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Animal Shelter
Writhing in Anger

By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO — September 17, 2004 – A meeting that almost wasn’t has the Sullivan County SPCA in an uproar.
Members of the organization, which oversees the county’s biggest non-profit animal shelter in Rock Hill, reinstated former president Steve Tardiff after a heated debate during the monthly meeting at the HUB Bank in Monticello Wednesday evening.
It was a meeting which included calls for board members’ resignations and a refusal to even open the meeting.
Acting President Heidi Wiggs said there was no meeting – it was illegal, and as far as she’s concerned, she’s still president.
Regardless, much of the news coming out of the assembly of animal welfare folks has created a tit-for-tat round of political positioning at the Rock Hill facility.
According to Tardiff’s wife, Rose, the frustrated Westbrookville resident gave up his seat three weeks ago with a letter of resignation.
But just as he walked out the door, he saw hard work by members of the volunteer organization being ripped down – literally – by other members, and he asked to have his letter rescinded.
Rose Tardiff alleged Wiggs and acting Vice President Laura Miller replaced the SPCA manager with Henni Anker – a county resident Tardiff said has cruelty charges pending against her, making her unfit to hold the job of overseeing an animal shelter.
But Wiggs said the former manager was acting improperly – even adopting out a purebred poodle puppy without first spaying the animal (although it was 10 months old, and SPCA rules require animals old enough be fixed before being allowed to leave the shelter) during a time when the shelter’s dogs were under quarantine.
Wiggs said Anker has never been charged, and accusations are just that – accusations.
“She’s never been arrested, never been before a judge,” Wiggs said. “Anyone can make accusations, but nothing has ever been proven.”
The claims don’t stop there.
Tardiff said Miller and Wiggs walked into the shelter and tore down curtains made with tender loving care by SPCA volunteers (Wiggs said Miller was merely cleaning the curtains), destroyed files . . . and were partly responsible for a parvo virus outbreak in the canine section of the shelter.
Anonymous sources said nine puppies dropped off at the Rock Hill facility were never checked for diseases and placed into the general dog population – they, and several other pups, had to be put down.
SPCA volunteer Mark Schwartz of Wurtsboro said no one was ever informed that parvo was even a problem, and the shelter was not shut down to the public for proper quarantine.
Schwartz said he entered the shelter to do some volunteer maintenance work, but no one warned him of the danger.
“If this virus got onto my clothing and I went into my customer’s houses and spread this . . . I thought that was unconscionable,” Schwartz said. “Outbreaks happen, but tell someone about this!”
Parvo is an extremely contagious canine disease – one that spells certain death for dogs not vaccinated against the virus.
Wiggs said all of this is untrue. Although there was a parvo outbreak, only the nine puppies were put down because of parvo – two other dogs tested positive for the disease but they had just been vaccinated, which can produce a false positive on the parvo test.
She said they were old and in poor health, and a consulting veterinarian surmised they were suffering from stress colitis causing bloody stool similar to that seen with parvo.
Wiggs said those dogs were euthanized because of their poor health and as a precaution, not as a cover up.
“In a shelter situation, if in doubt, you take precautions to prevent an outbreak,” Wiggs said.
In this case, that meant euthanizing two sick dogs.
Everything in the shelter was then bleached “within an inch of its life,” Wiggs added, and every stitch of fabric in the kennel with the puppies was burned.
“Any possible parvo germs that were there were killed,” she said.
As for a quarantine, Wiggs said the veterinarian suggested a week’s time period where no dogs could be brought in and none let out – a rule she said was made, but not followed, by the former shelter manager who adopted out that poodle pup.
Schwartz said the parvo virus in and of itself was enough to push him to attend Wednesday’s meeting to get some answers.
A friend of Tardiff’s, Schwartz said he’d seen the Westbrookville resident put his heart and soul into working for the SPCA, and he wanted to know why he wasn’t being accepted back onto the board.
Rose Tardiff said her husband began volunteering with the SPCA in January, helping with a number of major cruelty investigations that involved hundreds of animals in need of help.
In May, she said, he was named president of the board, and he’s been working to help get the fledgling society out of debt.
But the work was frustrating, and by August, he was tired of the lack of support from his board.
He resigned, she said, with a letter.
“Then,” Tardiff said, “he saw what was going on, and it was a nightmare.”
She said her husband asked to rejoin the group – and was denied by Miller and Wiggs. So he headed for the SPCA’s monthly meeting to try again.
SPCA members gathered in the HUB Bank as usual, but both Tardiff and Schwartz said the meeting was not called to order while arguments circled the room.
When Schwartz asked why no business was being discussed, he said he was told a quorum wasn’t present because one board member was ill.
When that board member entered the room 15 minutes later, Schwartz said the quorum problem was resolved, but Miller and Wiggs said that the meeting still could not be held because it had officially been cancelled with calls to members of the organization.
Schwartz said he wasn’t called, and a good 15 to 18 other people in the room said they didn’t receive a message either – they thought the meeting was on, and they attended.
When he asked why he wasn’t notified, Schwartz said he was told that they didn’t know how to reach him.
“But,” Schwartz continued, “Acting President Heidi Wiggs called me on my cell phone Saturday!”
Schwartz said he asked Wiggs three times to open the meeting, then posed the same request to Miller.
The meeting was finally called to order by SPCA Treasurer Barbara Ray.
Wiggs said she refused to open the meeting because it was not fair to those who had been told it was cancelled because of the illness of a board member and the Jewish holiday – and she said Ray had no authority to call one to order as treasurer.
Wiggs said the phone calls she had made to local radio stations to announce the closure were negated by others who called the stations saying the meeting was back on.
“I don’t understand how a treasurer and an ex-president can get a meeting up and running that the president has cancelled,” she said.
Wiggs said proper procedure was not followed by the membership of the SPCA – the people who overturned her authority and kicked both her and Miller off the board.
But Thursday morning Tardiff was at the SPCA building, taking over his old job and firing employees.
Word is the shelter will be closed for a week while changes are made.
For now, Wiggs said she is still acting president – and she’s contacted authorities about the illegalities of the meeting.
A member of the Animal Welfare Alliance which traps cats and helps find homes for creatures fostered with local residents, Wiggs said she only volunteered with the SPCA to lend a hand – but she’s been charged by other members with having a conflict of interest because of her other volunteer work, and been “abused.”
“You volunteer your time to be abused?” she asked. “I don’t think so.
“It’s just such a shame,” Wiggs added, “when an organization that’s supposed to be there for the animals gets so political.”
Ironically, the same sentiments were expressed by the folks on the opposite end of the issue.
“What it all boils down to is it’s for the animals in the shelter,” Schwartz said. “It’s not for our own egos.”

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