By Marcia Tupper
Animal Alliance of Greater Syracuse
For years, reports of disturbing issues at the CNY SPCA have been brought to the attention of the Animal Alliance of Greater Syracuse. The shelter’s culture of insularity, however, thwarted attempts to address any of those issues.
It would be too easy to blame Paul Morgan for all of CNY SPCA’s dysfunction when, in fact, the lion’s share of responsibility sits squarely on the shoulders of the board of directors. Over the years, they remained ostensibly disengaged from the day-to-day running of the shelter. They resisted (or were unaware of) important developments occurring nationwide in animal sheltering. Animals suffered for their ineptitude and inertia.
With the arrest and conviction of Paul Morgan, many in the animal welfare community had hoped that the CNYSPCA would finally be open to scrutiny and change. We were wrong. Despite responding to Morgan’s thievery with pleas for public understanding and financial support, the board-as-victim chugged along as usual, essentially unscathed and immune to oversight.
Today, still with no higher authority to answer to, the CNY SPCA remains a power unto itself, free to perpetuate its cavalier approach to sheltering and, regrettably, to ruthlessly terminate their new, effective executive director Kerrin Conklin without giving her the opportunity to know fully or respond adequately to the charges they leveled against her.
Board members publicly cited the euthanasia of cats with ringworm as the rationale for Conklin’s firing. Ironically, five days following her termination yet another cat was euthanized — for ringworm — by the shelter’s medical director. How does the board explain that one employee was fired, yet another remains on the payroll for the same action?
Early in her tenure, Conklin presented to the board an ambitious action plan solidly rooted in modern shelter research and focused on major areas of animal stewardship and shelter management. Her plan targeted needs the board had either actively ignored or passively not accepted responsibility for.
Paul Morgan may have held the purse strings, but it was the board who collectively failed to champion the animals.
It was the CNY SPCA Board of Directors who:
- Failed to create or update necessary policies governing the shelter’s basic functions and activities.
- Failed to properly oversee and manage the shelter’s financial assets, substantially derived from public donations, prior to and after Paul Morgan’s reign.
- Remained unaware of the existence of more than $2,000,000 in shelter investment accounts.
- Refused to publicize the shelter’s annual statistics regarding animal intake and outcomes.
- Failed to undertake steps to reduce the numbers of pet returns and euthanizations.
- Allowed the dogs to be fed only once a day, contrary to the twice-daily feeding recommendation of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters:
- Ignored reports from staff, volunteers and community members concerning questionable situations and quashed embarrassing legal action.
- Allowed the new veterinary clinic to become under-utilized for a long period of time, which forced medical treatment for the animals to be frequently delayed and outsourced, most recently to their medical director’s private clinic for which they were then charged.
- Accepted that the shelter’s primary vet and medical director is also employed by Petland in Cicero, a local outlet for a chain known for sourcing puppy mill dogs and currently being sued by the Animal Legal Defense Fund for the sale of puppies who are prone to illness and defects.
- Remained unaware of animals left untreated for a variety of conditions such open sores, upper respiratory infections and eye inflammations.
- Hired and promoted the very individuals who counseled and encouraged Conklin to authorize the euthanasia of the “ringworm cats,” yet rushed to fire Conklin.
- Refused to demand reasonable daily accountability from and provide oversight for the cruelty investigators.
- Approved the expansion of municipal cruelty investigation contracts, funded by taxpayers, before shoring up the level of service provided to citizens of current contract holders.
- Accepted as the shelter’s dog training and behavior philosophy the outdated, scientifically disproven “dominance theory” that traditionally employs aversive methods such as leash corrections and prong collars.
Had the CNY SPCA’s board been monitoring Conklin’s performance relative to euthanasia, they would have found her overall euthanasia record to be lower than that of any recent director or past interim director of the CNY SPCA or of any local open admissions shelter.
During Conklin’s five-month tenure, 45 animals were euthanized, including 19 cats the medical director did not consult her about prior to the euthanasia. Within less than two and a half months of the new interim director’s tenure, 37 animals have been euthanized so far, including one for ringworm. We understand that shelters must rise to crisis situations over which they have no control, but their governing bodies must respond with awareness, consistency and fairness.
The CNY SPCA needs a new board. Until such time as that occurs, we urge the current board to remedy their ill-advised decision by reinstating Kerrin Conklin.
We support her complaint and commend her for courageously shedding light on conditions that for many years have plagued the shelter — behind closed doors.
Unlike the CNY SPCA, Conklin is willing to expose her work to public scrutiny. She has put her reputation on the line and we stand shoulder to shoulder with her.