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JUNE 2005

SNAP fires founder Sean Hawkins
for trying to fix homeless Navajo dogs

HOUSTON––“The Spay/Neuter Assistance Program board of directors voted this evening to terminate my employment,” SNAP founder Sean Hawkins e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE at 1:33 a.m. on May 26.

The surprise firing, which came several hours earlier, after a SNAP fundraising luncheon, decapitated the largest hands-on dog and cat sterilization program in the world.

Founded in 1994 as a program of the Fund for Animals, independent since 2000, SNAP has performed subsidized neutering for the City of Houston since 1996.

SNAP operates similar sterilization projects in San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Albuquerque; Monterrey, Mexico, where 12,807 animals were treated in 2004; and on Native American reservations in Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.

In all, SNAP sterilizes about 50,000 dogs and cats per year.

SNAP has also run a sterilization clinic in Dallas and a mobile clinic in Virginia, both eventually turned over to local organizations, and is a global leader in introducing the use of the chemosterilant drug Neutersol to dog sterilization programs.

Hawkins envisioned SNAP as a Houston shelter volunteer in his early teens, and brought it into being while still in his mid-twenties. Sterilizing dogs and cats has always been the SNAP focal mission, but Hawkins participated in the 1985 campaign that influenced Houston to quit killing homeless animals by decompression, and through SNAP has continued efforts against use of cruel killing methods by animal control agencies–– especially in Mexico.

“In one month,” Hawkins e-mailed in March 2005, “SNAP gathered 11,819 signed pledges opposing the electrocution and drowning of dogs and cats in Mexico. 11,819 animal advocates are now informed of the horrible conditions in Mexico’s anti-rabicos,” as the Mexican rabies control pounds are called. “SNAP manager of international training Doug Fakkema reports that the city of Juarez has stopped using electrocution as a result of our training.  A representative from Chihuahua has expressed a desire to end electrocution throughout the state.”

What went wrong?

“I learned the hard way,” Hawkins told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “to never give up control of your organization. After 12 years, the leadership of the SNAP board of directors changed. The two new people stepping into the presidency and vice-presidency, both from Halliburton,” the Houston-based oil field management firm, “with zero animal protection board experience, went on a total power and control trip,” Hawkins charged.

“Halliburton facilities were used for meetings, Halliburton lawyers were used for legal guidance, and Halliburton dangled big bucks in front of the organization,” Hawkins added. “The issue that started the division among the SNAP board was the board president ordering me to halt the Navajo Nation community animal sterilization program, despite the desires of our funders.”

Elaborated Hawkins in an open letter to supporters, “Holly O’Dell, SNAP co-founder, stepped down in late 2004 as SNAP board president. Kathy Davis stepped down as vice president. Their decisions were amicable and unrelated to the current issues. Two individuals new to SNAP, Norman Ritchie, an independent contractor for Halliburton, and Michele Mastrean, senior director of human resources at Halliburton, volunteered and were elected to the positions of SNAP board president and vice-president.”

Dogs vs. sheep

The terminal split developed, said Hawkins, after SNAP in December 2004 “solicited and received funds for purposes that specifically included sterilizing unowned community animals living on the Navajo Nation,” which kills 136 dogs and cats per 1,000 human residents, the highest known rate of killing of any animal control jurisdiction in the U.S. and approximately nine times the U.S. average.

“At a March 12, 2005 board meeting, Glenda Davis, a SNAP board member who is also employed by the Navajo Nation, misrepresented to the SNAP board that SNAP was conducting illegal activities on the Navajo Nation,” Hawkins continued.

Specifically, a well-placed second source told ANIMAL PEOPLE, SNAP was sterilizing, vaccinating, and releasing unlicensed dogs and cats, in violation of a bylaw which the source said had, to her knowledge, been published only in the Navajo language.

“Without any investigation of the claims raised by Davis, Ritchie directed me to notify staff and funders of his unilateral directive to halt services to Navaho Nation community animals,” Hawkins continued.

