Pet project Legal eagles use their skills to aid Humane Society of Huron Valley

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Ypsilanti attorney Tom Piotrowski's first taste of volunteering at the Humane Society of Huron Valley was washing cages. Since then he has served on the board, and donated money but he feels his greatest contribution was the time spent preparing and representing HSHV and the Director of the Cruelty Investigation Department in a 2011 million-dollar lawsuit brought by a Superior Township couple who alleged that a Humane Society investigator acted beyond the scope of his authority when he executed a search warrant and seized 30 dogs that lived their lives confined to wire cages in a garage.

"Knowing what HSHV stands for, knowing the job that animal control officers and criminal investigators do, and knowing what we were accused of, made winning the trial mandatory," says Piotrowski, who rotated off the board last year. "The evidence, especially the photographs depicting the conditions of the cages, was compelling against the homeowners. We were fortunate the jury quickly agreed with us."

Susan Kornfield of Bodman PLC in Ann Arbor, who joined Piotrowski and fellow board member John Koselka on that case, first met Piotrowski nearly 20 years ago at a conference that examined the link between child abuse and animal abuse.

"Tom was a lead prosecutor for Wayne County, dealing with all kinds of terrible felonies and he also personally led the prosecution of animal abusers," Kornfield says. "He brought to HSHV great knowledge about how a nonprofit organization with a cruelty and rescue team could gather evidence and work with prosecutors to improve the outcomes for the animals and the community. I don't think we've ever had someone with that kind of background and expertise."

A financial supporter for 25 years, Kornfield was asked in 2006 to join the Capital Campaign Committee to help raise $8.6 million for the new shelter.

"Michigan was in the midst of a 10-year recession but the HSHV shelter was a disaster for the animals and staff, and a community embarrassment," she says. "I give HSHV's board a lot of credit for transforming the organization through a new legal structure a directorship organization and not a membership nonprofit and hiring talented new management Tanya Hilgendorf. The organization was more stable and able to focus on solving serious issues in the way our community was treating abused, lost, and injured animals."

Committed to being a part of this, Kornfield stepped up her own financial support, began meeting with people to seek support for the new shelter, and a few years later was asked to serve on the board and the Governance and Nominations Committee, where she provided legal assistance in matters such as drafting conflict of interest policies consistent with IRS requirements, revising bylaws, and other "legal housekeeping."

"One aspect of being a board member that I think is most important, and for which lawyers are uniquely suited, is the balance of supporting the organization's leadership while holding it accountable for continuous improvement, focusing on mission, and testing assumptions underlying various positions," she says. "The reason we have the best 'save rate' in the entire state is because our volunteers push us, our staff push us, our leadership focuses on best practices, and the community supports us."

After completing her service at the end of 2014, she will continue her support, advocacy, and sharing the good news about this "4 Star Charity Navigator" organization.

Mark Heusel, an attorney at Dickinson Wright in Ann Arbor, rotated off the board a year ago after eight years, that included several years as vice president and his final year as chairman of the board.

"The organization is near and dear to my heart," he says.

Heusel was heavily involved in legal aspects of the new facility, including negotiations with the county and University of Michigan, and various contractors.

"We were able to successfully negotiate several agreements, which resulted in the facility being built quickly," he says. "Over construction and development of the facility, there were a few bumps in the road that allowed me to engage in a meaningful way."

Towards the end of his tenure, Heusel was heavily involved in negotiations regarding the services contract that HSHV has with Washtenaw County.

"This is a somewhat unique arrangement, but is significant for both parties," he says. "In 2013, we were able to structure a long term agreement that resulted in advantages for both the HSHV and the county. Although the negotiations were not always easy, they ended driving very positive results. There were many other opportunities to use my legal background, but these stand out."

Most recently, HSHV asked Heusel back to host/emcee the Compassionate Feast, one of two large annual fund-raising efforts.

"I've loved my time on the board," he says. "The cause is tremendous but the people who make it happen are priceless. Without the tireless and loving care of these stewards, the organization would not be nearly as successful."

Jenifer Martin, director of Government Relations at the U-M School of Public Health, is the newest member of the board, and looks forward to using her experience as a lawyer/lobbyist/advocate on behalf of companion animals statewide.

"I've been a supporter of HSHV for a few years, but I mainly am attracted to this cause because I love animals," she says.

Martin is particularly concerned that Michigan lags behind other states and communities in a lack of a "no kill" philosophy statewide.

"I hope very much to be part of a strategy to build a broad coalition to enact companion animal protection legislation in our state, that would include meaningful standards of care for shelter animals," she says. "I'm very distraught that the 'gas chamber bill' currently pending in the Michigan legislature is not likely to pass, and that similar legislation addressing horrific practices regarding puppy mills and breed discrimination are also going nowhere. I believe we need comprehensive reform. Fortunately, here in Ann Arbor we live in a community with extraordinary leadership at HSHV, but there are many areas of our state where this is not the case."

HSHV puts animals in foster homes when they require extra veterinary care, time or socialization before they can go up for adoption. Those that have suffered abuse and neglect often have special needs; HSHV takes them all in and treats them in the clinic.

John Koselka, and his wife Suzanne DeVine, partners at Koselka Devine in Ann Arbor, have been supporters and board members for several years, as well as "foster parents."

"Fostering enables us to directly impact the lives of homeless animals," says DeVine, who takes pictures and does write-ups for the HSHV website that may persuade people to come in and adopt the animals by highlighting their stories and unique characteristics. "We've fostered animals who have arrived at HSHV with badly broken bones, missing eyes, ringworm, and a wide variety of other injuries and illnesses. Many are terrified and/or malnourished when they first arrive. As foster volunteers, we get to help with the healing process. HSHV provides the animals with ongoing veterinary care, and us with supplies and support throughout the time that we foster.

"It's incredibly rewarding to see animals come out of their shells and learn to trust people and grow into beautiful, healthy, happy animals."

For information on the Humane Society of Huron Valley, visit www.hshv.org.

Published: Thu, Jan 08, 2015

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »