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Noah’s Wish and Hurricane Katrina

By Gary Bogue
Monday, August 14th, 2006 at 2:01 pm in Animals, Disasters.

If you were reading my daily columns during Hurricane Katrina, you may remember I wrote a lot about an organization called Noah’s Wish, whose staff and volunteers put in uncounted hours rescuing and caring for thousands of animal-victims of the hurricane. Many of you were kind enough to donate funds to Noah’s Wish to help them with their rescue activities.

I just received the following e-mail from Noah’s Wish. I thought it might interest you:

Dear Gary:
My name is Patricia Jones and I am the director of media for Noah’s Wish; we worked together during Hurricane Katrina.

As the one year anniversary of Katrina approaches, we are reminded that wrenching destruction is not the only legacy of the disaster, as owners continue to be reunited with their pets. One New Orleans resident, Tammy Huppin, was forced to relinquish her cats to Noah’s Wish after the storm destroyed her home. One of her cats — "Lucy" — was one of 22 orphans transported to a Lake Tahoe cat rescue facility. Several months later after Tammy had relocated to Austin, TX, she called Noah’s Wish to learn the fate of her cats. Two had been placed into loving new homes, but "Lucy" remained at the Lake Tahoe shelter. Noah’s Wish arranged to fly Tammy to Lake Tahoe, (today, Aug. 14! /Gary), where the joyful reunion will take place.

Much has changed over the past year since Noah’s Wish entered the hurricane-ravaged city of Slidell, LA, and rescued close to 2,000 of its animals. Prior to Katrina, the organization founded by Terri Crisp in 2002 was virtually unknown and struggling. It has since grown into a multi-million dollar organization with 14 staff members and offices in California, Oklahoma and New York City. On August 23, Terri will receive a Humanitarian of the Year award for her work during Katrina by the Sacramento SPCA.

As Noah’s Wish emerges as a leader in the field of animal rescue in disasters, its involvement in California disaster preparedness programs continues to grow. In June, the organization participated in a mock disaster drill with the Department of Homeland Security in Sacramento. In September, Terri will take part in the National Emergency Preparedness Conference alongside Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; she will be representing the Sacramento area.

Noah’s Wish is working to build relationships with communities around the country. The organization recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with St. Tammany’s Parish in Louisiana to manage its animal shelters needs in the event of a disaster. The organization’s greatest strength, without a doubt, comes from its volunteers, numbering approximately 1,500 strong. These volunteers all took part in a rigorous three-day training program designed to duplicate the experience — and attendant hardships — of a real-life disaster. Noah’s Wish breaks its training program into regions so that the entire country is covered and anyone who wants to participate in a training — and a disaster — might have the opportunity to do so.

As the one year anniversary of Katrina nears, I am hoping you might find the story of Noah’s Wish of interest to your readers. Please feel free to contact me at your convenience. (Patricia Jones Director of Media Relations, Noah’s Wish)

Organizations like Noah’s Wish help humans and animals to survive during times of great disaster. You can find out more about what they do by visiting their Web site at http://www.noahswish.org. If you can help them in any way, please do so. You may just be helping yourself. Thanks.

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5 Responses to “Noah’s Wish and Hurricane Katrina”

  1. Pat in Antioch Says:

    What a great organization….I’m so happy for Lucy & Tammy!! Only another pet lover can truly appreciate how much our pets mean to us….they’re FAMILY!!

    Pat

  2. Mike "troll" Dame Says:

    any idea what % of the animals rescued were exotic herps and inverts?

  3. Mike "troll" Dame Says:

    apologies herps are reptiles and inverts are spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, mantids etc… for those not up on the lingo

