SPCA and town splitting up

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo Heather Foubert, the president of the Hay River SPCA, plays with a dog at the community's animal shelter on Aug. 11.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Heather Foubert, the president of the Hay River SPCA, plays with a dog at the community’s animal shelter on Aug. 11.

The Hay River SPCA and the Town of Hay River are headed towards a not-so-amicable divorce.

The split – which will see the SPCA no longer operating the community’s animal shelter – became public last week but has been brewing for months.

On Aug. 10, the town issued a news release stating, “The Hay River SPCA has decided to turn over operations of the animal shelter back to the town as of Aug. 30.”

Heather Foubert, president of the Hay River SPCA, said that date was included in a July letter sent to the town which outlined some of the problems the group is having with the municipality.

“And at the end we said that, if something can’t be done, we may have to sever our ties with the town,” she said. “We were serious about it, but we thought that it might jolt them into doing something.”

Foubert said a new executive of the SPCA took over in January and has worked hard since then.

However, she said the group experienced a number of problems and disagreements with the town.

Those included what the SPCA sees as the town’s slowness and disinclination to seize animals being neglected or in need of medical care, culminating with an incident of a dog with an apparent tumour on his or her neck.

Foubert said that animal was never seized by the town, despite requests from the SPCA over the course of weeks as the town decided to send a letter to the owner.

In response to that particular criticism, Mayor Brad Mapes said Ross Potter, the town’s director of protective services, did contact the animal’s owner and did see a veterinarian bill.

Foubert said the SPCA is not allowed to seize an animal, and she said the town favours education over prosecution.

“I was getting frustrated and saying ‘You got to do something,'” she said of the case of the dog with the apparent tumour.

Foubert also criticizes the town’s bylaws for animal protection, particularly because the fines for animal abuse are voluntary.

“Who’s going to voluntarily pay a fine? I don’t know,” she said.

“Basically it boils down to we’re not happy with the way the town handles their side of it,” she said. “They let animals suffer. They’re not particularly concerned with what’s going on in town.”

Foubert said the SPCA received a letter from the town informing it that the relationship was to be terminated

“We half expected it. It was disappointment for sure,” she said, adding the SPCA had hoped that things could be worked out.

Mapes also expressed disappointment about the break-up.

“To be really honest, the town wanted to work with the group,” he said, noting the SPCA has served the community for many years.

“There is a new current group that’s there and in the last few months for some reason the town’s relationship with the SPCA has kind of gone awry,” he said.

The mayor said there was a lot of e-mail correspondence between Foubert and Potter.

“There were a lot of unprofessional e-mails sent through the president of the SPCA,” said Mapes, noting they were not properly worded and took shots instead of trying to build a relationship.

In fact, the mayor said he would not start one meeting until Foubert apologized to Potter which she did.

Despite that, Foubert is a bit puzzled by the request for an apology, noting she was told the town didn’t like the tone of the e-mails from the SPCA.

Since the break-up went public, the SPCA has been stating its case on Facebook, and Mapes said putting everything out on social media and portraying the town and its residents as heartless is not right.

There are a lot of dog lovers on council and in town administration, and they should not be described as animal haters, he said. “That’s not fair.”

Mapes said the town does feel it can improve its animal control, adding that the bylaws are a bit soft.

“But let’s be clear. The Town of Hay River really believes in the fact that animals are very important for our community,” he said. “Any kind of neglect, we’re there to work with the residents of the town to make sure there isn’t any neglect.”

Once the SPCA is no longer involved in operating the animal shelter, Mapes said the plan is to contract people to temporarily operate the facility.

A request for proposals will be issued later to search for an operator.

The SPCA has operated the town-owned animal shelter since 2009.

Under the arrangement, the town provides the group with $48,000 annually to run the shelter, and also assists with about an extra $40,000 worth of utilities and services from town employees.

The SPCA has two employees at the shelter – a manager and a weekend worker.

Mapes said, once the town takes over the facility, it will “definitely not” become a so-called kill shelter.

“We’re not looking at putting dogs down unless there are issues with health and violence,” he said.

Mapes also said the town is not asking the SPCA to dissolve itself.

The town can still work with the group in the future, he said. “So when we pick up dogs, there are dogs that can be transferred to the SPCA kennel.”

In fact, he said the SPCA could even bid on the request for proposals if it wishes.

–Paul Bickford