Anonymous donor helps Humane Society after it loses caseA judgment for more than $500 was awarded to the defendant in a small claims court lawsuit against the James River Humane Society on Wednesday. However, the entire judgment amount was donated by a JRHS supporter and the original judgment will also be donated by the plaintiff to help animals.
By: By Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
A judgment for more than $500 was awarded to the defendant in a small claims court lawsuit against the James River Humane Society on Wednesday.
However, the entire judgment amount was donated by a JRHS supporter and the original judgment will also be donated by the plaintiff to help animals.
Aron Williams sued the James River Humane Society for $10,000 after two of his kittens were taken to the shelter, one was adopted out, and he was told the shelter did not have the felines.
Southeast District Court Judge John T. Paulson awarded Williams $528.68 on Wednesday. Both parties involved received the letters reporting the ruling Thursday.
“The Court must be realistic in assessing reasonable damages. Those reasonable damages are $200 per kitten and the costs of the proceeding,” Paulson wrote.
An additional $100 was awarded because the defendant, JRHS, failed to appear at the initial hearing. The remaining $28.68 was awarded to cover the costs of the filing documents and mailing fees.
“No excuse for nonappearance was offered,” the judge wrote.
Ann Ede, JRHS secretary, said she talked directly to the donor who covered the entire judgment against JRHS. The donor wished to remain anonymous.
“I think that the biggest thing they (the donor) want to come out of this is that we are a volunteer, nonprofit organization and we do everything within our power to make sure that the animals are finding their forever homes,” Ede said.
Williams said it was always about getting back the kittens his 7-year-old niece became attached to — something Paulson wrote the court was unable to do.
“It was never about money, they should have just given the cats back,” Williams said. “That was the most important part.”
Williams said he will donate the judgment to a local veterinarian’s clinic for assistance in providing medication for old pets.
As for whether Williams will get another cat for his niece, that’s her choice, he said.
Part of Williams’ case against JRHS was that the shelter did not attempt to seek the owner of the kittens when they were brought to the shelter — as it states it does in its mission statement.
“It’s a lesson for us to be more careful about how we write up our mission statements, and do a better job next time,” said Jill Gilbertson, JRHS vice president.
Gilbertson said the shelter and the volunteers who work there will still do their best to return lost pets to owners, but it is no longer part of the local Humane Society’s mission statement.
As of Thursday afternoon, language about returning lost animals to their original owners had been removed from the JRHS’s updated mission statement on its website.
Gilbertson said there has been some discussion about handling calls about missing animals differently, but nothing has been finalized yet.
The small claims lawsuit has drawn some attention with a group of nearly 200 people joining a Facebook group protesting the lawsuit. Comments on the social networking site were sometimes profane and vulgar toward Williams.
“I think it’s awful that it took something like this to get people’s attention — we do get a lot of support normally,” Gilbertson said. “… and we appreciate the support that’s for sure, we couldn’t run without it. I just think it’s too bad it had to come about this way.”
She said if the judgment was the full amount Williams sought it would have “crippled” JRHS.
“It’s quite a bit of our budget every year,” she said. “To raise that money we get some city funds from the mill levy to help us operate, and we do tons of fundraisers and it’s a lot of work to raise $10,000.”
JRHS has four part-time employees and about 20 volunteers. It operates as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which relies on donations and roughly $13,500 in taxpayer dollars annually from a half-mill tax levy.
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org