“The Summerlee Foundation, PETsMART Charities, and the Pegasus Foundation each sent letters to the SNAP board, opposing Ritchie’s directive. The Pegasus Foundation put the board on notice that it intended to seek return of funds” not used to fulfill the funded project, Hawkins said. “Subsequently, the Summerlee Foundation demanded removal of its mobile clinic from the Navajo Nation. Now that SNAP sterilization services on the Navajo Nation have halted, the Navajo Nation has resumed shooting all the dogs it can catch.”

ANIMAL PEOPLE obtained copies of correspondence that affirmed Hawkins’ summary. Several sources agreed that actions by Glenda Davis precipitated the split.

Lango Deen profiled Davis for the magazine Black Engineer in December 2004, focusing on her pursuit of an MBA through the University of Phoenix online program.

“Davis is Navajo, of the Water’s Edge Clan, raised on the reservation,” Deen wrote. “She returned to help her people after graduating as a microbiologist from Colorado State University in 1991, and for the past 15 years has worked with a veterinary program offering low-cost comprehensive services to the Navajo. She has been program manager since 1997, overseeing four clinics spread strategically throughout the nation.”

Said Hawkins, “Davis is director of the Navajo Nation Veterinary & Livestock Program. The NNVLP operates competitive veterinary clinics on the Navajo Nation that provide sterilization services for some dogs and cats.”

A more significant conflict of interest than competition between the NNVLP and SNAP for clients and grant support may be that the NNVLP, in serving sheep herders, serves a constituency which opposes the presence of free-roaming dogs on the Navajo Nation––whether or not they are sterilized and vaccinated.

“Davis, in her capacity as a SNAP board member,” Hawkins said, “has been allowed and encouraged by the SNAP board president to represent SNAP in negotiations, and to direct animal sterilization services provided by SNAP on the Navajo Nation.”

However, Hawkins added, “Davis has remained silent on the issue of the Navajo Nation conducting inhumane animal roundups and killings. Her positions and beliefs, in not opposing rounding up and shooting community animals, directly contradict the purpose and mission of any animal protection organization, including SNAP.”

But “SNAP board president Norman Ritchie stated that ‘complete buy-in from Glenda’ must be obtained for SNAP program services to go forward on the Navajo Nation,” Hawkins alleged.

“While the vote was divided,” Hawkins said, “those who voted to terminate me were Norman Ritchie, Glenda Davis, Michele Mastrean, Pam Harris, Roger Sherman, Lynn Cortina, and Julie Strother.”

Houston Chronicle reporter Salatheia Bryant hinted on May 26 that the 7-4 board vote to fire Hawkins might not have been final.

“Several board members, including board president Norman Ritchie, said the organization’s bylaws require a two-thirds majority––eight votes––to oust Hawkins,” Bryant wrote. “But Hawkins vows he won’t come back until the board leadership is gone.”

Hawkins said in his open letter that eight major funding sources had suspended support of SNAP “so long as the current board leadership remains in place,” including the Summerlee Foundation, Bosak & Kruger Foundation, Kaplan Foundation, Pegasus Foundation, PETsMART Charities, and the sponsors of the SNAP Annual Gala, SNAP Golf Tournament, and SNAP participation in the Bayou City Art Festivals.

Their cumulative contribution of $1,745,000 amounted to most of the estimated 55% of the SNAP budget that does not come from subsidized sterilization fees.

The board responded on June 6, with a form letter signed only by “The SNAP board of directors.”

Said the form letter, “In exercising our fiduciary responsibilities, the board must take into consideration not just the public image of SNAP, but also the management of the organization. It was concerns in this area that prompted a majority of the board to vote as they did at our recent meeting…Sean Hawkins remains the CEO of SNAP. It is our intention going forward that our programs continue as usual, subject of course to the funding constraints we always operate under.”

The form letter sounded as if nothing had changed.

Explained Hawkins, “The board terms for the four members who voted against firing me, Holly O’Dell, Kathy Davis, Robert Castle, and Cindy Barnard, all expire on June 30, 2005. At the annual meeting in July, only the seven board members who voted to fire me will remain.

“In effect, they have already won,” Hawkins said. “They have no reason to communicate with anyone, except to formalize their resolution to fire me, now with unanimous consent of the board, in July. Our only hope is to force the resignation of the seven through public pressure.” —M.C.