• Donald V. Watkins

GBHS: A Killing Zone For Animals In Need

By Donald V. Watkins ©Copyrighted and Published on June 3, 2018


Founded in 1883 by Dr. John Herbert Phillips, the Greater Birmingham Humane Society’s mission was then and always has been “to promote respect for life through education and prevention of cruelty to animals and people.” For more than 135 years, countless community leaders, GBHS volunteers, financial supporters, and staffers have dedicated their time, money, and lives to preventing cruelty to animals and people.


In January 2015, GBHS was awarded the Animal Control and Impoundment contract for Jefferson County, Alabama. The impoundment services are provided for the City of Birmingham as well as all of Jefferson County. In the first year of this contract, the GBHS took in more than 18,000 homeless, neglected and abused animals. In 2016, GBHS took in 21,193 animals in need.


In December 2014, GBHS started the Alabama Shelter Veterinarians program. Under this program, a veterinarian, working under a contract, (a) sprays and neuters all of the adoptable animals and (b) provides medical care to the animals located at GBHS’s Animal Care and Control facility, as well as the adoption center.


The GBHS's website claims that every animal brought to its Animal Care and Control facility receives full vaccinations, flea and tick treatment, and a veterinary assessment at intake. After intake, the animals are subject to a state-mandated 7-day stray hold, and after that period, animals are transferred to the GBHS adoption facility for a chance to find their forever home.


Public contributions in the form of donations, adoption fees, and membership dues, as well as revenues billed under the contracts with government agencies, support these animal care services.


GBHS garnered $5,422,357 in total support and revenue, according to the organization’s consolidated financial statement for the fiscal year ending on September 30, 2017. Of this amount, $662,712 was generated from service fees, $1,032,829 was derived from animal control contracts with various local government agencies, and $1,693,960 was brought in from contributions and grants.


GBHS’s net assets at the beginning of FYE 2017 totaled $12,183,497. At the end of FYE 2017, GBHS had net assets of $13,534,489, including cash on hand of $681,130.


The Woodlawn Facility: “Putting lipstick on a pig”


GBHS’s primary Animal Care and Control facility is located at 6227 5th Ave. N. in Birmingham. It is known as the “Woodlawn facility”. By all accounts, the Woodlawn facility was in a run-down and dilapidated condition when GBHS sought and received the Animal Care and Control contract in 2015. Jefferson County owns the building and the City of Birmingham owns the land on which it sits.


The Woodlawn facility is the preferred intake facility for stray dogs, cats, and other animals. Evidence animals on a “captive hold” during law enforcement investigations have been known to spend up to two years at the Woodlawn facility.


Board Chairman Art Edge readily acknowledges that much needs to be done to improve what was once a dark, dingy, smelly, living conditions for animals held at the Woodlawn facility. According to Edge, budget constraints make improving the plight of the animals impounded at this facility a challenging task.


In an October 30, 2015 local newspaper article, GBHS CEO Allison Black Cornelius described the Woodlawn facility this way:


"We've done the best we could. We've painted, cleaned, put air conditioning in over the summer... but it's just like putting lipstick on a pig….We have to lock up our food at night and we have to go to great lengths to keep the rats away," she said. "We have got to get out of here... This is unacceptable."


Yet, the “unacceptable” conditions at this facility persist today. What is worse, the Woodlawn facility is the GBHS’s primary location for euthanasia operations.


The Killing Zone


A review of GBHS’s monthly Animal Census Reports from May 2017 through April 2018 reveals that GBHS subjects dogs, cats, and other animals to euthanasia on a sustained basis and massive scale. GBHS conducts what it calls “Unnecessary Euthanasia” and “Necessary Euthanasia”.


In May 2017, GBHS took in 1,548 dogs, cats, and other animals. Excluding owner-requested euthanasia, GBHS killed 677 of these animals that month, including 26 healthy animals that were killed solely because of “overcrowding”, 32 that were classified as “Treatable-Rehabilitatable”, and 9 that were classified as “Treatable-Manageable”. Fifty-one percent of the animals that were surrendered to GBHS’s care and custody were killed in May 2017. The “Live Release” rate was 49%.


From May 2017 through April 2018, GBHS killed 289 healthy animals solely because of “overcrowding”. These killings were administered at a time when GBHS had a long list of fully vetted, qualified, and publicly acknowledged “Shelter/Rescue Partners” that were capable and willing to house and care for these animals.


When the number of animals killed in the “Treatable-Rehabilitatable” category (i.e., medically contagious, physical condition, unweaned, etc.) is added to this twelve-month total, the overall number of kills in two of the three “Unnecessary Euthanasia” categories skyrockets to a staggering 1,093 dogs, cats, and other animals.

“Treatable-Manageable” is GBHS’s third category of “Unnecessary Euthanasia”. The total dogs, cats, and other animals killed in this category for the same twelve-month period is 108.

GBHS admits to killing 6,621 dogs, cats, and other animals in the “Unhealthy-Untreatable” category during this twelve-month reporting period.


The Alabama Animal Census Reporting Act requires GBHS to publish monthly Census Reports on the euthanasia of dogs, cats, and other animals. GBHS must maintain annual Census Reports for a period of three years. While the reports must be certified as true and correct, a violation of the Act does not create a civil statutory cause of action or criminal liability.


53 Kittens Killed in One Day


On or about July 27, 2017, Allison Black Cornelius featured adorable kittens as enticing “props” in a widely viewed funding solicitation video. Once the filming ended, the kittens featured in this video were put to death.


