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By Benjamin Joe
Animal welfare advocates from the Voices for Shelter Animals group spoke out recently in regard to an investigation conducted at the Niagara SPCA by former Erie County SPCA Executive Director Barbara Carr, and Libby Post, executive director of New York State Animal Protection Federation. They called it a conflict of interest.
Last November, allegations of neglect, including a dog being euthanized in a cage rather than a medical center, rocked the shelter. Critics demanded action. Now, following the investigation, some are saying not enough is being done.
“Libby Post is being paid to do an audit from a paying member of her organization,” said Marilyn Galfin, founder of Voices for Shelter Animals. “The concern is that there is going to be a bias going on, because the organization, their goal is to work on making these shelters appear good. … When there’s allegations of abuse, neglect and then to have someone coming in, who’s being paid to make the shelter look good, that is a very big conflict of interest right there. When you have a conflict of interest, we’re not sure if there’s going to be a bias. It’s not going to help the animals at all.”
Post said there is no conflict of interest. Rather, she explained the group has not “liked her” because of the federation’s stance on different legislative proposals.
“Instead of being an adult, and picking up the phone and having a conversation, they take to Twitter,” Post said, noting she has received one death threat on the group’s Twitter feed. The threat did not come from any of the organizers of the group, and Post said she isn’t very concerned.
Galfin said it was unfair to paint her organization and other animal welfare advocates with the same brush and it detracted from the real issue of the animals.
Galfin said concerns for the treatment of Niagara SPCA shelter animals deserve a transparent and independent investigation, which Post cannot perform because of the financial arrangement in which the shelter pays dues to the NYSAPF, as well as Post’s track record as a political consultant, at times opposing bills Voices for Shelter Animals support.
Post said the report on the Niagara SPCA’s behavior is prepared by Carr, the person the Niagara SPCA board of directors asked to investigate the shelter after critics of the shelter’s behavior sought her help.
“Barbara does this work through New York State Animal Protection Federation Education Fund,” Post said. “The only person who gets paid for this work is Barbara. … I’m the executive director, this is part of my job, so I don’t get paid extra for coming out to a shelter and doing any kind of training. It’s part of my job. … The conflict of interest allegation is just false. There is no conflict of interest. I didn’t get paid. They wanted us to come out and do this.”
“The people who raised this issue to begin with, contacted Barbara initially, but they didn’t have any ability to bring Barbara into this, or me, because they were not board members,” Post said. “Then the board contacted us and I said, ‘Sure, we’ll do this.’ ”
Craig Seeman of the Voice for Shelter Animals said he doesn’t believe in any malicious agenda, but, along with Galfin, he sees a system that needs to be reformed.
Seeman said, “We formed a little over two years ago originally to address problems in New York City, and it looks to be the same issue we’re seeing in other municipal shelters, on the city and county level, because specific to New York state, a lot of these issues have to be handled at the state level and, as a result, we started lobbying for state legislation. We’re working for legislation that sets up a base level standard of care. Feeding animals, veterinary care, time out of the kennel, walking dogs, time to interact with cats. … These are some of the issues that former (Niagara SPCA) board members have raised.”
Seeman said he’d like to see an oversight board put together by elected officials with standard procedures to handle these kinds of issues.
“We’re finding that the New York State Animal Protection Federation may not be in favor of these standard procedures,” he said. “We’re talking to elected officials. We looked at Niagara Falls City Council and we’re looking at the Niagara County Legislature, and we’re also looking at the State Legislature to see if we can come up with base standards and also empower local communities to come up with local level solutions and local level monitoring.”
“I advise an advisory board, or task board, something that’s accountable to the local elected officials and can communicate with the local shelters,” he said.
“I don’t think Libby is an evil person; I don’t think she has it in for animals; she would’ve chosen something else if she didn’t like cats and dogs,” Seeman continued. “I just think what happens when you get enmeshed in this, you sometimes don’t see where you fit in yourself. She has an interest in animals – I’m not going to deny that – but she has a financial interest in her clients as a lobbyist, and her clients as elected officials, because she works for them professionally. She gets them elected and then you get into who owes who favors, and I really think we should keep that separate.
“I do think people aren’t fundamentally motivated by malice, but I do think the system has an underlying problem, though.”
Post denied any conflict of interest and further explained her work at the Niagara SPCA was not to make a report, but to train board members as to how to make the policies they want to instill into the organization. She also said she is a political consultant and specializes in getting judges elected.
“Barbara is the one who’s writing the report, and Barbara is one of the most respected shelter professionals in the state,” Post said. “I did board training, that’s my expertise in this area. I am not an expert in shelter management, that’s Barbara. I’m an expert in board development, board training, organizational work. That’s what I did. I did a board training.”
“It’s really about what the roles and responsibilities of board members are. What the legal responsibilities are, the responsibility of a board member in terms of setting policy, raising money, be an ambassador and replace yourself with somebody better,” Post continued. “Boards aren’t there to micromanage, that’s what destroys organizations. They hire professionals to do the work. If they don’t like the way the person is doing the job, then you hire and fire executive directors.”
“There is a distinct difference between policy and process. Policy is where you invest your money – there’s conflict of interest policy – how is your board structured, all of that is policy,” she said. “Procedure is how do the kennels get clean, how often, how are medical things handled. That’s procedure.”
Post said she and Carr listened to anyone who wanted to talk to them, including critics.
“What they had to say informed the work we did and will inform the report,” Post said.
“Everyone was incredibly cooperative, everybody was incredibly transparent, everybody was open to feedback and when Barbara is finished with the report, the board will decide how to make it public.”
Carr could not be reached in time for this article.