  4. Hans Detloff Says:

    State probe forces animal-rescue nonprofit to close
    Queries $8M raised in wake of Katrina
    Sacramento Business Journal – March 30, 2007
    by Kelly Johnson
    Staff Writer
    A local animal-rescue nonprofit that gained national attention for its work after Hurricane Katrina, sparking more than $8 million in donations, was shutting down this month amid a state investigation into how it used that money.
    Noah’s Wish, which rescues and cares for animals in disasters, was preparing this week to close its El Dorado Hills headquarters. About a dozen workers have resigned or been laid off since late last year.
    The California Attorney General’s Office has been investigating the organization since last summer, examining how Noah’s Wish used donations that might have been designated for relief efforts in the hurricane-ravaged area. The probe led to most of the nonprofit’s funds being set aside in accounts where they couldn’t be used for other operations.
    The nonprofit contends the funds were used properly and said it is cooperating with investigators.
    The group received millions in donations after news stories showed its efforts in an area devastated by the August 2005 hurricane. Former Noah’s Wish insiders allege those millions were intended to relieve suffering in the storm-battered zone but were improperly used for other purposes.
    According to documents obtained by the Business Journal from a former employee, an accounting firm hired by Noah’s Wish to examine its books concluded that it would be impossible to conduct a reliable audit because so many records were missing from the period when the group and its volunteers were working on the ravaged Gulf Coast.
    Documents filed by the nonprofit or provided by the former employee indicated Noah’s Wish had about $210,000 in revenue in the year ended June 30, 2005, and almost 40 times that much — $8.4 million — in the next six months.
    Expenses shot upward, too, from about $212,000 in 2004-2005 to more than $2 million in the last six months of 2005, including almost $400,000 to purchase vehicles. In early 2006, the group bought a storage building in East Alton, Ill., for $65,125 and leased office space in New York City, according to documents provided by the former employee.
    Terri Crisp, founder of the group and its executive director until this week, was paid $6,200 in 2004-2005, tax records show. The documents supplied by the former employee covering July through December 2005 indicated Crisp received compensation of almost $141,000.
    The nonprofit’s board this week acknowledged the investigation on the group’s Web site. “The California Attorney General has taken the position that certain funds donated to Noah’s Wish during this period (of Katrina), and its immediate aftermath, are restricted and may only be used for the animal victims of Hurricane Katrina, rather than the animal victims of other disasters or for general disaster preparedness,” a letter posted online said. “Noah’s Wish disagrees … but is working cooperatively with the Attorney General toward a timely resolution of the dispute.”
    Noah’s Wish has agreed not to use the disputed funds while the investigation is pending, and the nonprofit cannot continue its work without access to the money, the letter said.
    A spokesman for the state’s top lawyer would not confirm or deny an investigation.
    Ralph Nevis of Downey Brand Attorneys LLP in Sacramento, who represents the group, would not discuss the nature of the inquiry.
    Founder was asked to leave board
    Staff members are being paid through April 11, but this week only the office manager remained at the El Dorado Hills headquarters to close things down over the next couple of weeks.
    At one point, the nonprofit had 15 employees working at offices in El Dorado Hills and New York City and from homes in other states. The three-person office in New York closed in January.
    “They’ve reduced the staff because of funding. It’s everybody,” Crisp said Wednesday. She said she’s taking her remaining days as sick leave, but by Wednesday evening a message on the group’s Web site said she was no longer connected with Noah’s Wish.
    Crisp also served on the organization’s board of directors from its founding in 2002 until February. She’s no longer on the board, she said, “partly because it’s a conflict of interest.” The Attorney General’s office “had asked for me not to remain on the board.”
    Because she’s no longer on the board, Crisp said she did not have the latest information on the investigation or details about what it covers. Investigators, she said, have not interviewed her and were working only through the nonprofit’s attorney and its board chair, Amy Maher.
    Maher did not return calls Wednesday. Board members Lyn Kendrick, Gail Monick and David Lesser declined to comment on the investigation; another, Heather Hathaway, did not respond to a request for an interview.
    Asked about allegations that the nonprofit inappropriately used money, Crisp said, “I don’t know of any misuse of funds.”
    Lori Polk, chair of the Noah’s Wish board during Katrina, left it the month after the hurricane. Before and after Katrina, she said, she voiced concerns about “the organization and the allocations of the donations we were collecting.” She said she felt she was “fighting a losing battle trying to maintain my fiduciary responsibility to the organization.”
    The group “did not make decisions based upon board approval,” she said, and made “expenditures without approval.”
    The former employee, who would only speak on condition of anonymity, said that “the amount of money that was spent by the organization was unbelievable.”
    The Attorney General’s authority over charities includes investigating the loss of substantial funds during one year, illegal use of funds, diversion of funds from their intended purpose and excessive amounts paid for salaries, benefits, travel, entertainment, legal and other professional fees, according to the agency’s Web site.
    Raising money last month
    Noah’s Wish was soliciting funds as recently as February. In a letter to potential donors, Crisp wrote the nonprofit had “made a concerted effort to only ask for donations when the need truly exists, and not become a pest with repeated appeals.”
    Later, the letter said, “So why am I contacting you now? Noah’s Wish is prepared for the next disaster, but lately this has become increasingly challenging.” Because 2006 was a “fairly uneventful year,” Crisp wrote, donations declined significantly.
    Tax documents for Noah’s Wish obtained by the Business Journal reported revenue of $8.4 million, almost all of it from contributions, between July 1, 2005, and Dec. 31, 2005. Some $4.8 million was in unrestricted assets and $1.5 million in temporarily restricted assets at the end of that year, financial documents indicate.
    In June 2006, the accounting firm engaged to audit the books wrote the board that it could not express an opinion on the 2005 financial statements, according to documents provided by the former employee.
    “A significant portion of corroborating evidence such as vendor invoices, receipts, deposit slips and other supporting data were not maintained during the period that the organization was responding to the needs of animals during Hurricane Katrina. The records that remain are not sufficient to permit the application of auditing procedures that would be adequate for us to express an opinion on the accompanying financial statements,” according to the letter from John Waddell & Co. CPAs.
    For the second half of 2005, Noah’s Wish paid $405,948 in salaries and compensation, according to the Form 990 supplied by the former employee. Of that, Crisp received $140,900, while the second-highest compensation went to Sheri Thompson at $118,125, the tax documents show.
    If the numbers are correct, it appears the compensation for Crisp and Thompson is well above the norm for nonprofits of this size, said Ann Lucas, executive director of the Nonprofit Resource Center. The annual median base salary for the executive director of a nonprofit of this size is $130,000, according to the 2006 Compensation and Benefits Survey of Northern California Nonprofit Organizations, which is produced by the Center for Nonprofit Management in Los Angeles.
    Noah’s Wish committed $1 million to the city of Slidell, La. for construction of a new animal control center; the old one was severely damaged by Katrina. The city has not received any of those funds, Slidell City Attorney Tim Mathison said.
    Noah’s Wish and volunteers were in Slidell for 11 weeks, caring for about 1,900 animals, the nonprofit reported.
    “They did a wonderful job,” Mathison said. “The city would not have recovered as quickly or as well … if they had not been here. We didn’t have the resources to do what they did.”

