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Fixing Niagara's SPCA

In the aftermath of the report describing appalling practices at the Niagara County SPCA, leaders in the city of Niagara Falls have come together on an agreement to help coax positive change for the animals under care at the facility.

Last week, city Councilman Glenn Choolokian and corporation counsel Craig Johnson came to an agreement with Mayor Paul Dyster to use the $84,000 per year payment the city makes to the Niagara County SPCA as leverage to encourage change. The strings they’d like to attach to a new contract were hammered out after consultations with local no-kill advocate Peter A. Reese and animal rights activist Morgan Dunbar.

Going forward, the city would like to see the SPCA cease further “inhumane dispatching” of animals. This speaks directly to the “heart stick” form of killing that was a particularly shocking aspect of the negative report that led to the ouster of former executive director John Faso.

The facility would also be required to hold animals a minimum of five days, and post photos of strays on their website within 12 hours of intake. Current policy sometimes meant that volunteers would have to scour the entire facility looking for a pet for an owner seeking a lost animal. The SPCA would also be subject to inspection by city officials at two-hours notice.

For now, the city is continuing its contract on a month-to-month basis. The old contract expired in December.

The parties involved hope other municipalities that contract with the facility will adopt similar demands. Meanwhile, it’s hoped that individuals with specific experience and expertise in animal care may be chosen to fill out the existing board seats to help steer the organization in a new direction. Out of the embarrassing mess, some are aiming to make the sort of changes that could not only reverse the scandalous conditions, but maybe even create a model to be emulated elsewhere.

According to Dyster, “Part of it is that it seems do-able to people. Problems like poverty, crime, and homelessness—people feel helpless to deal with. But with this, even for a poor city like Niagara Falls, we should be able to get this right.”

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