By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — WHEATFIELD — You could see the relief on the smiling faces of the members of the SPCA of Niagara Board of Directors.
The swift and sudden dismissal of a lawsuit filed against the organization by three of its members had left the shelter directors feeling “vindicated.”
“(The lawsuit) seemed to be an attempt by a group of activists to take over the shelter,” Board President Bryan Barish said at a Saturday afternoon new conference. “The saddest part of this was the time and money taken away from the animals to defend the shelter.”
The lawsuit had charged that the board did not have the power to raise the price of a voting membership in the organization from $25 to $1,000 and that the board had not been properly elected last May.
State Supreme Court Justice Richard Kloch Sr., in a ruling made directly from the bench, tossed the lawsuit saying the board had acted properly and he was not going to “step in and run the Niagara County SPCA.”
“The only ones who got hurt (by the lawsuit) are the animals,” Barish said, citing the expense of being in court.
The Lockport Road shelter has faced some tough financial times in the wake of revelations made in the Gazette last year that animals there did not receive proper medical care and were routinely and painfully euthanized. That led to the firing of the shelter’s executive director and the election of an entirely new board of directors.
Since then, the shelter has adopted a “no kill” policy for its animals and raised its survival rate to 90 percent or higher. The board and shelter staff have also worked hard to win back corporate and community support.
“Corporate sponsorship is greatly needed,” Barish said. “With the negative press we had, that drove a lot of (the corporate sponsors) away. But with the success we’re achieving now, we’re confident they will come back.”
Barish said the shelter’s turnaround, in just nine months, is story that corporate backers should want to get behind.
The board announced that its 2013 membership drive, in just its first two weeks, has already exceed the results of the 2011 and 2012 drives combined. Barish said the drive has raised more than $20,000 so far, compared to $2,690 in 2011 and $5,830 in 2012.
The support we’ve received from the community has been amazing.” he said.
He also said the support will need to grow as the shelter deals with the expense of being a “no kill” facility and takes on more proactive animal care.
“(A “no kill” shelter) is expensive.” Barish said. “But it is a mission that we have taken on, regardless of the cost. We are committed to ‘no kill.‘ “
Shelter Director Amy Lewis also used the news conference as an opportunity to highlight the high cost of some animal care. Cradling a rescued Pomeranian puppy named Teddy, Lewis said the little dog has a heart condition that will require very costly surgery.
“She has a (heart) defect that is life threatening,” Lewis said. “It can only be corrected by surgery and the only place that surgery can be done is at Cornell University.”
Lewis said the cost of the surgery is $4,000.
“If you join (the shelter), if you make a donation,” Lewis said, “you will know it will go to help (animals like Teddy).”
Barish also said the shelter will hold a dedicated fundraiser to help pay for the Pomeranian’s medical care.
“A $3 (euthanasia) injection is a lot cheaper than a $4,000 operation,” he said. “But we are committed to that new direction. We are here for the animals.”