The Humane Society of El Paso has hired Deb Benedict as its new chief executive officer – a position that was vacant for more than a year after former CEO Jeffery Luke Westerman was fired.
Benedict has more than 25 years of nonprofit experience and most recently was the grants compliance officer at the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence.
“I’m really honored to have been asked to head this agency because it certainly has an important mission that is extraordinarily welcome in our community,” Benedict told El Paso Inc. “The agency has a number of different programs in addition to the shelter.
“Our shelter is obviously a very large anchor because we serve at any time up to about 150 dogs at the shelter and then another 50 cats, augmenting that we have a nursery for underage kittens.”
The Humane Society has had an interim executive director since Westerman was fired in January 2019.
Westerman, who presented himself as a successful Wall Street investor turned pit bull advocate when he arrived in El Paso in 2017, was indicted on 19 counts of securities fraud and theft by an Ohio Grand jury in December 2019. The indictment targeted work Westerman did at his Ohio-based venture capital firm, and did not involve the El Paso nonprofit.
The new CEO now leads an organization with 54 employees and about 400 volunteers.
Asked about the organization’s objectives moving forward, Benedict said the nonprofit’s board of directors is “really methodical” and has done “a very extensive assessment about community needs.”
From evaluating levels of activity in the community to assessing adoption rates, Benedict said the nonprofit considers several factors in defining its short and long-term goals.
“In 2019, we placed over 4,000 animals with a relatively small staff, and we want to increase the number of animals that are adopted by 10%,” Benedict said. “To do that, we need to make sure that we have a sufficient number of staff and trained volunteers to work both at the shelter and at our off-site locations through our partnerships with Petco and PetSmart.”
Benedict also plans to continue promoting educational awareness, including animal care and animal safety, among youth while collaborating with other organizations that work with feral cats.
“And it would be negligent of me not to talk about our clinic where we work with parvo puppies. And if they were not here, they would not make it to adulthood or may have not been adopted.” Benedict said.
Former CEO Westerman was fired by the Humane Society in Jan. 2019 after he was indicted in Ohio, where he is accused of swindling $700,000.
The nonprofit announced the firing in a news release saying, “We recognize that the allegations against Mr. Westerman have shaken the community’s trust in the organization. We are committed to earning back the trust of the El Paso community which we have served for nearly seven decades.”
Julie Rutledge served as interim CEO while the nonprofit’s board conducted a search for Westerman’s replacement.
“The board of directors undertook a meticulous search lasting almost a year to find the right candidate to lead our organization and its important work into its next chapter,” said the nonprofit’s board president Elke Cumming in a news release.
Benedict said that throughout 2019 in the absence of a permanent CEO, “the entire staff and board pulled together because there was a job to do, and they certainly rose to the challenge of doing it while they were also conducting a search for a new CEO.”
Bryan Mena, who is pursuing a degree in political science from UTEP, is an intern at El Paso Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com.