Paws Gone Astray
The animal protection organization "Four Paws" in Switzerland gets millions in donations. However, behind the touching stories of rescued animals, it looks rather than unpleasant: The organization is characterized by inefficiency, incompetence and bullying.
By Alex Reichmuth
Die Weltwoche, 24.03.2010
Without emotion, Four Paws is not an animal protection group. It is emotionally difficult to escape stories you face in brochures and their website: lions that were previously kept under intolerable conditions in Eastern European zoos now run in a South African park a decent life; former dancing bears that have been plagued for years at the present recover in a "bear forest" set up for them; abandoned stray dogs supplied for adoption and maintained by Four Paws. There are moving images: a delightful little dog with a faithful glance, a satisfied boar in a bath in Suhl, an innocent orangutan baby with big eyes.
The deficiencies in animal farming, such as those described by Four Paws, and the featured rescue operations go to the heart and your wallet: Swiss women and men donate every year millions to the organization. According to the 2008 Annual Report, Four Paws Switzerland raised CHF 7.3 million. As Four Paws writes on request, 95 percent were from private donors, the rest came from legacies, bequests and grants from foundations. A few years after its founding in 2000, Four Paws Switzerland became one of the three largest animal protection organizations in Switzerland - in addition to the Swiss Animal Protection (STS) and the Zurich Animal Protection. Anyone who donates Four Paws is convinced that support selfless animal welfare activists who spend their money directly for abused bears, mistreated lions and geese tortured in foie gras factory farms.
Massive criticism by former employees
But after discussing with former employees, you will get a very different picture about Four Paws. They criticize the organization on the inefficient using some massive donations, the unprofessional work and the operations marked by intrigue and bullying. Some of them have completely changed emotions while working for Four Paws: outrage over animal abuse at the beginning; and extreme outrage by internal grievances at the end.
Die Weltwoche had special contact with five former employees. Three of them expressed massive criticism to the organization. The other two were reserved - see below grievances. All five insisted on absolute protection of sources - they were willing to make statements only if theirs names would be not mentioned, especially those who criticized sharply. Otherwise, legal struggles with the organization's international headquarters in Vienna may be possible.
According to many ex-employees, the numerous changes in personnel are a clear sign of internal grievances at Four Paws. "Who can stand there in one year, he is already one of the veterans," said one former employee. Particularly in the years 2004, 2006 and 2009, many employees had left both Four Paws' Swiss section and headquarters in Vienna. The work environment worsened, especially after the reorganization in the summer of 2006, when the Four Paws International's chief, Helmut Dungler, became manager of the countries' teams. Since that, he runs by its headquarters in Vienna an organization now operating in ten European countries. According to the informant, that means that the staff of Four Paws Switzerland is facing even more Dungler's authoritarian style and, quote, "nepotism".
Dungler is considered as an "tempered autocrat" and "Sun King," as someone who must control everything and does not tolerate strong personalities around himself. The employees were quarrel among themselves. Those who criticize shall be immediately shelved. There is a policy of frequent hire and fire. At the same time, Helmut Dungler overwhelms his entourage in the organization's operations: "No business idea."
Even hiring new skilled staff does not improve organizational competency. "It is only important that there are at least vegans or vegetarians." Nevertheless, there were excellent people repeatedly hired at Four Paws, said one of the ex-employees, "but every of them had gone soon." According to most of the contacted former employees, described abuses at Four Paws are not simply an internal matter that does not concern the public. Because the rapid personnel shift and permanent supervision by the Vienna headquarters, it is impossible to provide competent and continuous animal protection effort. It certainly is not known by the donors.
Many Four Paws' campaigns were marked by inefficiency and incompetence, former employees criticize. There were projects launched with much pomp that were stopped soon after the start, again and again. For example, campaign against the puppy trade in Eastern Europe, which was soon lost in the sand. They are all about actions to make "lots of wind noise," rather than a sustainable animal welfare. Many campaigns are carried out carelessly. And always, there is a lack of expertise in the core business, namely animal welfare. "Four Paws Switzerland simply have no expertise available on factory farming, one critic said."
"Opacity at 100 percent"
Donated money does not just sink in inefficient campaigns but also in excessive travel expenses. Because everything is centralized, Swiss staff need two-way flies to Vienna, even for short sessions. There is also too much needless travelling in the near and far abroad campaigns. And often flying with many employees who would bring no discernible benefit to a project. "Even doing something safari in Africa," one of the ex-employee suspected the motivation behind it. Also expenses for team building events paid by the foundation.
Four Paws push the huge proportion of the budget to generate more donations. This fundraising effort is estimated by some at over 50 percent. One witness said that in some years even 80 percent of the budget and more flowed in fundraising.
In fact, very few know exact figures. "Four Paws are opaque at 100 percent, one critic said." No one knew exactly how much they spend, except the leadership circle narrow to Helmut Dungler. In other words, "actually, no one knows who makes what." The skills are often governed unclear in the projects and campaigns - the Vienna guide always arbitrarily intervenes and decides. Once, Swiss people heard only by chance about a Four Paws' national action in their own country, said an ex-employee. The action was apparently organized by Vienna, without those responsible in Switzerland had been informed about it.
Since 2006, the management teams in the countries have been removed. Also, there were no more specific animal welfare projects in Switzerland and it will be further criticized. "For Vienna, Switzerland is just a money machine, one of the formers said". In Switzerland, there is a large willingness to help animals, and here many people had the means to donate to. In 2004, there was a network of 600 volunteers in Switzerland, whose projects can be drawn by Four Paws. "This network was then pulped."
Two former employees criticize Four Paws reservedly. Many of the organization's actions were indeed useful, e. g. those in favor of dancing bears and stray dogs, one said. But the sustainable outcome just lacked in other projects: "Bringing cubs individually in a park in South Africa is, in my view, a disproportionate effort." Another ex-employee sees deficiencies in Four Paws' leadership and organizational structure. In addition many campaigns are not enough mature and partly unprofessional. If this is not a whole internal problems, it should occur well in any large organization.
Threat of court actions
Faced with sometimes massive allegations of former employees, Four Paws reject all criticism. In a written opinion, Katharina Beriger of Four Paws Switzerland pointed out "it was readily apparent" that former employees spread false facts and allegations about Four Paws. Four Paws work not only towards to the protection of individual animals, but aspire to general improvements in animal welfare. There were no campaigns that were cut off shortly after launching. As to the expertise of the staff, Beriger wrote, it should be bundled to "the centers of competence" and therefore not all country representatives were equally represented. The statements on very expensive Four Paws' fund-raising effort were false and defamatory. The organization is controlled by accountants and the Swiss Federal Supervisory Board for Foundations. The internal processes will be always correctly charged to be transparent. Katharina Beriger rejects the allegations on the Four Paws' incompetent and authoritarian in many respects leadership. The Finances and Administration are run by "experienced academics." Moreover, head of Four Paws, Helmut Dungler, get awarded the "Silver Cross of Merit of the Republic of Austria" for his animal welfare work.
However, questioned whether Four Paws can use sustainable methods for animal welfare, representatives of other animal charities critically evaluate this organization. Four Paws are obviously "a spectacle before things." Community is also skeptical about the centralized organization and the massive staff turnover. No quoted by name, but no one wants these foreign observers. Why? It was clarified by the written announce of Four Paws to Die Weltwoche: "If false, defamatory, or credit-damaging statements about Four Paws be made, we should be forced to take legal action, Katharina Beriger wrote." Obviously, the threat addresses not only the journalists, but also former employees and other critics.
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