SPCA shake-up

Longtime supporters worried about changes on horizon

Published on November 1, 2011
The Lady Dunfield Memorial Animal Shelter of the SPCA located at St. John’s International Airport. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

The St. John’s SPCA has lost its executive director and shelter manager over concerns it may be taking steps towards becoming a no-kill shelter — a move at least one current board member said is not on its agenda.

Executive director Debbie Powers and shelter manager Susan Deir both resigned last month following the SPCA’s annual general meeting on Oct. 15, which Powers said was attended by many new members, including some who also have involvement with Heavenly Creatures.

Powers has volunteered with the St. John’s SPCA for 40 years, while Deir, who was in a paid position, was in her 22nd year with the organization.

“I’m devastated,” said Powers, speaking with The Telegram by phone Monday morning.

A fellow non-profit group involved in animal rescue, Heavenly Creatures operates with a no-kill policy for animals under its care.

Also leaving the SPCA are board president David Buffett, vice-president Libby Carew and past-president Kathy Hodgkinson.

Powers, Deir and Hodgkinson were also the only members with special constable status. Special constables are given authority by the Department of Natural Resources to seize animals from homes.

According to a spokeswoman for the department, new special constable appointments will not be made until new regulations under the Animal Health and Protection Act are proclaimed. She said this is expected to happen in the fall.

Powers said relations between herself and the board have been difficult over the last year.

“It’s one thing for the public to be angry with us over things that perhaps haven’t pleased them, but when your own board give (you) a little bit of a difficult time, then it’s time to go. I was accused of not wanting change.”

In the two days prior to the Oct. 15 meeting, she began to notice an uptick in new membership purchases.

“I think we recognized a lot of people there from other groups,” she said. “I would suggest Heavenly Creatures were well represented (at the meeting).”

A new board was selected, though the meeting was adjourned early to determine who amongst those in attendance were members in good standing and eligible to vote, according to current board member Lynn Cadigan, who has been involved with the St. John’s SPCA for 11 years.


Not going no-kill

Cadigan is adamant there are no radical changes on the horizon for the St. John’s SPCA.

“We would not be using the term ‘no-kill’ anywhere in our future plans. I can tell you that unequivocally. We are not changing our direction such that we’ll become a no-kill organization.”

A second meeting to conclude business relating to the annual general meeting was held Oct. 29, at which point the election of the board was completed. It will meet on Tuesday to appoint its executive.

Heavenly Creatures president Jessica Rendell said her group is not attempting to infiltrate the SPCA.

“If (Powers) is trying to claim this is some sort of hostile takeover by Heavenly Creatures of the SPCA, then nothing could be further from the truth, because we’re too busy running our own group,” she said.

Powers said she has heard complaints from some board members questioning how hard SPCA staff and volunteers have worked to place animals in homes.

“I would suggest, with all due respect, that they come and spend a few weeks at the shelter and hear the excuses (regarding) the animals that are brought in to us. Most, sadly, are surrendered animals these days. They are not strayed and abandoned animals.”

Powers said the SPCA cannot operate with a no-kill policy because there will be too many animals to look after, adding many of those it receives are not suitable for adoption.

Hodgkinson said while she can understand concerns raised over the euthanization of animals, she thinks there is a divide between those who do not want to see animals get killed yet understand the need to do so and others who outright will not tolerate having animals euthanized.

She said multiple years spent in a cage is no life for an animal.

“I think there’s sort of a philosophical difference in whether one perceives that death is the ultimate horror or whether it’s not and how animals perceive that,” she said. “I think animals live for the here and now.”

Rendell said if a group commits to taking in an animal, it should fully commit and provide whatever is necessary to help them succeed.

“We don’t believe in killing healthy animals,” she said, adding she hopes the changes at the SPCA will help improve the group and lower the number of euthanizations taking place.

She commends the work done by Powers but believes a change in leadership may serve it well in collaborating with other groups interested in animal welfare.

No matter her own feelings about how her decision to leave the SPCA plays out, Powers wishes the group nothing but the best of fortunes in future endeavours.

“They have a big role to play, and I wish them Godspeed, I really do.”

Cadigan said the loss of people like Powers and Deir is a tremendous one for the St. John’s SPCA.

“It will present challenges for us, but we are prepared to face the challenges and deal with them.”

Cadigan said the group will strive to increase adoptions and work at addressing the root causes of the over-population of pets in Newfoundland and Labrador. An interim manager is in place to keep its shelter on the RCAF Road in St. John’s open.