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WESTCOAST NEWS - Rough times for the BC SPCA

MIA
March 31st, 2005, 12:03 PM
WESTCOAST NEWS
Rough times for the SPCA
Beleaguered animal organization faces an uncertain future

Amy O'Brian
Vancouver Sun

Thursday, March 31, 2005

CREDIT: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun
Craig Daniell, CEO of SPCA, insists the society isn't going to disappear any time soon.

Judy Stone was standing on the roof of the North Vancouver SPCA shelter 13 years ago when she realized she wanted to fight the organization, rather than fix its roof.

The former roofing contractor turned animal advocate says she made the decision when she was told by a senior administrator with the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals the only way to reduce the number of feral cats in the Lower Mainland was "mass euthanasia."

"I thought, 'Wow, there's something really wrong here,'" Stone recalls.

Stone finished the job at the SPCA shelter, but simultaneously began searching for evidence of wrong-doing by the organization responsible for looking after the welfare of animals in the province. She began talking to other animal advocates and eventually sold her business a few years later so she could "investigate" the SPCA on a full-time basis.

Since 1995, Stone has earned the reputation of being "the thorn in the side of the SPCA" as she investigates an organization that insists it is transparent and accountable, but has suffered in recent years from some severe blows to its reputation.

There was the 2001 discovery that the executive director of the Greater Vancouver branch was being paid $203,000, including benefits. The same year, the B.C. SPCA lost its animal control contracts with the District of North Vancouver and Coquitlam amid allegations of animal mistreatment and a failure to enforce anti-cruelty legislation.

Since then, the beleaguered organization has lost other municipal contracts and continues to come under attack from certain groups and individuals that CEO Craig Daniell says are "hell-bent on destroying" the B.C. SPCA.

"We've had our fair share of problems in the past," Daniell says. "But over the course of the last two years we've worked extremely hard at rectifying some of the problems and . . . restoring public confidence."

Despite the SPCA's efforts -- which included the first independent audit of its financial statements in its 109-year history -- the charitable organization suffered another setback last summer when two workers kidnapped Cheech, a Rottweiler-Lab cross, from the Delta shelter to save it from being put down. The volunteers insisted Cheech was not the aggressive dog the SPCA made him out to be, and said he deserved the chance to be adopted by a loving family.

But the SPCA refused to change its stance, suspended the two workers, and a few months later, lost the contract it had held with Delta for more than 30 years.

Those involved in Cheech's kidnapping formed the Delta Humane Society and won the contract, which is worth about $225,000 per year, plus revenue from licensing and adoptions.

Stone, who is perhaps the SPCA's most enduring and vocal critic, says she is not "hell-bent on destroying" the organization, but wants more accountability and honesty.

The 62-year-old's website, www.animaladvocates.com, is packed with accusations against the SPCA and has video and audio clips that she says are evidence of the SPCA's "lies."

CREDIT: Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun
Amanda Muir of the Delta Humane Society spends time with Harley every morning when she arrives at the shelter.

In response, the B.C. SPCA has launched a defamation lawsuit against Stone, but she maintains everything on her website is true.

"If the SPCA reforms, I will temper my website," she says.

"The one thing that would have silenced me is honesty . . . I'm going to keep doing this until they reform."

Stone specifically takes issue with what she believes to be a hard-hearted euthanasia policy and the organization's alleged unwillingness to rescue and rehabilitate chained yard dogs.

Daniell won't say much about Stone's internet activities because of the ongoing legal action, but says the website's content is "factually incorrect."

"[Legal action] is the last thing we wanted to do, but unfortunately, while the society has no problem with healthy criticism of the organization, we're not going to stand for defamation," he says. "We have to protect the reputation of the society and its officers and its staff."

Though Daniell concedes the SPCA has had its share of media relations nightmares, he says the organization is far from becoming obsolete and the loss of a few municipal contracts does not signal a trend.

In the Lower Mainland, the B.C. SPCA still holds animal control contracts in Burnaby, Maple Ridge, North Vancouver City, West Vancouver, Port Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows, the University Endowment Lands, and Surrey.

