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Niagara County SPCA Faces Abuse Allegations

10:34 PM, Jan 7, 2012   |    comments
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NIAGARA FALLS, NY--  Hundreds of animal rights activists are expected to protest outside the SPCA of Niagara Saturday.  This following allegations against those running the facility from a former board member and volunteers.

2 On Your Side has been unable to verify the allegations, which included allegations of animal abuse, and many supporters are standing by the current executive director.

Saturday morning, the group Animal Allies of Western New York held a news conference outisde the SPCA office on Lockport Road.

According to a release from the animal group, three more people will come forward with new accusations.  They say they will have photos and other documents.  They say they expect up to 600 people will be there to protest.

2 On Your Side will covering the press conference and protest throughout the day.

Earlier this week, the board of directors of the Erie Co. SPCA Thursday morning approved a request by their counterparts at the SPCA of Niagara for an independent investigation of the Falls shelter.

"These are very serious allegations," said SPCA of Niagara Board President Bruno Scrufari III, in confirming that the board is looking into reports of mismanagement at the Rainbow Animal Shelter, which is alleged by some to have resulted in everything from missed fund raising opportunities, to an in ability to provide proper care for injured animals, and even healthy animals being needlessly killed.

Scrufari spoke with reporters Wednesday, following a 2-1/2 hour, closed door emergency meeting of the board, in which 9 of its 10 members participated. 

"At this point we have not been able to verify any of the accusations, including the issue of the healthy animals being euthanized," Scufari said.

But he also says the matter is far from being closed.

"So, what we have done is requested the Erie County SPCA to perform an independent investigation of some of the issues that have been presented in the (media) and by former employees."

Barbara Carr, Executive Director of the Erie County SPCA, has been asked to lead what she considers more an "evaluation" than an investigation.  "I will have a total evaluation done," said Carr.  "I would probably ask for people to put things in writing, it's really hard to say at this point, to know exactly what we're looking at, but I know that some complaints have come up that sort of stirred all of this."

Carr has evaluated operations at the SPCA of Niagara once before, two years ago, when the organization was searching for a new Executive Director. 

"It will give me some excellent baselines to make a judgement whether there has been forward movement or not," said Carr.  

She said the evaluation could take weeks to complete, but if any immediate action needs to be taken, she will notify the Board of Directors right away.  Carr said it will take at least a week to gather all of the information she'll need; and added good or bad, whatever her findings, they will be made public.

SPCA of Niagara Executive Director John Faso, who was present at Wednesday's meeting along with his attorney, declined comment.

Scrufari confirmed that Faso remains the Executive Director of the agency, adding that "he will cooperate fully with the investigation as will all employees of the SPCA of Niagara."

Meanwhile, several state legislators have been calling for an investigation of the SPCA after hearing earlier media reports of allegations critical of the shelter, as made by a former SPCA employee. As well, several cities and towns in Niagara County, which contract with the SPCA of Niagara to house lost and unclaimed pets, have said they will withhold payments to the shelter until they are satisfied with a review of the facility.

"I would say they are over reacting based on conjecture at this point," Scrufari said.

Scrufari also said he believed animal rights advocates, who held a protest outside the shelter as the board met, should also reserve judgment until all the facts are gathered.

"I don't want to get down on them, though, because they are animal lovers. And I would hope to gain their support more than anything because we need them," Scrufari said.

Among the half dozen sign toting demonstrators was Morgan Dunbar of Animal Allies of WNY.

Dunbar expressed some relief that an outside agency like the Erie County SPCA is now looking into matters at the shelter, but added, "I think that we should have multiple organizations. I don't know that we can trust just one."

While Dunbar said she was able to garner dozens of allegations reporting the mistreatment of animals at the shelter simply by reaching out through social media websites, she also conceded that such postings can't be constituted as proof.

Back inside the shelter, Scrufari was asked by WGRZ-TV if -- amid the allegations and the probe -- people should feel comfortable taking pets to the Rainbow Animal Shelter to place them for adoption.

"I have absolutely no hesitation in telling anyone to bring their animal here to the SPCA of Niagara," he said.

Some 2 On Your Side viewers have been asking us on our Facebook page, why we haven't aired specific information about some of the allegations being made in the SPCA case.

We take our journalism seriously at 2 On Your Side.

We believe our mission is to search for the truth... and to report what we know to be true.

In pursuing this story... we will report specific information... when we know we have credible information.
We have been looking at the information given to us... conducting interviews... and doing our own due diligence on this story for almost a week now.
If and when we determine that information is credible, we will include it in our story. Until then, however, we will not.

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Dave Harrington.

Click here to read Dave McKinley's blog.

WGRZ-TV, wgrz.com

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