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May 26, 2004

During the past few weeks, confusing and inaccurate statements have been made regarding the Humane Society of Indianapolis. I would like to provide accurate information to the Indianapolis community. First, let me list some of the many successes we had in 2003.

• We found homes for 5,593 animals, a record for HIS.

• Our animal placement rate for the year improved almost 7 percent, to 45.6 percent.

• We implemented procedures to ensure that all of our animals were spayed or neutered before adoption.


Molly Bishop hangs out with Moose as a friend completes his adoption papers. Moose, renamed Mr. Beasley, was one of many pets adopted at the Humane Society's Tour for Life last month. -- Adriane Jaeckle / The Star

• We made great progress in collaborating with other animal welfare organizations, working closely with more than a dozen other groups in promoting adoptions and spay/neuter.

Community response to these improvements has been favorable, causing our donation income to increase in 2003 after dropping over the last several years.

The momentum created in 2003 is an important part of our recovery plan. The Humane Society, like many nonprofits, is facing difficult financial times. For years, the organization relied on a trio of trust funds to cover any gaps in operating income. HSI was fortunate to have access to these assets, but that access also allowed the organization to expand services without requiring a corresponding increase in donations. When the stock market was performing well, HSI's assets grew. Unfortunately, so did the organization's expenses, because more animals needed more and better care.

The Humane Society's investments performed better than the S&P 500 index in 2000 and 2002 (and did only slightly worse in 2001), but they still lost money during that economic downturn. By the end of 2002, with growing expenses, a history of weak fund raising and shrinking investment returns, HSI was dependent on the trusts for nearly half of its $3 million operating budget. A $100,000 monthly deficit had to be covered somehow.

The board made difficult decisions during 2003, reducing expenses while meeting the needs of more than 12,000 homeless animals. In the fall, with fund raising improving and expenses stabilized, the board pledged the assets of one trust account against a line of credit. Rather than deplete the trusts through an invasion of principal, establishing a line of credit allowed the assets to work for their intended purpose -- the support of animal care -- while still giving the assets opportunity to grow.

The board has developed a three-year strategy to reduce its dependence on trust assets, focusing on improved animal care and increased fund raising. Progress to date has been excellent: Expenses are under budget and fund raising is ahead of projections. Less has been drawn from the line of credit than planned.

Unfortunately, recent newspaper articles contained a series of incorrect statements that could make it difficult to achieve our fund-raising goals. I would like to correct a few inaccuracies.

The Humane Society contacted the state attorney general's office after a community organization, Move to Act, filed a complaint. We offered financial data and information to address questions raised by Move to Act. We also invited the attorneys to ask if more information was needed.

Taking the initiative to contact the attorney general was consistent with our efforts to communicate proactively about our financial status, as evidenced in a December 2003 article in the Indianapolis Star, the recent series in the Indianapolis Business Journal and a May article in NUVO. Annual reports and audited financial statements always have been available upon request.

The Humane Society trust funds have not "lost $6 million in the last three years." At the beginning of 2000, there was approximately $11 million in the trusts. Over the next four years, the trusts lost roughly $2 million to market fluctuations while $4 million was used to support the care of more than 55,000 animals. The balance in the trusts is just under $5 million.

In an industry as passionate as animal welfare, you can expect to have supporters and detractors. We invite those who disagree with our approach to share their concerns and offer solutions that help address the immediate issues of our budget deficit and need to increase fund raising.

However, each moment we spend arguing over what happened two or more years ago takes precious time away from the animals that need us today.

To believe that engaging shelter staff and volunteers in legal battles and media campaigns is a good use of anyone's time suggests that the animals aren't nearly as important to some people as getting their moment in the spotlight. If you want to make a difference in the lives of animals, show your concern for animals by helping HSI reach its fund-raising goals. Join the volunteers who donate countless hours to care for animals.

HSI staff and volunteers bring a blend of passion and professionalism that is well-suited to this work. Our revitalized board of directors includes 10 new community leaders representing a range of expertise, joining eight existing members with strong institutional knowledge. Our three-year fiscal management strategy will allow HSI to continue providing services to the animals while rebuilding its financial foundation.

We cannot erase the past, but -- with this team in place and the support of the community -- we will make sure it isn't repeated.

Boden is executive director of the Humane Society of Indianapolis.

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