But those who keep a close eye on the SPCA believe it will lose its Surrey contract when it comes up for renewal in a year.

Richmond decided last year not to renew the SPCA's bylaw enforcement contract, but the organization still operates an animal control shelter there.

Elsewhere, the SPCA has lost contracts in Langley City, Langley Township, Abbotsford, Port Moody, North Vancouver District and Delta.

Despite Daniell's assertions that the B.C. SPCA continues to thrive, others foresee a rough future for the organization.

Brian Nelson is a former cruelty investigator with the SPCA and now runs Mainland Municipal Animal Control Services, which took over the animal control contract for Abbotsford in 2003. Nelson does not want to see the SPCA disappear in this province, nor does he have any hard feelings towards his former employer, but he doesn't see a bright future for the society.

"I think they're going to be a shadow of their former self [in five years]," Nelson says.

"I'm really sad for them that it's gone this way . . . For the most part, the SPCA is run by good people, they do good work."

Nelson says it was a mistake for the SPCA to bow to public pressure and implement a no-kill policy a few years ago. He says the "knee-jerk" reaction left the SPCA in a bind when it came to seriously injured animals because "vet bills were going through the roof" and though an animal may have been beyond recovery, the SPCA felt obliged to spend "thousands of dollars" on medical expenses.

"They tried to please everybody," Nelson says. "The SPCA was like a drunken sailor staggering from one media relations dilemma to another."

But Daniell says the SPCA was clear that its no-kill policy only meant the group would stop euthanizing animals because of a lack of space at shelters. It would still put down animals that were too sick or injured to be adopted, or too vicious.

"The term 'no-kill' is widely misunderstood," Daniell says. "It's sort of a nice catch-all phrase that organizations use and I think most organizations that would call themselves no-kill actually still do euthanize animals from time to time."

The B.C. SPCA has greatly reduced the number of animals it euthanizes, but still kills thousands each year out of what it says is necessity.

Daniell stresses that the statistics for animals euthanized by the SPCA are inexact, because the organization still operates on a "completely paper-based system."

But he says rough figures for 2004 show about 11,500 of the 55,000 animals taken in by the SPCA were euthanized.

Of the 9,000 dogs that were taken in, about 1,000 were put down. Of the 18,000 cats that were surrendered to the SPCA, about 5,000 were euthanized. The remainder of those put down fit into the categories of seized animals, wildlife, strays and impounded animals.

Daniell says the decision to euthanize an animal is based on a veterinarian's assessment or, in the case of a potentially dangerous animal, a temperament assessment.

It was those assessments that were at the heart of the Cheech affair last summer in Delta.

The SPCA and those who kidnapped Cheech from the shelter did not agree with an assessment that found the young dog to be unpredictable and aggressive.

Cheech's supporters believed he was merely exhibiting puppy-like behaviour and, with proper training, could become a wonderful companion. They pleaded with SPCA management to delay the dog's euthanasia so he could have a chance to live with an experienced dog handler who could train him.

But the SPCA forged ahead with its plans to euthanize Cheech, prompting Amanda Muir and Kirsten McConnell -- who both worked at the Delta shelter -- to spirit the dog away just a few hours before he was scheduled to be put down.

The incident led to something of a stand-off in June, when Cheech supporters gathered with protest signs in front of the Delta shelter with the full attention of the local media. Inside, SPCA managers peered through the locked glass door, watching the latest public relations nightmare unfold before their very eyes.

Looking back on the incident, Daniell says he stands by the SPCA's decision that Cheech was a dangerous dog and says he was disappointed, but not surprised when the society lost the Delta contract.

Lois Jackson, Delta's mayor, says council's decision to give the contract the newly-formed Delta Humane Society was largely due to the "kerfuffle" over Cheech.

"We had tremendous numbers of people contacting us. It sparked enough interest to look at the contract," she says. "It was decided that we would probably do well with change."

