As complaints mount about treatment of animals at Fort Erie SPCA, board backs manager and staff

Allegations of animal suffering at Fort Erie SPCA mount, as board dismisses their credibility and council debates accountability.

Board chair calls complaints unfounded and not credible

This picture from June hows the area where cats can roam when not in their cages at the Fort Erie SPCA. Former employee Deanna Buller the area was often overcrowded and included cats that had not been checked for disease. (Deanna Buller)

The stories keep piling up. 

Stories of dogs left in their own feces until sores develop; raccoons and other wild animals routinely euthanized without sedation; 30 cats euthanized in a single day. 

Accounts of dogs getting less than 30 minutes outside each day, being fed only one cup of food daily. 

Complaints of cats with contagious viruses such as ringworm being released into an overcrowded common area where the disease would spread; of sick animals not seen by a vet. 

A litany of allegations of neglect and lack of proper care for animals at the Fort Erie SPCA has been mounting for several months, since former volunteer Jaimelee Vail published her own account on Facebook in March. 

Now the SPCA board is fighting back, saying in a statement that it looked into the allegations and stands by its manager and staff.

Not complete story

The media release from the SPCA board says it "continued it's investigation and found that the story on Facebook was not the complete story. We came to the conclusion that the complainant only told enough of the story to get people upset and the root of the complaint was a disagreement between the SPCA manager and the volunteer." 

The statement says the shelter in recent years has passed all provincial inspections and has nothing to hide.

In a telephone interview, the President of the SPCA Board, Arthur King, says "social media's not the place for these complaints," adding "these people won't follow due process because they know they're wrong." 

Former Fort Erie SPCA employee Deanna Buller took this picture of an injured cat she says was never taken to a vet for treatment. (Deanna Buller)

He says the multiple allegations are unfounded, and they are not credible because there are "no names." 

A group calling for change at the Fort Erie SPCA has released a document with complaints from 15 different people, with their names. Their petition for changes to the management at the SPCA has gathered more than 2,500 signatures in less than 3 weeks. CBC News talked to 4 people who have agreed to have their names made public.

The Fort Erie SPCA is an independent corporation contracted by the town to handle animal control and licencing.

Fort Erie Councillor Marina Butler says there's been "an explosion of people coming forward, there are now 45 individuals with stories."

Credible and substantial

Butler says the people she's spoken to with complaints are credible, and the complaints are becoming more substantial. 

Butler points out that she and council have been dealing with this since March, and information has not been forthcoming. She says "the SPCA has shown a lack of willingness to deal with this. There is a lack of transparency." 

King said in his statement the manager and a board member met with the town's CAO

CBC News contacted Wendy Trombley, the manager of the shelter, last week for her response. Trombley declined to comment, deferring to the release issued by the  SPCA.

The board's release acknowledges that numerous other complaints surfaced on Facebook, and it references an investigation into the Fort Erie SPCA by the office of the Provincial Animal Welfare Services, stating "the investigative officer did not report any infractions of animal cruelty and there we no charges filed against the SPCA." 

While the report states "the shelter looks in good condition and the animals well cared for," it goes on to address euthanization issues. 

Some of the complaints from former staff include the process for euthanizing wild animals. 

Euthanization concerns

Alyssa Seinen, who worked at the shelter from November 2019 to July 2020, says when they got calls about sick wild animals, such as raccoons, they were expected to capture them and take them to the shelter to be euthanized.

Seinen says the procedure was to shake the cage to stun the animal, and then without sedation, inject a drug called T61 into the animal, through the cage. Seinen says they were told to inject the T61 into the animal's heart, but it was impossible to be accurate under those conditions. Seinen herself had to do this, despite the fact she has no training for euthanizing animals. 

Butler says she and other councillors "were shocked to learn that animals were not given sedation" before being euthanized with T61, which is very painful for the animal. 

The inspector noted in his report, dated June 3, that euthanizing animals with T61 without sedation "is not acceptable, and this policy needs to change as soon as possible...wildlife when being euthanized by intracardiac injection, they need to be anesthetized, so that they do not feel pain while dying." 

The report further states: "The Canadian Council on Animal Care that regulates the use of wildlife in research, and the American Veterinary Medical Association Guidelines to Euthanasia both prohibit the use of T61 or barbiturates by intracardiac injection on fully conscious animals." 

In addition, the report commented on the procedures used to euthanize cats and dogs.

While the practice is to sedate those animals before injecting T61, the inspector recommended that "you develop a formal euthanasia policy and formal training with your veterinarian to ensure all staff follow the policy on effective sedation, slow administration of T61 and confirmation of death before the animals are placed in the freezer." 

According to Brent Ross, at the Ministry of the Solicitor General, there is an ongoing investigation.

He says "The ministry can confirm that it is actively investigating a complaint laid against the Fort Erie SPCA. Given this matter remains under investigation, it would be inappropriate to provide further detail." 

Butler has introduced several motions aimed at improving the town's contract with the SPCA, and requesting information regarding training standards, health and safety policies, and questioning the lack of a veterinary technician at the shelter. None has come to a vote yet.

The current contract between the town and the SPCA has a 90 day termination clause, and Butler's view is that "it's gotten to the point that it's fair to assume that could be a next step." 

About the Author

Jill Troyer is a freelance journalist living in the Niagara region, with 38 years experience at CBC News.