Puppy-kicking CEO forced to step down

The chief executive of a catering company that serves major sports arenas resigned Tuesday over an animal abuse incident caught on tape.

The video of the 46-second elevator ride is hard to watch. It shows a man in jeans and a T-shirt strolling into an elevator at the Private Residences at the Hotel Georgia, a luxury condo building in downtown Vancouver. He kicks a Doberman Pinscher puppy trotting beside him as he steps inside. The dog obediently sits as the doors close. The man then kicks the dog repeatedly, causing it to shrink away from his abuser. Not once does it attempt to fight back by biting or jumping. The man then leans over towards the dog before standing up and violently jerking the leash several times, so hard it lifts the animal off the floor. He kicks it a few more times before exiting the elevator.

A search warrant obtained Aug. 22 by Canada’s Global News identified the man as Desmond Hague, president and chief executive of Centerplate, a catering company based in Stamford, Conn., that serves fans at sports and entertainment arenas. These include Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, where they offer vegan hot dogs, Safeco Field in Seattle, and FedExField in Washington, D.C.

The video was dated July 27, but authorities weren’t alerted until weeks later, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, when a condominium employee sent the video to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in British Columbia. When they went to investigate, SPCA officers found the puppy, named Sade, at the condo in a crate that stank of urine with food and water bowls out of reach, the Vancouver Sun said. She appeared to have been abused and was skittish around people.

Hague initially told the SPCA that the dog was his, but they have since determined it belongs to someone else who stepped forward after the incident was made public, Fortune reported.

SPCA’s chief prevention and enforcement officer Marcie Moriarty told the Sun they took the dog to safety and later determined there was “no real lasting physical damage.” However, they are recommending that charges of abuse be filed against Hague.

The video quickly circulated online, prompting some fans to say they wouldn’t buy food at stadiums served by the company. “I’m not buying anything that this guy sells here – it’s a disgrace,” BC Lions fan John Kinney told Global News. Fans in the United States, where NFL preseason was underway, also threatened to boycott.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the city would review its $17 million contract with Centerplate, which is set to expire in February, and called Hague’s actions “disturbing,” the San Diego Union Tribune reported.

In a statement sent to Fortune, the San Francisco 49ers, whose fans are served by Centerplate at Levi’s stadium, said the organization “condemns the abuse of animals and was disturbed to learn of the recent news regarding Des Hague. We believe his actions are not reflective of the efforts and service provided by the hundreds of Centerplate employees working to present our fans with a tremendous experience at Levi’s Stadium.”

Hague admitted to the abuse in an Aug. 24 statement obtained by the Sun. “I take full responsibility for my actions,” he wrote, before blaming the incident on “a minor frustration with a friend’s pet” that caused him “to lose control of my emotional response.”

On social media, people across the United States and Canada called for Hague to be fired.

According to statements obtained by Fortune, Centerplate dismissed the situation as “a personal matter involving Des Hague” in an Aug. 25 statement. The next day they announced Hague would undergo anger management counseling. A third statement on Aug. 27 declared that Hague was on probation, would serve 1,000 hours of community service and had agreed to donate $100,000 of his own money to an animal charity.

Hague told Fortune in an e-mail last Thursday that he was “deeply ashamed” and “will atone for many years to come.” He added: “I believe the steps I have taken and the sanctions imposed by the board in the long run will actually see many more animals safe and better protected.”

Animal lovers were not appeased. A Change.org petition calling for Hague’s removal had accumulated more than 180,000 signatures by Tuesday — more than enough to fill every seat at FedExField and the Rose Bowl stadium — when the company finally announced that Hague was stepping down.

“The decision comes as a result of Hague’s personal misconduct involving the mistreatment of an animal in his care,” Joe O’Donnell, chairman of the board of directors for Centerplate wrote on the company’s Web site. “We want to reiterate that we do not condone nor would we ever overlook the abuse of animals. … Following an extended review of the incident involving Mr. Hague, I’d like to apologize for the distress that this situation has caused to so many; but also thank our employees, clients and guests who expressed their feelings about this incident. Their voices helped us to frame our deliberations during this very unusual and unfortunate set of circumstances.”

Chris Verros, formerly the company’s chief operating officer, replaced Hague as acting president and chief executive.

Correction: This story previously said Levi’s Stadium is in San Francisco.

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read National
Next Story
Terrence McCoy · September 3