Local residents step forward
by Susan Mikula Campbell
The disarray continued this past week at the SPCA of Niagara, as on Feb. 2 its board of directors announced the hiring of an independent veterinarian, and mere days later news came that he wouldn't be hired after all.
As reported in last week's Tribune, SPCA Executive Director Jon Faso was fired by the board in the wake of a critical independent report on SPCA of Niagara operations submitted by the SPCA Serving Erie County. Then, the announcement came that Dr. Grant Hobika, DVM, formerly of the Lewiston Small Animal Hospital, was hired "to evaluate all animals and oversee their care, as well as assist in the development of animal handing protocols, pending selection of an interim director."
The announcement from the board also indicated that the hiring was needed because of the great number of people who had submitted resumes for Faso's position and it would take time to evaluate all the applicants. Meanwhile, community demands for the board to step down as well continued.
At least two Niagara County residents are among those willing to step in to fill the breach. Several Erie County names also have been mentioned.
Andrew Bell, owner of Grandpaws Pet Emporium in Lewiston, confirmed Wednesday that he has submitted an application for the position of executive director. Well-known Lewiston resident Mike Shaw, retired after about 25 years in health care public relations, has expressed interest in serving on the board of directors.
"I thought I could help," Bell said, noting that a number of his customers suggested the move. "I probably have a unique combination of animal care and business experience."
Bell has 10 years of animal management experience running a kennel in Youngstown. At his shop, customers routinely ask him for animal care advice. He also has experience with businesses of all sizes, from a large corporation in England to his current shop. He also worked with volunteers at the Fichte Eye Center.
"Anyone involved in the SPCA in the future better be doing it for the good of the animals, because everyone will be watching them," Bell said.
Shaw just finished four years as president of the Opportunities Unlimited Foundation board of directors and has been a member of that board since 2004. That board has been active and successful, he said, noting that being a board member involves a commitment of time, not just another item for your resume.
"You've got to help an organization fulfill its mission in the community. You can't just sit by and assume everything is running the way it should," he said.
Shaw was especially upset by news of mistreatment and unnecessary euthanasia of animals at the SPCA, because of a personal connection. He adopted his husky mix, Prince, from the SPCA of Niagara in 2002. Shaw and Prince have been volunteering at Niagara Hospice for the past three years, and also visit patients at Our Lady of Peace nursing home. When adopted, Prince had been at the SPCA for five months.
"He's a great dog, the smartest I've ever had," Shaw said. "Under the current regime (at the SPCA), he wouldn't have lasted five months."
News from the SPCA's current board still is being filtered through its spokesman, Buffalo attorney Paul Cambria.
Cambria couldn't be reached for comment on the unhiring of Hobika or on the board's announcement that it expected to have an interim director selected this week.
However, Morgan Dunbar, director of Animal Allies of Western New York, said last week that immediately after the announcement of Hobika's hiring, her email inbox filled up with messages from people who were horrified by the prospect.
Lewiston businesswoman Shirley Carter said many of her customers said their animals were former patients of Hobika and that he was probably the poorest choice the SPCA could make to oversee the animals.
"Everybody in Lewiston is writing letters," she said.
Carter said too often Hobika's solution to a problem was to put the animal down.
"Why they would put a radio disc jockey (Board President Brandy Scrufari) in charge of choosing a vet for the SPCA, I don't know," she added.
Carter, who heads up Niagara Feline Friends, a no kill rescue shelter and adoption center in Wheatfield, said she was surprised the SPCA board didn't take more notice of what was going on at the shelter. "They all have to go!"
Carter also said she has talked to State Sen. George Maziarz about having the "heart stick" method of euthanizing animals outlawed in the state. That was the method used at the SPCA of Niagara.
"What went on there was absolutely inexcusable," she said.