According to the No Kill Movement (“NKM”), which is an informal coalition of individual No Kill advocates for the reform of animal shelters, Cornelius ordered the killing of 53 kittens on a single day -- July 27 of 2017. Cornelius denies giving such an order.


In an investigative article published on October 16, 2017, NKM showed Cornelius opening a funding solicitation video by complaining that they had broken the record for the number of animals admitted in a single day. She says:"It's sad to tell you today that we broke the record again. Today we took in 120 animals."


Cornelius then complains that owners surrendered many of these animals. Cornelius emphasizes that she is "a woman of faith" before citing some biblical scripture and suggesting that the people surrendering pets to GBHS’s shelter, and other dramas facing the shelter, are like "the Devil who comes roaring in like a lion.”


Cornelius complains that GBHS’s air conditioning "went out," that its exhaust fans "went out," and that the hot water heater that keeps its towels sanitized "went out." Cornelius said she had checks for $30,000 she had to write that week, before going on to plea for more money. She added, "I hate to keep comin' to y'all and begging you, but I am begging you."


After describing the crisis with the exhaust fans, the AC, the hot water heater, and her plea for more money, Cornelius holds up a sign with the number 120 on it, representing the 120 animals admitted that day. She says "This is not gonna work."


In a touching moment, the camera cuts to a group of kittens that was part of the day's intake, and Cornelius says:


"We can't have 20 kittens coming in on one owner surrender because you don't want your animals any more. I want to make this judgment-free, but at some point we've got to share in the responsibility. These animals don't have a voice. So, when it is judgment free for you, it's judgment for them. So until they can talk we're their advocates."


According to the NKM article, the on-staff licensed veterinary technician who asked to be identified as "Ruth" reported that in order to film the video of the kittens, they closed the doors to the clinic and let about 20 kittens roam around while the filming was occurring. When they finished filming the video, Ruth claims that Cornelius instructed her to kill all of the kittens in the room. "All of them were healthy or treatable," Ruth said. "And, there were foster homes available for them."


GBHS Chairman Art Edge admitted yesterday that these kittens were killed, but denies that the kill order came from Cornelius. According to Edge, the decision to kill these kittens was made solely by the veterinarian or licensed veterinary technician on duty that day.


Stella Burton, who was the foster coordinator for GBHS when this incident took place, and who was reportedly present during the exchange between Cornelius and Ruth, corroborated Ruth's version of the events. "She [Cornelius] had frozen the foster program at the time. So, even though we had fosters available, she wouldn't let them use them."


This video has been viewed on the GBHS Facebook page more than 94,000 times. Nowhere in the video, or on GBHS’s Facebook page, or on its website did GBHS disclose that the kittens shown in the video were killed immediately after the filming. Ruth said she stayed there the rest of her shift killing these defenseless kittens.


This was not a unique event. We have confirmed that on another day prior to the filming of this video, a total of 53 kittens were killed.


The Sad Plight of “Pocahontas”


On June 20, 2017, Allison Black Cornelius filmed a fundraising video featuring a dog named “Pocahontas” as a pitch for donations for veterinary care. The video was posted on GBHS’s Facebook page and has been viewed more than 16,000 times. "Pocahontas" had a terrible and heart-wrenching story, which Cornelius tells in the video. The dog had fallen off a cliff near a river and was badly injured. A family rescued her and took her to GBHS. In the video, Cornelius is standing in front of two young "veterinary students." They appear to be examining Pocahontas.


In the video, Cornelius says, "Just remember, these kinds of things cost a lot of money, and so if it is in your heart, if you'd make a donation, you can go to our web site...".


The clear message in this donor solicitation video is that Pocahontas would get the best veterinary care possible and it would be expensive.


Quoting GBHS intake specialist Christy Patterson, NKM reports that this did not occur in Pocahontas’ case. Patterson said, "I went back later.... and this was before I [left GBHS in July 2017].... I wanted to know how Pocahontas was doing, because I never heard another word about this dog." Patterson continued, "And, of, all of the medical notes [in the computer system] .... the only medical notes on that dog were from the initial intake. They didn't send her to our vet for observation. They sent her to our shelter, which is in Woodlawn. It is a dark, dank, smelly place. It's just a pound, basically. So, she wasn't at our clinic, so they could make sure to observe or make sure the vets saw her every day. She was just like any other dog and when her stray hold was up, she was put down."


Yesterday, GBHS acknowledged that Pocahontas died in its care, but denied that she was euthanized. In a publicly released video last year, Cornelius said GBHS desperately tried to save Pocahontas, but the dog died in its veterinary clinical care due to complications resulting from her injuries.


Silencing Employees


Christy Patterson claims that Allison Black Cornelius tried to silence Stella Burton and Patterson by asking them to sign non-disclosure agreements prior to their departure from GBHS after the deaths of the kittens and Pocahontas. Both women refused to sign the agreement and were reportedly told by Cornelius that, “your life won’t be easy if you don’t [sign the agreement].”


Yesterday, GBHS acknowledged that some employees had been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements, but it could not provide the names of any specific employees or a general description of the operational activities that GBHS needed to shield from public disclosure.

Burton and Patterson had been very outspoken about questionable animal care activities that have occurred within the walls of GBHS. Both women were dismissed from GBHS on the same day in July 2017.


Stay tuned for more developments in this story.


PHOTO: The beautiful reception area in GBHS's Snow Drive facility.


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© 2020 by Donald V. Watkins, P.C.