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Protest planned at vet's office

by jmaloni
Thu, Feb 2nd 2012 07:00 am

Faso fired, new interim director sought for SPCA

by Susan Mikula Campbell

In the wake of a critical assessment report on the SPCA of Niagara late last week, the group's board of directors on Monday fired John Faso as executive director.

The facility has been under attack in recent weeks for alleged mismanagement, improper animal care and for euthanizing an excessive number of cats and dogs.

Buffalo attorney Paul J. Cambria Jr., who is acting as the board's advisor, confirmed that Faso had been immediately fired and that the board is looking for an interim director. To find the right person, they will be consulting not only the SPCA Serving Erie County, which provided the report, but other civic groups and animal rights groups for possible candidates, Cambria said.

Reacting to his firing, Faso said in an interview with WIVB that the board hired him knowing that he was not an animal specialist and said he would be in charge of the business and fundraising end of the operation, while animal care continued under the direction of a veterinarian. He has charged that certain board members, who have their own agendas, have used false allegations as a means of pushing him out.

Morgan Jamie Dunbar, director of Animal Allies of Western New York, which has led several protests at the SPCA on Lockport Road in Wheatfield and elsewhere on the matter, said Wednesday, "We're really happy they've taken the first step."

She realizes that the entire board can't resign at once, but said changes need to be made. Dunbar said she had several suggestions of Niagara County residents who would be good for the board.

"Just to see people (on the board) who know something about animals would be fantastic," she said.

Her group plans another protest from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday outside the Gerber Small Animal Clinic on Military Road highlighting the "heart stick" method of euthanizing animals used at the SPCA of Niagara.

The towns of Niagara and Wheatfield continue to withhold their payments to the SPCA for its services.

Town of Niagara Supervisor Steve Richards said he plans to discuss the matter with his board at its Feb. 9 work session.

"For me, I'd like to see some real progress there," he said. "They need to really adjust the shortcomings there and make a huge difference in the way that place operates."

Wheatfield Supervisor Bob Cliffe said action by his board is unlikely until its Feb. 13 meeting. The town has received no communication from the SPCA board, other than what has been done publically for everyone, he said.

"I do feel that the towns and cities have to be a part of the process of reconstituting the new SPCA board, and am doing what I can to help in this process," Cliffe said. "I do feel that the full SPCA board should plan to resign and allow a new election of board members, some of which may be present board members. However, that is not for us to determine, only ask."

The investigation of the Niagara County facility was led by Barbara Carr of the SPCA Serving Erie County. Her report noted "an overwhelming culture of distrust at the shelter."

The report indicated "They gossip, pass on written complaints about each other to one another, try to get each other fired, go behind the backs of one another to people in authority and make complaints. The evaluation team has witnessed this rather childish behavior at all levels of the organization, by board members, the executive director, staff members and volunteers."

The report provided an example of a complete job description for the position of executive director for an actual position in Oakland, Calif.

The report, more than 100 pages long, also detailed current animal care and recommendations and noted that many positive changes had been made since Carr's previous visit more than a year ago, even though the facility is "dysfunctional in many ways."

In a press conference announcing the report last week, Carr mentioned the "heart stick" method used at the shelter had meant a painful death for some animals.

Dunbar said the reason she organized the protest at the Gerber Small Animal Clinic is she saw one of the clinic's veterinarians on television defending the method of euthanasia.

"It's easy for them. It's not easier for the animals," Dunbar said, noting that when euthanasia is a must for a sick or injured animal, the method should be a last resort for when the vet or technician can't find a vein in the animal.

She said the protest would include some "street theater" to show why the method is "barbaric."

The following is the text of the statement issued by the SPCA of Niagara's Board of Directors:

"On Monday, Jan. 30, the Board of Directors voted to terminate John Faso as the executive director of the Niagara County SPCA. Mr. Faso states that, at the time he was hired, an emphasis was placed on his abilities to fundraise and track membership. Our bylaws clearly state that the executive director is also responsible for supervision of all employees within the shelter, including those employees responsible for the care and treatment of animals. In light of SPCA Serving Erie County Executive Director Barbara Carr's report, it has become painfully clear that the position of executive director must be fulfilled by someone who can adequately handle all operations of the facility, as outlined in the duties required of an administrative director within the bylaws of the Niagara County SPCA. By his own admission, Mr. Faso did not in fact supervise those employees, nor has he acquired this expertise during his tenure to do so. Therefore, it is the decision of our board that Mr. Faso is not the person to effectively manage the shelter from this day forward.

"While we recognize that we share in the blame for some issues at the shelter, it is clear that our immediate efforts must be focused on searching for and appointing a capable and qualified interim executive director who can perform the duties and functions at that shelter that Mr. Faso could not. We have reached out to many sources, including the SPCA Serving Erie County, for assistance and advice in this search, and look forward to improving the shelter and the quality of care for our animals. In the meantime, we encourage people to continue to adopt our animals into their lives and homes."

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