LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — A new day is dawning at the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as the organization continues to emerge from a cloud of concern over poor conditions and missing money.
When 13 Investigates first exposed those concerns in late 2018, the NSPCA had taken in tons of money from fundraisers and donations for a new shelter that had been promised for more than six years, but never built.
In March of this year, the Nevada Attorney General filed criminal charges against Kathy Jung, the nonprofit's former board president.
“We want Kathy Jung to be a distant memory,” said NSPCA Executive Director Lori Heeren.
Jung is charged with three counts of felony theft stemming from misappropriation of donor money meant for animals.
She allegedly kept the proceeds from the sale of an SUV belonging to the NSPCA and used the shelter's debit card for personal expenses.
A preliminary hearing is set for Nov. 1, 2021.
“A lot of people think she got off easy and that there was a lot more that actually happened that they didn't or couldn't pin on her,” 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears said.
“I believe that the challenge was, was she doing things that were criminal or were they just mismanagement?” Heeren responded.
That will be decided by the court. And Heeren wants to leave it in the past as the shelter ends its 15-year run in the building on Dewey Drive.
They're moving at the end of September to a newly leased, 22,000 square-foot space on Procyon Street behind Allegiant Stadium.
“It's going to be an opportunity for the public to be much more interactive with NSPCA and our animals,” Heeren said, noting that the move didn't come easily.
“Ninety-nine percent of our lease inquiries did not want animal care.”
Construction and renovations began June 1 to convert this warehouse into Southern Nevada’s second-largest animal shelter.
“Of course, this is phase one." said Heeren. "We signed a 50-month lease with them. So, this is an opportunity for us to walk before we really run in the future where we're able to own our own building and own our own land. That's really the future of Nevada SPCA.”
The immediate future will include five cat colony rooms, a critter room for rabbits, guinea pigs and pet rats, a medical clinic, and dog kennels in the back, designed to be as comforting as possible.
“People have often been taken aback by the chain-link fencing and the kind of dark, dank corridors in the current building. That's not what we're going to have a repeat of here?” Spears asked.
“Nope,” answered Heeren. “This is going to be air-conditioned. Currently in our building we do not have air conditioning for our dog kennels, which is surprising that that ever happened.”
The current building has also been plagued by plumbing problems.
Former volunteers provided pictures taken when Jung was at the helm of dogs with paws covered in feces amid sewage hoses running through kennels.
In the new building, “We're also going to have plumbing that works. We have challenges right now where a lot of the plumbing has collapsed in the building that we're in, which is a problem when you have a lot of dog kennels and you're dealing with animal waste,” said Heeren.
The new facility will be better for staff too.
“Right now, in our current facility, our laundry room also serves as the same room where we clean our litter boxes, and we get our morning coffee.”
In 2018, we questioned Kathy Jung about why the organization was still in the deteriorating Dewey Dr. building.
At the time, she said, “When the final plans and blueprints came out for us to sign off on them--probably last year--we took a look at them and realized this is not the future for the Nevada SPCA.”
“So, who screwed up?” Spears asked.
“Well, it could be, it could be anyone. It could be the blueprint person; it could be the architect...” said Jung in 2018, explaining that they were waiting on a redesign.
“And we could build that,” Jung said. “Right now, we could. We have the permits. We could break ground and we could build it right now. But it's not something that's conducive for the future. It is not something that our community would be proud of.”
“Money is not the issue,” she added.
According to Heeren, “The money really wasn't there. It takes a lot of money--anywhere from $8-20 million--to build an animal shelter and we are raising enough to get this project started and then of course in the future we're going to raise even more.”
“So, when Kathy Jung looked me in the face on camera and said 'The money's there, we could break ground right now...?' Spears asked.
“There was a million dollars,” said Heeren. “A million dollars is not going to get you very far for an animal shelter.”
Two donors gave a combined $1.5 million to fund tenant improvements in the new location.
Heeren hopes to raise $500,000 more, promising transparency and accountability for every donor dollar in the wake of the organization's past failures to provide checks and balances on its own finances.
“There are not any checks that are written in the office. All of the receipts are uploaded and board members able to look at all of them. There are so many practices in place nowadays to where that is not going to happen again to Nevada SPCA.”
“As we stand here there's a feeling of hope,” Spears noted. “How far out from under the shadow of Kathy Jung have you come?”
“I think we've come a long way,” said Heeren. “She has not been with our organization for two years. Our staff is almost entirely new. Our staff has been through a lot. We are a tight-knit group that has gone through a lot of adversity: taking over an organization that had a lot of legal problems, that had facility problems, we endured a flood last year from a fire sprinkler system that had burst, and then throw in a pandemic.”
The new lease runs through July 31, 2025.
Even so, they don't want any long-term four-legged residents.
“We have a saying that our goal is to say goodbye. Our goal is to get these animals in a loving new home.”
The NSPCA's new lease provides donors with multiple opportunities for naming rights.
If you're interested in donating to the new project, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-873-7722.
Additional information can be found on the NSPCA website.
Regular hours of operation are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. by appointment only.