned because she felt she was “fighting a
losing battle trying to maintain my fiduciary responsibility to the
organization,” as Noah’s Wish “did not make decisions based upon
board approval,” and made “expenditures without approval.”
The Hurricane Katrina relief effort started in first days of
September 2005. Noah’s Wish volunteers who lived within driving
distance of the disaster area were on the scene almost immediately.
Establishing rescue bases in Slidell Parish, Louisiana, and
Pearlington, Mississippi, Noah’s Wish helped with animal rescue and
care in the disaster area for 11 weeks. Individual Noah’s Wish
volunteers and employees were still reuniting animals rescued from
New Orleans with humans who were evacuated as late as August 2006,
according to news accounts.
But complaints and warnings about Terri Crisp’s activity in
connection with the Katrina relief effort reached ANIMAL PEOPLE as
early as September 20, 2005, beginning with a widely distributed
e-mail from Wildlife Rescue of Dade County (Florida) founder Lloyd
Involved in animal disaster relief since Hurricane Andrew in
1992, Brown alleged that Crisp had been escorted from the vicinity
of three subsequent Florida disasters by sheriff’s deputies, for
failing to get proper authorization to be there.
“I have no knowledge of the people who volunteer for Noah’s
Wish being involved in any illegal or unethical activities,” Brown
clarified. “I will even go as far as to say that if they would
operate within the established system and agree to play by the rules,
then we could probably work with them just fine. It is their
director, Terri Crisp, whom I have a problem with.”
Brown was employed by the Humane Society of the U.S. to help
after six disasters in 13 months during 2004-2005, including the
immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but acknowledged that “I
was told to take a break in the middle of our rescue work in
Mississippi,” because of stress symptoms.
Crisp herself acknowledged in an August 29, 2004 web posting
that Noah’s Wish did not have authorization to participate in the
Hurricane Charley disaster relief effort, but said she and her
volunteers had tried to obtain the necessary permissions for more
than two weeks. Noah’s Wish volunteers eventually participated under
auspices of Sarasota In Defense of Animals, Crisp said.
Allegations that Noah’s Wish was not fulfilling financial
obligations in connection with Hurricane Katrina surfaced on January
9, 2006, when Arizona equine rescue volunteer Shawna McHargue
posted an appeal for funds “on behalf of my friend and fellow rescuer
Stephanie Wolfe of Animal Rescue Cooperation,” a rescue network
listed on Petfinder.com and identified as being active in California
McHargue claimed Wolfe and her husband were at risk of losing
their home due to debt incurred from taking in “12 pit bulls from the
Katrina disaster with the help of Noah’s Wish.” McHargue said Noah’s
Wish had failed to make timely reimbursements for renting a vehicle,
veterinary care, and putting up fencing needed to hold the pit bulls.
Noah’s Wish also “committed $1 million to the city of
Slidell, Louisiana, for construction of a new animal control
center,” Johnson of the Business Journal reported, as the old
shelter was so severely damaged by Katrina as to require replacement.
Slidell city attorney Tim Mathison told Johnson that none of the
money had been received.
But Mathison praised Noah’s Wish for their care of 1,900
marooned animals. “They did a wonderful job,” Mathison told
Johnson. “We didn’t have the resources to do what they did.”
Crisp got $140,900
Noah’s Wish was spending money.
“Expenses shot upward from about $212,000 in 2004-2005 to
more than $2 million in the last six months of 2005,” Johnson wrote.
Nearly $400,000 was spent, Johnson said, “to purchase vehicles.”
“In early 2006,” related Johnson, “the group bought a
storage building in East Alton, Illinois, for $65,125, and leased
office space in New York City, according to documents provided by a
former [Noah’s Wish] employee.”
The New York City office was closed in January 2007, Johnson said.
IRS Form 990 filings accessible at www.Guidestar.org show
that Crisp was paid $6,200 in 2004-2005.
“For the second half of 2005,” Johnson wrote, “Noah’s Wish
paid $405,948 in salaries and compensation, according to a Form 990
supplied by the former employee. Of that, Crisp received $140,900.
The second-highest compensation went to Sheri Thompson at $118,125.”
Reported Deb Kollars of the Sacramento Bee, “Crisp said she
didn’t know where the $140,900 figure came from. Her pay rose to
$132,000 in 2005 to make up for her past tiny paychecks, she said,
and was to have shifted to $80,000 this year.”
The Form 990 filing shown to Johnson has not yet been been
posted by Guidestar, the subcontractor hired by the IRS to make Form
990 filings accessible.
