Animal Rights Group Known For Protests Now Under Scrutiny

8:36 AM, Mar 8, 2012   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Animal Allies of WNY, a local animal rights organization, is known for its protests, but now the group itself is under scrutiny.

Morgan Dunbar, who founded the group, has made it her mission to force resignations from all the board members at the Niagara County SPCA, following a report about mismanagement at the non-profit. However, some of her tactics have been criticized, and some are calling into question her group's finances.

Hundreds of people showed up at Morgan's rally and protest on January 7 outside the animal shelter. Leanne Power and two other people told 2 On Your Side that they saw Morgan collect money.

"I saw her take cash," Powers said.

Morgan denied that.

"I think it's absolutely disgusting that (Leanne Powers) would blatantly lie about the fact that I took cash or checks or whatever it is she said I took from members of the public," she said.

Several of Morgan's friends and her mom contacted 2 On Your Side to defend her and say she never took money at the rally. In fact, they said they witnessed her turn away potential cash donations.

But Morgan admitted to taking one donation before the protest that actually came from Powers herself. It was a check for $350 written out to Morgan's mother, because Animal Allies of WNY had no checking account.

Morgan said it was a one-time thing, and she used the money to purchase sign materials. She ended up giving the money back when Leanne questioned her finances.

In an interview with 2 On Your Side, Morgan was adamant that she collected no other money.

"We do not solicit donations," she said.

But Morgan's Web site does ask for donations for what is called the "Drink For the Deer" campaign. The site says donations would pay for deer shields to put on the fences at the Williamsville Cemetery run by Forest Lawn.

The flyer on the site says donations can be directed to Morgan's email address or phone number.

Separately, Forest Lawn and M&T Banks have collected about $9,000 to date for the effort. Donations could be made online or at M&T branches.

Morgan says "Drink For the Deer" raised around $320. She said she collected that money and donated all of of it to an M&T bank; however, she did not get a receipt, because she said one wasn't offered.

The president of Forest Lawn said he had no idea that Morgan was running a side campaign until 2 On Your Side told him. He said he has no record of Morgan or Animal Allies of WNY donating anything to the deer shield campaign.

State records show Animal Allies of WNY is not a registered organization, so it is not subject to strict rules and regulations that non-profits must follow.

2 On Your Side's Michael Wooten asked, "Why not become a non-profit so that you would have the transparency in your group that you want to see out of the spca?"

"Well there's a number of reasons why I'm not at all interested in (non-profit) status," Morgan responded. "I'm an autonomous activist."

Another concern is that Morgan sells t-shirts, both at events and online without a license and without collecting any taxes. The shirts sell for $18 each.

"I spoke with the tax man that Leanne (Powers) and her buddies threw at me, and I told him, I said I'd be happy to get an (employee identification number). I've sold 20 t-shirts. That's a tax amount of less than $32."

Besides the finances, there have also been questions about the tactics of Animal Allies of WNY. Morgan has made it her stated goal to go after all the remaining SPCA board members, not letting up until they are all gone.

"It's ridiculous that this group of people is being left to continue to make decisions until May," Morgan said.

She and her members have protested at the board members' businesses. She rallied against Board President Brandy Scrufari just two days after his cousin was killed in an accident.

When asked if she should have delayed the protest, Morgan responded, "No, not at all!"

And then there are Morgan's many Facebook pages. Her critics say she and her members attack everyone who disagrees with them.

Former Town of Wheatfield Animal Control Officer Craig Schultz said that is keeping good people away.

"They think, 'Why should I get involved if all I'm going to do is get attacked?'" Schultz said. "The intimidation has to stop, no matter who it's from."

Morgan's also been criticized on social media for posting a video that she said her friend took at the shelter on Valentine's Day. The insinuation in the video was that the SPCA was killing animals and cremating their bodies during regular business hours.

However, that wasn't true. According to workers, volunteers and the interim executive director, the animals that were cremated that day were brought in from vet clinics after their owners had been forced to put them to sleep for health reasons. No euthanizations took place at the shelter that day.

2 On Your Side asked Dunbar, "Don't you have a responsibility to get all those details before you put such an inflammatory video online that people can misconstrue or get misinformation from?"

Morgan responded, "You know, what I think is very inflammatory and what is very just vindictive in nature is when people are going to the shelter to adopt an animal, and they are greeted with the stench of burning flesh."

Workers and volunteers disputed that, saying there was no smell from the incinerator that day.

Either way, since sitting down for the interview with Channel 2, Morgan and her group have cancelled several previously planned protests. She even met face-to-face with the interim executive director at the Niagara County SPCA.

The hope moving forward is that all sides can start working together for the animals.

"Absolutely, I am ready to take that step and start concentrating as much time (on helping) as I do on the investigative aspect," Dunbar said.

The biggest concern for everyone has been the threats made from both sides. Specifically, workers and volunteers at the SPCA said they have received death threats. Leanne Powers, who owns a pet grooming business, said her employees were threatened the day after Morgan posted her business name, address and phone number online. And employees at Dr. William Gerber's vet clinic said they have also been harassed and threatened.

Most people who spoke to 2 On Your Side for this report, either on the record or off, acknowledged Morgan's love of animals. She works around the clock for animal rights. But many have questioned her tactics.

Morgan says she will focus on improving the shelter. She is now a paying member of the Niagara County SPCA and will be involved as the organization chooses a new board of directors in May.

 

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