In January, the Delta Humane Society took over the municipally-owned shelter once operated by the SPCA. Muir was one of the original employees at the humane society, but left in late March because of ongoing surgeries to repair damage done to her arms in 2003 when she was attacked by a Rottweiler.

Amber Cottle, a certified animal trainer and the executive director of the society, says operations at the shelter have changed significantly since they took it over. The board of directors includes a veterinarian, a rehabilitation specialist, and business owners from the community.

Dogs are walked daily and taken into the shelter's office for an hour each day to spend time with people and get out of their kennels. And euthanasia is considered a last resort that must be discussed with shelter staff involved in the animal's care and approved by a shelter-affiliated veterinarian and the director of training.

There is no limit to how much the society will spend on veterinary bills and three vets have already stepped forward to offer their services at reduced cost.

Nelson sympathizes with the good intentions of groups like the Delta Humane Society, but is skeptical they can live up to those ideologies without facing ballooning debts.

"You watch. In two years Delta will be acting just like the SPCA," Nelson said.

Nelson does not claim his Aldergrove shelter has a no-kill policy because he says it would be dishonest. He will put down animals he deems to be injured "beyond recovery" or a threat to the community, but says in the past 18 months, he has not had to put down any dogs or cats because of space constraints.

He says groups that call themselves "no-kill" are risking backlash from animal lovers when they find themselves with no choice but to euthanize an animal, which happened recently to the Langley Animal Protection Society (LAPS) -- the group that beat out the SPCA for the animal control contract in both Langley Township and Langley City.

Two bull mastiffs were destroyed in January by Langley Animal Control, which is operated by LAPS, after they attacked two people walking down a residential street.

Sean Baker, shelter manager for LAPS, says he was "berated" by some people who believed the two dogs could be rehabilitated, but says the group will not adopt out dogs that have bitten someone and euthanizes dogs that are not adoptable.

LAPS did not particularly want to get into the business of animal control, but it also wasn't satisfied with the job the SPCA was doing in the community. Baker says the facility was inferior and volunteers complained animals at the shelter weren't being treated properly.

Langley Township did not renew the SPCA's contract in 2003, but it also did not want to take on animal control, so the township turned to LAPS -- a volunteer animal-lovers group -- and said, "If you don't do it, nobody will," Baker recalls.

The group knew nothing about the technicalities of animal control, but won the township contract and hired some professionals, one of whom was Baker.

"It was a leap of faith on the government's part," Baker says.

There have been a few stumbling blocks since the group won the contract, but Baker says operations are running smoothly and the group works closely with the SPCA, which is still responsible for investigating cruelty to animals in the area.

Baker isn't sure what the future will hold for the SPCA, but hopes it will continue in some capacity.

"They have to survive because we have no authority to do what they do," he says.

Daniell insists the SPCA isn't going to disappear any time soon and says it is focusing its attention on cruelty to animals, education programs, and upgrading its facilities. He says donations have been increasing and the organization's finances are quickly being put back in order after running into the red in past years.

As for Stone and the SPCA's other critics, Daniell maintains his organization is open and accountable, and notes that the critics are "long on complaints, short on solutions."

"It's easy for people to criticize and there's no shortage of people who are ready to blame organizations for actions they take."
The Vancouver Sun 2005

bluntman
March 31st, 2005, 02:32 PM
Judy Stone is no angel herself, She supports BSL of many breeds instead of responsible pet ownership. She believes that any dog that can be trained by drug dealers as attack dogs should be banned.( Hey Judy, how can you ban a bunch dogs, when there's not enough resorcess to ban drug dealers?) She allso under the impression that only stupid people would own a pit bull. She is not the animal expert she thinks she is.

MIA
March 31st, 2005, 03:10 PM
I do NOT agree with BLS and some of AAS's ignorant statements made about pit owners (being an ex-pit owner myself) I don't appreciate being called stupid!!!!!

I thought it was a good article worth sharing. Our SPCA does need reform and really needs to look at thier operations etc...