    The El Dorado Hills Telegraph
    Tuesday, April 10, 2007 11:56 AM PDT

    Noah’s Wish, an organization devoted to helping animal disaster victims, has
    closed down. The non-profit is being investigated for misuse of funds.
    Philip Wood/The Telegraph
    Employees, volunteers open up as charity shuts down

    By: Cheri March

    El Dorado Hills-based Noah’s Wish, a nonprofit organization devoted to
    helping animal disaster victims, has closed its doors amid an ongoing
    investigation by the California Attorney General.

    But not before many former volunteers and employees reportedly walked off
    the job.

    “I decided to leave Noah’s Wish in December 2006 because I was absolutely
    disgusted with (founder) Terri Crisp,” said Patricia Jones, former media
    director for the nonprofit.

    Jones would comment further due to the ongoing investigation by the
    California Attorney General.

    Founder Terri Crisp started Noah’s Wish in 2002, but the nonprofit gained
    national recognition for its animal rescue efforts during Hurricane Katrina
    in late 2005.

    Former workers say there is no doubt that Noah’s Wish helped animals in
    Slidell, Louisiana after Katrina, but allege mishandling of funds led to an
    investigation into founder Crisp.

    According to a 2005 audit, Noah’s Wish generated $8 million in donations
    after Katrina, but spent just over $1 million on disaster relief efforts.

    In January 2006, Crisp told media that Noah’s Wish had received only $5
    million in donations.

    However, 2005 tax return forms stated less than $2 million of Noah’s Wish
    funding was restricted, meaning only that amount was delegated specifically
    towards Katrina relief work.

