Ex-SPCA staff fear policy dooms pets

16:00, Oct 16 2009

Former Waikato SPCA workers and volunteers claim a new policy will see the organisation put down more abused and distressed animals.

They say they are also worried that inexperienced staff at the organisation will not cope with the busy upcoming "kitten season".

Both allegations have been rejected by the SPCA's chief executive, Liz Hunter, who put them down to "disgruntled" former employees.

Former SPCA receptionist Emma Joines fears new assessment policies brought in by Mrs Hunter will raise the number of animals put down.

She said Mrs Hunter, formerly the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants midland region manager, did not understand the role of the SPCA as a charitable organisation and had introduced a corporate culture which was not benefiting the animals.

All but one of the eight staff she worked with last year were no longer employed at the SPCA, Ms Joines said. Inexperienced staff with little training might not be able to distinguish simple ailments from serious ones. They were also unsuitable to work with traumatised animals.

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In a bid to publicise her concerns ahead of "kitten season", she set up a Facebook page and a Trade Me message board thread questioning the management of Waikato's SPCA.

Another ex-employee, who asked not to be named, said the SPCA's Animal Haven had become "a business" and animals requiring a lot of rehabilitation, and certain aggressive breeds, were turned away or even euthanised.

She said she resigned after several dogs, including a german shepherd called Jesse and two dogs who had been at the centre of abuse prosecutions, had been threatened with euthanasia.

Jesse was removed from the SPCA by a former worker and housed outside the region where, the Times understands, she has become a valued pet.

Miss Joines said that during her 18 months at the SPCA only two animals were put down due to extreme behavioural problems. But, with a new regime of assessments for dogs to pass, she worried the number was rising.

"If you have a dog which has been kicked by its owner, abused all its life, then you can't be expecting a two-week turnaround," Miss Joines said.

Mrs Hunter denied the allegations.

"Decisions on euthanasia are not taken lightly and absolutely not on basis of breed," she said.

When an abused dog did not respond to rehabilitation, euthanasia was considered "as a last resort".

"Our euthanasia policy is based on recommendations from the trained attendant and the assessor and then a panel will consider each case individually," Mrs Hunter said.

Since January, nine dogs had been put down because of behavioural problems – fewer than five per cent of the dogs brought in.

Mrs Hunter showed the Waikato Times around the Animal Haven – two pit bull-terrier pups, a young shar pei pit-bull cross, a rottweiler and a german shepherd were among the dogs up for adoption.

"We tend to think we are pretty fair and even here," she said. Mrs Hunter said the SPCA was "exploring" new sites because, with 2500 to 3000 animals brought in each year, the current site of Animal Haven was inadequate.

The shortage of staff, particularly inspectors, was being addressed.

Until last month there had been two full-time inspectors and one on call.

"With a resignation, there was an introduction of a trainee inspector and one more awaiting a warrant, who will be on board within a month," she said.

Waikato Times