Niagara SPCA Board Stands Alone in Support of Director Amidst Allegations of Cruel Neglect and Illegal Killings

On New Year’s Eve 2011, The Niagara Gazette broke a story alleging abuse and illegal killing of shelter pets at the Niagara SPCA.  Among the whistleblowers are volunteers, a current board member and a former veterinary technician.  At the heart of the alleged abuse is executive director John Faso.  Mr. Faso has been on the job less than 2 years but during that time “has presided over the mass departure or firings of most of the shelter’s veteran staff, leaving the operation functionally unable to meet its mission”.  The fleeing staff has, according to board members, been used by Mr. Faso as an excuse for increased killings at the shelter.

The director gets paid $70,000 a year but reportedly says that his facility will “never be a no-kill shelter because it’s too expensive.”

There are also allegations of injured pets being forced to suffer in their cages without veterinary care:

In one case, a cat that appeared to be suffering from a broken jaw was brought in and allowed to stay for a week in a cage without treatment. Finally, a concerned staffer took the cat to an emergency veterinary clinic where it was treated and then returned to the shelter.

When the cat then developed a common respiratory infection, rather than provide further medication for the animal, Faso directed that it be euthanized.

[…]

[C]ats at the shelter have been injuring themselves in out-dated display cases and that a donor offered to fund the replacement of those cages. Faso, reportedly, refused to accept the donation.

There is a video clip accompanying this article which shows a photo of a badly injured cat’s paw.  The cat was allegedly left to suffer in this condition for days at the Niagara SPCA.

On top of all that, there are allegations that stray pets are not being held for the state mandated 5 days at the shelter but either adopted out, as in the case of a rat terrier called Carly, or killed.

Kathy Paradowski, a current board member of the SPCA and Lisa Liddle, a former volunteer, allege healthy animals are needlessly being put down, instead of being put up for adoption.

[…]

Paradowski explained, “If you don’t claim your dog in a period of time, sometimes it’s a day, and you go in…your dog is already euthanized. So a lot of adoptable animals are not being properly screened. I don’t even think they’re checking for chips to see if those animals belong to anyone.”

Liddle added, “I like to think that I live in a more humane society than the country I’m living in right now. Breaks my heart to say that I live in a county where if your dog gets out, your dog is probably dead.”

Although the board has chosen to keep Mr. Faso on as director while these claims are investigated – with the president offering a “Some of my best friends are…” type defense – area municipalities, legislators and state inspectors are taking immediate action.  Check out this powerful press release from local elected officials:

“These reports make me sick,” Senator Maziarz said.  “The SPCA is supposed to be a place of shelter and refuge for animals in need.  When we read about these companions being stuck in a cage and not getting the medical care they need, it is just shameful.  Someone needs to be held accountable, and the Board cannot wait weeks before it meets again and discusses this.  This is a crisis situation that warrants an emergency meeting.  The public has a right to know what has been going on, and we deserve to know now.”

“Too many animals are being killed unnecessarily, and that must stop,” Senator Grisanti said.  “This neglect simply cannot be tolerated.  There have been repeated warnings from staff, board members, and volunteers, and the warnings seem to have fallen on deaf ears.  The leadership must be called into question.”

Assemblyman Ceretto said, “These reports coming out of the SPCA are very troubling.  A full investigation is needed to get to the bottom of this.  To those with pets, this story is especially horrifying.  I consider my pets family members and these reports anger me.  The SPCA has a responsibility to investigate these allegations as soon as possible and I join these local officials in calling for one in an efficient, transparent manner.”

The press release goes on to list numerous municipalities who have put a halt to payments to the Niagara SPCA for AC services until a thorough and immediate investigation has been completed.  Several other area communities who do not contract with the shelter for AC services are standing in solidarity with their neighbors to demand accountability.

Compassionate citizens attended the town board meeting on January 3 and refused to be silenced:

The Wheatfield Town Board was not planning to talk about the SPCA, but the overwhelming outcry could not be ignored.

The Niagara SPCA board held an emergency meeting on January 4.

On January 6, the NY State Department of Agriculture and Markets conducted a surprise inspection of the Niagara SPCA and seemed to find evidence supporting at least some of the claims made against the facility.  Specifically, inspectors found that stray pets were not being held for the legally required 5 days and, when asked to produce veterinary treatment records, the facility could not.  Not for the past month, not for the previous quarter – not a single record of vet care for all of 2011.

