Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Organizational Sociology of the Toronto Humane Society

Image::  Taken by Kenneth M. Kambara on 24 May 2009, 11 River Street

Earlier today, I was alerted to the brewing drama down at the Toronto Humane Society {THS} {HT: LinnyQat}.  Yesterday, there was a raid, resulting in 5 arrests::

  • Tim Trow, Toronto Humane Society’s president, two counts of conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, two counts of cruelty to animals, and three counts of obstruction of a peace officer
  • Dr. Steve Sheridan, THS Head Veterinarian, one count each of conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and cruelty to animals
  • Gary McCracken, THS General Manager, two counts of conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, one count of cruelty to animals, and three counts of obstruction of a peace officer
  • Andy Bechtel, a senior staff member, two counts of conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, one count of cruelty to animals, and three counts of obstruction of a peace officer
  • Romeo Bernadino, senior staffer, two counts of conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, one count of cruelty to animals, and three counts of obstruction of a peace officer.

In addition, in the aftermath of the raid, four animals had to be euthanized and a desiccated cat was found in a trap, set to catch wayward felines, but ultimately neglected.  I've been a fan of the THS and heard rumblings of trouble there in the summer, but I think the stink of the garbage strike captured more of my attention.  I looked up the Globe & Mail articles that broke the story of problems at the THS.  What was interesting is how it appears that an organizational dysfunction permeated the culture within.

One of the issues is the euthanasia policy.  Many allege that animals were allowed to suffer and the policy not to euthanize animals was couched in "ethical" reasons by the volunteer President, Tim Trow.  What is also telling is that while the THS actively and avidly promotes its low euthanizing rates of admitted animals, comparing their 6% to Toronto Animal Service's 55%, the adoption numbers were systematically misrepresented—upwards.  Low euthanasia and high adoption rates made the THS look good on paper for fundraising purposes.

Also telling is how staff and volunteers were forced to sign confidentiality agreements, which were effective for two years after leaving the shelter.  Reports of high turnover don't paint a rosy picture either.  The Globe & Mail article notes that the formal ties to the City of Toronto have been severed and that it functions as an independent body with no oversight.

This set off alarm bells in my book::
"The structure of THS management has also changed during Mr. Trow's second presidency. The chief executive officer position has been eliminated, and Mr. Trow has assumed the duties normally reserved for a paid employee rather than a volunteer president.  
Amy White was the director of communications at the THS when Mr. Trow was elected. She said that before his term she had direct access to the board of directors and conferred with them on committees." [Globe & Mail, 29 May 2009]
If this is accurate, Trow managed to re-configure the organization so that he was the CEO and cut off ties between top management and the board, so that he brokered all of the information going to the board.  So, a sociogram depicting working relationships might look like this::

In this hypothetical sociogram visual {from Jacob Levi Moreno - sociogram}, the board and staff may represent two distinct clusters that don't interact.  If Trow is the "bridge," he controls flows of information and wields considerable power.  It sounds like this was the case.  It looks like either the board was behind Trow or asleep at the switch and the board is also on the hook legally and members may face animal cruelty charges.  One of the functions of boards is oversight, i.e., diligence with respect to fiduciary responsibilities, and while there is a delicate balance between too-much and too-little poking around, it appears as if the Board slacked off at the very least.

The Toronto Humane Society has been around for around 120 years and will be around after this scandal.  What needs to happen is some massive organizational housecleaning and I would suggest creating sociograms to examine workflows and determine how the THS should be restructured.  I feel the the top management and the Board need to be axed {yes, this means dropping Trow}, in order to instill the confidence of the citizens of Toronto, as well as donors.  New strategies, policies, and procedures need to reflect a new THS that is more transparent and with oversight.

Twitterversion:: Scandal at the #Toronto Humane Society reeks not just of animal cruelty re: euthenasia but massive organizational #fail. @Prof_K

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What an interesting blog article, just in terms of thinking about the THS in terms of sociology and not pop-psychologically. The THS needs to be studied in terms of the spectacle it is, a public relations spectacle where lying, misrepresention and fraud are the norm.
A good starting point when studying the THS is to assume complete incompetence among staff, managers and volunteers, assume all facts and representations are false. The 7% euthanasia rate is a lie. The number of animals coming in to the THS each year is not 10000, but closer to 3000, and there are not 5000+ adoptions. It is difficult for many to understand that they simply make up their numbers, and then promulgate them to get donations. Trow just put forward false numbers which showed he was doing a great job to satisfy donors with a high degree of performance.