National salary norms published by the Chronicle of
Philanthropy show that the average compensation paid to the head of a
charity with revenue of $5 million to $10 million per year was
$120,531 in 2005.
In northern California, reported Johnson, “The annual
median base salary for the executive director of a nonprofit of this
size is $130,000, according to the 2006 Comp-ensation and Benefits
Survey of Northern California Nonprofit Organizations, produced by
the Center for Nonprofit Management in Los Angeles.”
The California Attorney General’s mandate, Johnson noted,
includes “investigating the loss of substantial funds during one
year, illegal use of funds, diversion of funds from their intended
purpose, and excessive amounts paid for salaries, benefits, travel,
entertainment, legal and other professional fees.”
California attorney general Bill Lockyer’s office has not
issued a public statement about the Noah’s Wish investigation.
“A spokesman for the state’s top lawyer would not confirm or
deny an investigation,” Johnson said.
Johnson reported that “Ralph Nevis of Downey Brand Attorneys
LLP in Sacramento, who represents Noah’s Wish, would not discuss
the nature of the inquiry.”
Noah’s Wish board chair Amy Maher did not return calls, Johnson said.
“We are in a holding pattern until we resolve this issue,”
Maher told Kollars of the Bee. Maher told Kollars that she could not
comment on the investigation, or Crisp’s removal. A prosecutor for
the Illinois state attorney’s office, Maher joined the Noah’s Wish
board following former president Lori Polk’s resignation. Maher’s
husband Roger Smith is also on the board, Kollars wrote.
“Board members Lyn Kendrick, Gail Monick, and David Lesser
declined to comment,” added Johnson. “Another, Heather Hathaway,
did not respond to a request for an interview.”
Crisp told Johnson that she left the Noah’s Wish board in
February 2007, only days after signing the organization’s most
recent and perhaps last appeal to donors, “partly because it’s a
conflict of interest,” and because the California Attorney General’s
office “had asked for me not to remain on the board.”
Wrote Johnson, “Crisp said she did not have the latest
information on the investigation or details about what it covers,”
and said she had not been questioned by the investigators.
“I don’t know of any misuse of funds,” Crisp told Johnson.
“It’s almost over with,” Crisp told Kollars in mid-April,
blaming the investigation on a disgruntled employee.
“I’m confident the outcome is going to be positive,” Crisp said.
Crisp, then a consultant for United Animal Nations, and
Doll Stanley, an employee of In Defense of Animals, were among the
most prominent animal rescuers in the aftermath of the
Berkeley/Oakland Hills fire of October 1991. The fire destroyed or
damaged nearly 3,500 homes, killing 25 people and displacing more
than 10,000 people plus about 5,000 pets.
Stanley went on to found Project Hope, an IDA-sponsored
sanctuary and humane outreach program in Mississippi.
Crisp, as disaster relief director for UAN, developed
systems for coordinating large numbers of volunteers and tracking
rescued animals that began to prove themselves after Hurricane Andrew
hit Florida in September 1992.
Before Hurricane Andrew, humane disaster relief efforts were
relatively small and sporadic. Typically just a few trained
respondents ventured into disaster areas, while Spontaneous
Unsolicited Volunteers, called “SUV rescuers” for short, were
discouraged. Crisp devised ways of bringing the “SUV rescuers” into
the disaster relief system, beginning by hosting seminars all over
the U.S. between disasters, to teach her methods to hundreds of
Either directly or indirectly, the Crisp approach soon
became the predominant modus operandi for animal relief agencies.
Incorporating most of the “SUV rescuers” into the relief operation
was a big part of why the animal relief effort after Hurricane
Katrina was noticeably less chaotic than much of the human relief
work–at least until the leading agencies withdrew, between two and
four months later.
ANIMAL PEOPLE heard few complaints from the field about
Crisp’s work until September 1999, when after Hurricane Floyd hit
North Carolina her teams conflicted with local agencies and rescuers
coordinated by the Humane Society of the U.S.
That appeared to be an isolated case for several years, but
ANIMAL PEOPLE received similar complaints after the terrorist
attacks of September 11, 2001. Crisp left United Animal Nations in
November 2001, founding Noah’s Wish in March 2002. Complaints
followed about Crisp’s work after the southern California wildfires
of 2003, the Florida hurricanes of 2004, and flooding that hit much
of Romania in 2005.
However, Tsunami Memorial Animal Welfare Trust founder
Robert Blumberg had only high praise for Crisp’s aid in Sri Lanka
after the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004.