State Assemblyman John Ceretto “said he is the owner of two rescue dogs and three stray cats and said he would prefer the local shelter to be a “no kill” facility”.  He and other legislators are seeking better state oversight for the NY shelter system.  (Perhaps a good time for NY readers to contact your elected officials and remind them about the need for a CAPA type law in NY which would offer state level protection for shelter pets.  CAPA type bills have been introduced in NY previously but the big money animal welfare groups have shot them down.)

On January 12, the Niagara SPCA board issued a statement indicating it had hired a team to investigate the allegations of wrongdoing and it anticipates a final report in 4 weeks:

Preliminarily we have determined that changes are in order so as to accomplish our mission of caring for sick and abandoned animals.

Ya think?  But one of those changes is not the removal of the director, who continues to be in charge at the shelter and to determine who suffers and who dies at the hands of the Niagara SPCA.

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8 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for writing about this issue. After attending the no-kill conference last year, we have been waiting to launch No Kill Buffalo-Niagara and this was the catalyst we needed to get more people on board to help with the fight. Currently we are in meetings with as many town supervisors as will talk to us about alternatives to using the Niagara County SPCA, gathering supporters to No Kill Buffalo-Niagara, in contact with the legislators who are sympathetic to the issues, sending FOIL requests to all parties involved and will be planning some information meetings within the next couple of weeks. We are following Rescue50.org matrix and are in the “get informed” and “gather the troops” part. We are lucky in NY that we have CAARA and Micah Kellner, so much is already done, but many in our area didn’t know anything about CAARA, so we are educating everyone we can and asking them to contact their representatives in support of this bill, which seems to be stalled.

    We are also not allowing it to be covered up or camouflaged by allowing them to smoke-screen us with using “unhealthy/untreatable” designations that most traditional shelters use. What we are finding is that many groups offered Mr. Faso help when he first became director of the Niagara SPCA, from rescue groups to spay/neuter clinics to veterinarians, and he refused all aid to reduce the killing – instead allowing almost 90% of the animals in his shelter to be killed. How sad that is for an area that routinely brings dogs from southern shelters because our dog population is less than people who WANT to adopt a companion and an area that has a very established and strong free roaming cat group that would be more than happy to help.

    Thank you so much for writing about this – we need all the help & support we can get as we are in for a hell of a fight over the next few months.

    Clara Miller
    No Kill Buffalo-Niagara

    Reply
    • Thank you for mobilizing Clara. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to support your reform efforts now or in future.

      Reply
  2. Karen F

     /  January 15, 2012

    Now there’s coverage showing that the Erie SPCA, assigned to “investigate,” has political ties to Faso’s backers:

    http://niagara-gazette.com/local/x594869244/More-than-200-rally-to-protest-treatment-of-animals-at-Niagara-SPCA

    The only reason Faso and those who support him can get away with being so destructive is that nobody has legal standing to save an animal from shelter cruelty. The streamlined oversight that state Sen. Maziarz is talking about won’t address that.

    So I hope CAARA is revived and that the rescues of New York successfully position themselves as necessary and worthy partners for shelters, at a cost that’s acceptable despite shrinking local budgets. Otherwise, kill shelters and their ASPCA/HSUS backers will get away with playing the hoarding card and claiming that CAPA is too expensive — just as they did last week in Florida.

    Reply
  3. Jennifer

     /  January 16, 2012

    Why would you hire someone who had very little animal experience?

    “The board has hired a public relations firm to help them during the current controversy.” Another shelter wasting money to try to save face! They need to spend the money on the animals instead of public relations and lawyers!

    Reply
    • I wouldn’t dismiss a candidate out of hand based on lack of animal experience because in some cases, it could be a good opportunity to bring change to a shelter. But they make it seem as if they hired this guy b/c of his fundraising experience and the animals weren’t much of a factor. That seems wrong.

      Reply
  4. Erica

     /  January 16, 2012

    Well this story makes me happy AND mad. I’m all for thinking outside the box – and don’t thin there is the slightest problem in hiring people who don’t have shelter manager experience…how else are they going to get it? My problem is that they hired someone strictly for his fundraising experience, who’s first call to action was to NOT accept help. That should have been THE red flag that this guy wasn’t about what was BEST for the animals.Maybe someone should have told him that they valued his fundraising experience in that it *could* go hand in hand with , oh I don’t know….saving MORE animals lives! Maybe he thought the game was best played with who had the biggest amount of money at the end?

    BUT I am overjoyed in that so many people not only said something but they are also taking a stand about this crap. So many legislative folk saying enough is enough and you’re done. I LOVED that part. If only we could get more folks like that around the country!

    Reply
  5. Andy Wielgus

     /  January 16, 2012

    It’s great to see that our protest made a difference. That WE could be a voice for those who had none. There is strength in numbers.

    Reply
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