Print Verde Valley Humane Society, Castillo face tough questions
Written by Greg Ruland   
Thursday, 23 September 2010 00:00

A local animal shelter’s only public meeting of the year drew more than 30 people Friday, Sept. 17, mostly supporters who spoke in defense of the nonprofit, but also two donors who questioned its hours of operation, treatment of volunteers and lack of transparency.

In 2009-10, revenue dropped more than 80 percent at Verde Valley Humane Society’s thrift shop, two former employees were prosecuted for theft and new telephone and ventilation systems malfunctioned, adding more costs, Executive Director Cyndi Castillo said.

Jay Pond, right, the owner of a local pet store which frequently hosts adoptable Verde Valley Humane Society felines, questions the short hours the animal shelter keeps at the shelter’s annual board meeting Friday, Sept. 17. The shelter is currently open to the public 26 hours per week usually between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., hours Pond said are  inaccessible to most working people.The shelter’s end-of-year bank balance, about $42,000, was “scary,” she said.

On the bright side, opening the new Adopt for Life Center and successfully raising money at a ceramic bowl fundraiser earlier this year were two high points, Castillo said.

The best news was VVHS adopted out 322 dogs and 120 cats in 2009-10. It also returned 184 dogs and seven cats to their owners, she said.

After recognizing staff and volunteers for their work during the past year, Castillo singled out former board President Nick Hunseder for special recognition, presenting his wife, Debra, with a certificate of appreciation. Hunseder, who stepped down in August, did not attend the meeting.

After lauding Hunseder as an exceptional shelter supporter and tireless worker, Castillo checked off a list of concerns she was prepared to address.


In the past year, the society’s thrift store, The Good-Buy Shop, saw a decline in sales, dropping from a high of $6,000 per month in 2009 to a low of $1,000 per month in 2010. The society rents the storefront for more than $2,000 a month, Castillo said.

“That’s our lifeblood,” she said. “We can’t survive without that revenue.”

She said she is working to update inventory at the shop.

Castillo said the shelter’s end-of-year bank balance of $42,000 was its lowest balance in some time, the result of drawing down reserves to pay operating costs.


Verde Valley Humane Society board members Laura Fletcher, left, Dawn Hunsberger, center, and Executive Director Cyndi Castillo field questions from community members  interested in some of the  local animal shelter’s recent controversies including the loss of a $36,000 annual contract from Yavapai County Animal Control.Although the total number of euthanasias remained fairly steady in 2009-10, construction of the new center resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of animals euthanized due to space, Castillo said.

The society euthanized 17 animals due to lack of space in 2009-10, compared to 111 such deaths the previous year.

Upper respiratory illness, however, contributed to a high number of cats euthanized last year. Of the 427 felines put down, 20 were euthanized due to the disease on June 26, Castillo said.

Upper respiratory illness twice forced the society to put down all of the felines in residence, she said.

Animals are seen by a veterinarian at the time of adoption, but cost limits the types of treatments animals may receive before adoption. Surgeries and X-rays, for example, are often prohibitively expensive, she said.

The shelter purchases medicines to treat animals when recommended by a veterinarian.

Castillo said her previous work on a pediatric unit enables her to determine when ill animals risk spreading disease and must be put down.

VVHS follows the same euthanasia protocols as the Arizona Humane Society when deciding which animals to put down.

Animals may be put down because they are too aggressive, injured or ill to be adopted. The shelter is not required to house animals more than five days, but sometimes keeps animals for months at a time, Castillo said.


The VVHS thrift store’s difficulties were compounded by two short-time employees who reportedly stole money and goods from the Good-Buy Shop in the past year, Castillo said.

“We prosecuted,” she said.The society places classified ads, consults with the Yavapai County unemployment office and takes referrals “by word of mouth” to make hiring decisions. The society does not use an outside agency to screen employees, Castillo said.

Hours of Operation

Jay Pond, owner of a local pet store, urged the board to find ways to keep the Adopt for Life Center open longer to make more animal adoptions possible.

“I’m all about the animals, but it’s just not working,” Pond said. “We’ve got to do better.”

Currently, the center is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Thursday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The society is unable to secure enough volunteers to keep the center open beyond the 26 hours a week it currently operates, Castillo said.


Marsha Dietrich, a regular donor to the shelter, said she questioned Castillo’s inability to retain volunteers.
“My issue is the volunteers, the people that I personally have come to know over the last two years, some really fine people, educated people, who have just walked off in pure frustration,” Dietrich said.
“You’re only hearing one side,” Castillo said.

The volunteers in question attempted to direct staff in the performance of their work. As a result, they had to be let go, Castillo said.

Castillo said she was skeptical of Dietrich’s suggestion the society hire a volunteer coordinator due to cost or lack of people willing to work the job for free.

Dietrich said after the meeting she found the exchange intimidating.

“I’ve got some legitimate questions as an active donor, and I’m not getting anything but defensiveness and hostility in answer to my questions. I was not satisfied with her answers,” Dietrich said.


After thousands of dollars of repairs and upgrades, the ventilation system in the new Adopt for Life Center does not work properly, making it impossible to shelter cats in the new building, Castillo said.

The area where cats were to be housed does not get cooler than 84 degrees, Castillo said, too hot for cats to live.

The ventilation system was installed properly, according to George Noble, the contractor who oversaw construction of the new building.

Castillo said the project architect selected the ventilation system. It has not operated properly for months. It will cost at least another $4,000 in upgrades before the system will work properly, Castillo said.

Noble, who said he already did more than required by contributing time and money to fix the problem, cannot afford to pay any more for the upgrade.


Dietrich, curious about the way in which directors are selected for the VVHS board, asked for the society’s bylaws to be posted online. VVHS Secretary Laura Fletcher said she saw no reason why not.

The bylaws were not posted on the society’s official website as of press time, Wednesday, Sept. 22.

Yavapai County Contract

Castillo said she did not ignore calls from Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office requesting negotiations on its contract with VVHS. She said messages from YCSO, along with dozens of others, were inadvertently locked off in the society’s former telephone system, which could not be accessed from the new system. The problem has since been remedied.

A county spokesman previously said the contract was awarded to the Humane Society of Sedona because the Sedona shelter was willing to negotiate a better deal and Castillo was unavailable and did not return telephone messages.

Loss of the contract, valued at $33,000, did not negatively impact the society’s financial standing, Castillo said.

Without a contract to pay for sheltering county animals, however, the Adopt for Life Center will continue to turn away animals brought in from areas outside the boundaries of Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Jerome.

Currently, animals recovered from unincorporated areas of Yavapai County, like Bridgeport and Verde Villages, must be transported to Sedona.