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.