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External audit of Niagara SPCA released, recommends changes following animal neglect allegations

I-Team detailed allegations in November
Niagara SPCA
Posted at 4:39 AM, Jan 22, 2020

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WKBW) — An external audit of the Niagara SPCA was released Tuesday night. It recommends multiple changes after allegations of animal neglect were first reported by 7 Eyewitness News.

The 44-page report, written by former SPCA Serving Erie County Director Barbara Carr, begins by citing the allegations 7 Eyewitness News reported. They were made by three board members, an executive director and a vet tech.

Carr spent three days at the shelter. She also reviewed over 150 pages of emails and interviewed staff, current board members and those making accusations.

Carr first discussed an incident where a dog was euthanized in its kennel and left overnight. She acknowledged several issues with the euthanasia, but said executive director Tim Brennan addressed each one within 24 hours of it happening. She called his response to the incident "swift and appropriate," and pegged the situation as the root cause of "mistrust and suspicion on the part of volunteers, on the part of past and current board members, and past and present employees of the organization."

Concerning the allegation that the shelter was not following its “no kill” policy, and neglecting to notify a committee of multiple euthanasias, Carr wrote that the policy "was not as clear as it could be and seemed to contradict itself."

Carr found the issue was clarified when Brennan made the veterinarian and shelter manager sign off on a document stating they had read and understood the policy. She said euthanasia-related issues have not occurred since. Still, she said mistrust has grown over a recurring argument of "who understood what, when they understood it, and charges of ignoring the policy." In Carr's estimation, this mistrust led to other accusations being levied and a hostile situation to fester.

Carr did find deficiencies at the shelter and made numerous recommendations:

  1. Change the wording on signage at entrance regarding cat restrictions
  2. Create a separate adoption lobby in the new facility
  3. Have a volunteer welcome all visitors at the front entrance
  4. Establish an identification method for both employees and volunteers
  5. Cat area - install portal areas and cease using smallest cat kennels
  6. Establish a separate area for isolation for cats and dogs in new facility
  7. All staff with access to the PetPoint computer software program should change their current passwords
  8. Only the Executive Director and Shelter Manager should be designated as Administrators on the computer software program
  9. All staff should take a refresher course on PetPoint, the computer software program
  10. Asilomar status (which is part of the computer software program) should be inputted as part of the intake process
  11. Monthly reports should be run on data and cross checked with other reports. As a further note on this point, the way the reports were run by the current Executive Director were the same way they were run by the previous Executive Director as documented by Barbara Carr when she reviewed the system and the reports. There is no substantiation that the Executive Director underreported euthanasia cases
  12. Examine the process for intake and explore protocols which would shorten adoption time
  13. Work with the Niagara County Legislature to reduce stray hold time from 5 days to 3 days.
  14. Consider testing for Feline Leukemia (FeLV) only on certain cases (hoarding, cats that have lived outdoors most of their lives, cats that show evidence of fighting with other cats)
  15. Consider a new approach for dealing with stray cats
  16. Begin a process of moving toward more open adoptions
  17. Fill the volunteer coordinator position
  18. Include funds in the budget for staff attendance at conferences; magazine subscriptions; NYCON membership
  19. All staff should attend customer service training
  20. The Board should continue to attend Board training
  21. Euthanasia of dogs was discussed, and recommendations have already been put in place and will be followed. A shelter will be classified as a no kill shelter if their save rate is greater than 90%, which has been the case at the SPCA since 2012.

But aside from those, there were no findings of animal mistreatment by the staff at the Niagara SPCA.

The Niagara SPCA released a statement in response which read in part:

The Niagara SPCA is grateful for the opportunity to be reviewed by an expert such as Barbara Carr and looks forward to implementing her recommendations. The shelter remains committed to Niagara County and its role as the steward of all animals. The Niagara SPCA belongs to the community, not to its staff or Board and we are appreciative of this privilege. We thank all our supporters, the Board and staff and are dedicated to maintaining and improving the shelter mission of the Niagara SPCA...

You can read the entire report below