    Because the bulk of the money was paid via PayPal, donors could not indicate
    how their funds were to be used-leaving spending up to the charity’s
    discretion.

    Former employees pointed out Crisp’s alleged lavish spending of company
    money: brand-new vehicles, plasma television sets for Crisp’s office, and a
    $5,000 painting commissioned by artist Dan Rojas for the nonprofit’s office.

    The organization has allegedly not responded to a disaster since Katrina,
    yet continued to solicit funds.

    In a letter to Noah’s Wish partners dated February 2007, Crisp asked for
    help, calling preparing for future disasters increasingly challenging.

    “It’s natural to assume the time to support us is during disasters, but
    there are funding needs everyday,” she said. “In order to sustain our
    mission between disasters, an ongoing source of funding is imperative.”

    Former workers also report favoritism for relatives and family friends
    within the organization.

    In late 2005, Crisp appointed her daughter Chief Operations Officer. The
    daughter is also listed as a board member on the group’s 990. Other board
    members included Crisp’s cousin, Crisp’s daughter’s fiancée, as well as
    another married couple.

    A statement on the Noah’s Wish Web site said that as of March 28, Crisp was
    no longer associated with the group.

    The site also acknowledged the investigation, indicating restricted funds as
    a source of inquiry.

    “The California Attorney General has taken the position that certain funds
    donated to Noah’s Wish during this period, and its immediate aftermath, are
    restricted and may only be used for the animal victims of Hurricane Katrina,
    rather than the animal victims of other disasters or for general disaster
    preparedness,” the statement read.

    “Noah’s Wish disagrees with the Attorney General’s position with respect to
    those funds, but is working cooperatively with the Attorney General toward a
    timely resolution of the dispute.”

    The nonprofit said it has set aside disputed funds and agreed not to use
    those funds pending final resolution of the investigation.

    Due to lack of funding, Noah’s Wish ceased operations early this month.

    “As a former volunteer and employee all I can say is the public and
    volunteers were constantly praising Noah’s Wish for being so organized, so
    on the ball,” said a former worker who wished to remain anonymous.

    “If this is true, how could the organization not know the laws pertaining to
    non profit organizations donations?”

    In an email sent to staff, Crisp defended the nonprofit’s spending.

    “So, ask yourself, if you were an organization who started to receive an
    avalanche of donations and it became apparent pretty soon after the mail
    started to arrive that there was going to be enough money to pay the
    expenses for that disaster, what would you do with the donations that
    continued to come in? Send them back? Tell people to quit sending money?
    This was the dilemma we faced.”

    Phone and email messages left for Noah’s Wish last week were not returned.

    Founder Terri Crisp could not be reached for comment.

    The Attorney General’s office could not comment on the investigation, said
    an office spokeswoman.

  5. Hans Detloff Says:

    This on another post board … No idea who wrote it. Sounds like as far a reptiles go, this Crisp chick is a snake and a lot lizard.

    I’m local and I know of Terri Crisp from her prior rescue group, of which the same types of complaints were voiced about her then.

    Her salary at Noah’s Wish prior to Katrina was miniscule, $6,200 and after katrina, shot up to $141,000!!

    It is sad the VOLUNTEERS from this organization are going to be suffering from the greed exhibited by those in paid positions as there are some committed and caring people who helped many animals during Katrina. However, that does not in any way, give them the right to not use the donated money designated for Katrina on themselves, their toys, etc. There is still much suffering going on in Louisiana and that remaining money needs to be sent back where it was intended, to help the animals.

    And from a very personal, factual (I was there and saw it) observation, at a local disaster preparedness event last fall, Noah’s Wish and Terri Crisp were there to demonstrate their response mode. If you have seen the movie Twister, you will get this correlation. They pulled in with every brand spanking new toy possible which included: 36 foot RV with satellite, airbrushed logos, pull out awning, flat screen TVs; Terri herself drove in a brand spanking new black Chevy Dually truck with logos; pulling a trailer with a nice new Quad runner; a boat; and an Intake Trailer (similar to the food booths at the state fair; and of course, camp chairs emblazoned with their logos.

    Compare that with some of the other groups there, HSUS (who has their own issues with donated money) was there with a simple photo exhibit board; EARS with their modest display; Red Cross, nothing fancy.

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