Saturday, 01 October 2022

CLAWS focuses on moving forward

CLEARLAKE The day after it closed its Clearlake thrift store and laid off four staff members, the Clear Lake Animal Welfare Society board was moving ahead with plans to keep its voucher program together and address issues relating to its building.


The board has emphasized that CLAWS will continue its voucher program, which helps low-income applicants afford spay-neuter services for their pets.


Over the past five years, CLAWS has paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars to reimburse local veterinarians who honor the vouchers.


In recent weeks, issues with the thrift store's condition and losses in sales as compared to last year led the board to the layoffs and closure, said Board President Laurelee Roark.


The issues were compounded when the state Division of Occupational Health and Safety (OSHA) sent them a letter June 5 regarding a complaint lodged by employee Veronica Morgan regarding allegations of black mold, rodents, sewage backups and holes in the roof.


On Thursday, in response to OSHA's request for a response, Roark sent the agency a letter answering each of the complaint's points, saying that the issues had either been resolved or were not as portrayed in the complaint. With regard to the mold concern, she said there were no mushrooms and that she only saw a small, quarter-sized dark area that she could not confirm was mold or mildew.


The CLAWS store closing and layoff Wednesday was the culmination of several months of tension between the board and employees, among them Morgan and Executive Director Lisa Pecchenino.


Last month a petition requesting the resignation of the three board members – Roark, Marilyn Ferrante and Leslie Wood surfaced, signed by an estimated 600 residents around the county.


The petition does not state who started it, and both Pecchenino and Morgan say they don't know who is responsible. Roark said she and the other board members haven't seen the petition.


Since the petition starting being publicized, Roark said she and other board members have begun receiving anonymous, threatening phone calls at their homes and work.


The one thing both sides appear to agree on is that the disagreements came to a head at a March board meeting.


Pecchenino, who joined CLAWS as a full-time employee in December 2003, said that at that March meeting she asked for more autonomy in organizing its “Calendar Girls” fundraiser. and told the board they needed “boundaries” because she felt they had bullied and harassed her for months.


When she made that request, she said, “All hell broke loose,” alleging that boardmembers spent the rest of that meeting verbally attacking her.


But Roark said it didn't happen that way, and that the issue was a matter of Pecchenino struggling with the board for more control and less accountability.


Why CLAWS shut the thrift store


The thrift store's viability is another point of disagreement between the board and employees.


For the last nine months, Roark said the Clearlake store has been operating at a $3,000-per-month deficit.


CLAWS' profit and loss statements show that the store made $14,320.45 from January to April, which is approximately half of what the store made during the same period last year. Roark attributes lower sales to the economy.


Coupled with the expenses to run the store, the halving of store profits – which from January to April amounted to about $3,500 less per month – caused CLAWS to run at a loss, said CLAWS bookkeeper Marlene Wentz.


Despite those numbers, Pecchenino said she believes sales at the thrift store are about the same as they ever were, and that the closure was an excuse to dismiss the staff.


She said the store also fulfilled an important community service, providing a place where people could buy clothing, appliances, books and more at affordable prices.


The store also is important to securing grants, she said.


Denise Johnson, Lake County's Animal Care & Control director, said Pecchenino was correct about the need to show granting organizations another source of income.


But Roark said closing the store “is the only way to keep the voucher program safe.” She said it was a hard decision to make, but repairs and other issues gave them no other choice.


Pecchenino said she and Morgan are considering a lawsuit against CLAWS for harassment, but that they don't want to take money away from helping animals.


Both women and their families have their homes on the market and plan to leave Clearlake as soon as they're able.


“We're going to move on and CLAWS is not,” said Pecchenino.


Looking at the group's finances


CLAWS' Form 990s, which income-tax exempt organizations are required to file with the Internal Revenue Service, shows the group's income and expenses over the last several years, including veterinarian costs to cover its spay-neuter voucher program and employee wages.


Over the last five years, CLAWS has provided $237,075 to pay for spay-neuter services for those community members whose income levels qualify them for assistance.


The Form 990s show the following:


– 2006: revenue, $146,185 (grants, $7,699); expenses, $140,545 (veterinarian costs, $22,182; wages, $50,228); total assets at start of year, $194,816; total assets at year's end, $195,617.


– 2005: revenue, $131,028 (grants, $0); expenses, $174,658 (veterinarian costs, $48,144; wages, $56,848); deficit, $43,630; total assets at start of year, $240,501; total assets at year's end, $194,816.


– 2004: revenue, $181,121 (grants, $7,983); expenses, $188,479 (veterinarian costs, $52,387; wages, $65,740); deficit, $7,358; total assets at start of year, $120,728; total assets at year's end, $240,501. (In 2004, CLAWS bought its Clearlake thrift shop building for $112,567.)


– 2003: revenue, $188,137 (grants, $0); expenses, $111,508 (veterinarian costs, $45,988; wages, $25,303); total assets at start of year: $40,883; total assets at end of year, $120,728.


– 2002: revenue, $99,572 (grant amounts were not separated from contributions); expenses, $67,924 (veterinarian costs, $31,547; wages, $7,858); total assets at start of year: $8,057; total assets at end of year, $44,146.


Between January and April of this year, CLAWS' financials show the group put more than $6,100 into its voucher program. Roark estimated that the vouchers average $100 per animal – some are higher, some are lower, based on what procedure is being done and what the pet owner can afford. That rough estimate equals altering services for about 600 animals.


That $6,100 figure for 2007 is about half of what CLAWS paid in vouchers from January through April of 2006.


Roark attributes the reduction to the loss of veterinarians at both ends of the lake, and therefore fewer vets to schedule procedures and honor the vouchers.


Voucher program remains active


Dr. Debra Sally, the veterinarian who works most with CLAWS, confirmed that there are fewer vets and less availability to honor vouchers.


Sally said she has worked with CLAWS since the 1990s, and that the group has made responsible pet ownership responsible for many people who otherwise couldn't have afforded it and educated people about pet overpopulation, which she said is an “overwhelming problem.”


She said she has always worked well with both the CLAWS board and staff to provide spay and neuter services for both dogs and cats through the voucher program. Over the last three years the program has become more efficient and given out more vouchers.


Sally estimates she currently does 40 spay or neuter operations a month in the voucher program. She's the only south county vet clinic to honor the vouchers, she said, because vets lose money on them. “It's a community service,” she said.


She said she plans to continue to honor CLAWS' spay-neuter vouchers, adding she had no reason to believe CLAWS won't continue to pay for them.


Going beyond signing vouchers

 

Johnson said Wednesday she was shocked to hear of CLAWS' situation, noting that Animal Care & Control has had a close working relationship with CLAWS over the years.


Johnson said CLAWS does “so much more than sign vouchers,” which includes its effort to educate the community about spaying and neutering pets.


She said she hopes the group continues its work, not having those services would be “devastating to the community.”


Johnson said animal groups are emotionally charged, and she's seen situations where emotions override an organization's mission. “The animals and the community are what suffer.”


For those wishing to volunteer to help CLAWS continue its mission, call the CLAWS main number, 994-9505.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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