SPCA Cries Foul After Dyster Does 180 on No-Kill Shelter
By Craig Tretiak
Officials at the Niagara County SPCA are crying foul after Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster reversed himself on earlier demands that the shelter stop needlessly euthanizing animals after discovering that the shelter's new "no-kill" mission would significantly boost the cost of animal control services for the city.
Dyster's reversal is documented in letters mailed between his office and the SPCA dating to January 2012, when large-scale euthanasia practiced by the SPCA's former management came to light, and in a July 1, 2013 contract drawn by the Dyster administration that states he now wants animals "humanely euthanized" in as little as five days after they are brought to the shelter.
SPCA officials released the communications after Dyster sought an injunction that would block them from terminating services in the city, even as Dyster refused to sign a new, higher-priced contract for services - services he demanded just months ago.
In the new contract proposal, Dyster administration officials also sought costly expansion of services provided by the SPCA, even demanding services once provided Monday through Friday during regular business hours now be offered round-the-clock.
But his flip flop on no kill is stunning in and of itself.
Dyster's earlier expectations were made clear in a letter dated Jan. 31, 2012, when he told the then-leadership of the Niagara County SPCA that "the City must have the immediate assurance of the NSPCA that the inhumane dispatching of animals will cease and desist."
That letter, which Dyster copied to the City Council, City Attorney Craig Johnson, City Clerk Carol Antonacci, Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe, Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker and the Niagara County SPCA's then-attorney Paul J. Cambria, made clear the city would continue to utilize the SPCA's services "on a monthly basis."
In the weeks and months immediately following, the SPCA was in a state of turmoil as it fired its director, elected a new board and repurposed itself to work towards a "no-kill" goal.
Dyster followed that January missive up with another letter dated Oct. 4, 2012, after the SPCA's new board of directors hired Andrew Bell as executive director. In the October letter, Dyster reiterated his earlier position:
"While the [SPCA] was in transition, I had occasion to have conversations with individuals acting on behalf of animal rights organizations... During these conversations, it was reported... that the new leadership at the [SPCA] would be moving in the direction of a 'no-kill' sheltering facility and ... urged to incorporate those ideas into any contractual relationship the city enters into with the [SPCA] moving forward."
A letter from Bell to Dyster responding to Dyster's letter was sent out on Oct. 15, 2012. In that letter, Bell agreed to Dyster's earlier terms, telling Dyster he "look[ed] forward to working with the city to create a true no-kill community."
The city had been paying around $84,000 per year when the SPCA was collecting strays for the city and freely euthanizing hundreds of animals.
With the idea of no kill as a goal, a subsequent SPCA proposal for a new funding structure was ignored by Dyster administration officials, forcing Bell to issue a Dec. 11, 2012, letter making clear that, absent a new agreement to replace the expired contract, the SPCA would now be forced to collect at a rate based on actual costs borne by the agency inside the Cataract City, which run closer to $225,000 per year.
What has left SPCA leaders steaming, however, is Dyster's response earlier this month to a new contract that would significantly raise the costs borne by the city to meet the no-kill mission Dyster had advanced as recently as October.
In a letter dated July 3, 2013, Dyster begged off from his earlier support for no-kill, writing: "I understand the pressures under which the [SPCA] board is operating as you try to stabilize the organization's finances and simultaneously move towards a 'no kill' philosophy. We hope that the [SPCA] staff and board understand that while the city is sympathetic to [the SPCA]'s difficulties and dilemmas, we face our own limitations in terms of our ability to fund [the SPCA]."
And just the opposite of seeking strict no kill services from the SPCA, Dyster's July 1 contract proposal to the SPCA, which was drafted by corporation counsel Craig Johnson, expects the SPCA to "humanely euthanize" any animal it sees fit after only five days.
Article 4 of the Dyster proposed contract reads, "[The SPCA] shall provide, maintain and operate a shelter for seized dogs and shall provide facilities to humanely euthanize and make available dogs for adoption in compliance with Article 7 of the [NYS] Agriculture and Market law."
Article 7, section 7 of the Agriculture and Market law provides that "any dog unredeemed at the expiration of the appropriate redemption period, (the) dog shall then be made available for adoption or euthanized."
The "appropriate period," according to the law, is any time after three days before a dog can be euthanized.
According to David A. Urban, CPA, the SPCA's treasurer, it is impossible for Dyster to have it both ways: no kill and no cost, which may explain his abandonment of the no kill concept.
Numbers provided by the SPCA suggest the non-profit agency lost about $65,000 per year over the past five years operating under rates agreed to by the former SPCA leadership and City Hall when no kill was not employed and an untold number of animals picked up in Niagara Falls were euthanized.
"We negotiated in good faith, lowering the proposed rate over the year of negotiations and including value added services at the request of the city," Urban said. "Mayor Dyster's representatives failed to appreciate the fact that, at $180,000 per year, the Niagara County SPCA as a non-profit entity would still be subsidizing the city's animal control services."
In essence, Urban said a no-kill shelter is expensive to operate. With the city demanding new, round-the-clock animal control services on top of no-kill, costs were set to balloon - and yet Dyster continues to demand that SPCA leaders provide existing and new services at rates last negotiated five years ago.
SPCA leadership turned over a lengthy trail of emails detailing demands by Johnson, the city's attorney, telling the SPCA to strike language from the city's existing agreement that required the SPCA to perform dog control officer functions from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and replace the language with a pledge to provide that service "as often as required by [the city]."
Johnson's demands also include a requirement that the SPCA conduct a "dog census" and never enter into a more favorable agreement with any other municipality.
Perhaps most galling of all for SPCA leaders, however, was Dyster's failure to show at a meeting he himself demanded multiple times in writing. In a letter dated July 8, 2013, Dyster even urged "that we schedule a meeting for sometime this week to sit down one more time in an effort to avoid" the SPCA's termination of its services in the city.
When the SPCA granted that request just two days later, Dyster was a no-show, sending subordinates in his place.
"We made every reasonable attempt to reach an agreement. We even arranged a final meeting on the day of our board vote - at the written request of the Mayor - only to have him fail to show up," SPCA Board President Michelle D. Madigan told us Monday.
Madigan worries, though, that the real victims of Dyster's reversals will be stray and displaced animals in Niagara Falls denied proper protection and services.
"It is disappointing and sad that the city took such a tough negotiation stance, when they had no 'Plan B' for controlling or housing their stray animals," Madigan said.
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Jul 16, 2013