By Jeanne Sager
ROCK HILL September 28, 2004 More than a week after the members of the Sullivan County SPCA ousted its acting president and vice president in what the women call an illegal meeting, the fur is still flying.
The membership informed a shocked Heidi Wiggs and Laura Miller at a Sept. 15 meeting of the countys biggest animal shelter that they were no longer in charge handing over the reins to Westbrookville resident Steve Tardif.
Tardif, who was elected by the membership to serve as president of the SPCA board in May, had resigned his post on August 25. Vice President Wiggs moved up in the ranks to take his spot, while Recording Secretary Laura Miller slipped into Wiggs vacant seat.
Just a few weeks later, Tardif said he wanted his job back but his request to have his resignation rescinded was denied. Millers response: You resigned, were moving forward, come to meetings, support the SPCA and wait until voting again.
When elections were held in May, Miller said she was looking forward to working with Tardif a man she says truly cares about animals.
Every year there is upheaval at the shelter, but she saw a board full of people who want to help the animals, and she was hoping things would change.
Obviously, the animals cant speak, so it becomes a situation where everyone does whatever they want, she said. You go and look at the animals down there and see how dependent they really are . . .
They depend on people, she said, who let them down. Steve Tardif was one of them, Miller said. He ran a one-man show without consulting his board, then quit when the going got tough.
She charges Tardif with creating a stir to get his way even calling local radio stations to have them announce that the organizations monthly meeting was back on after it was cancelled by Wiggs because of Rosh Hashanah. In fact, Wiggs said the meeting wasnt legal because it was called to order by Treasurer Barbara Ray, a friend of Tardif who had no authority to do so.
She said shes still in charge, but Tardif got to work on the 16th, heading to the Rock Hill facility to fire Henni Anker, the shelter manager put in place by an emergency board vote on Sept. 7 with Wiggs and Millers approval.
Tardifs wife, Rose, said Anker wasnt fit to hold that position alleging there had been charges against her for animal cruelty in the past. Her appointment was one of the many reasons Tardif said her husband fought tooth and nail to get back on the board and save the SPCA.She said her husband resigned not because he wanted to run the shelter alone, but because he got no board support.
Wiggs has said that charges against Anker are just that charges. Nothing has ever been taken to court, nor has Anker been arrested for wrongdoing. She is, in fact, still in charge of animal control for the Town of Bethel.
And shes great with animals, Miller said.
Henni is knowledgeable, experienced, loves animals her entire life is buying them treats and cooking her cats dinner.
Tardifs next move was to shut down the shelter for a period of one week signs on the windows said it was being closed while restructuring was completed.
Rose Tardif referred to it as a quarantine period related to a parvo outbreak that occurred earlier in the month. She said the shelter is up and running now; fundraisers were going on over the weekend to try to get the place back on its feet. There was even a special adopt-a-thon to help more animals find homes and clear some of the dogs and cats out of the packed shelter.
Its a shelter thats packed, Miller said, because Tardif was barraging the place with people while he was out of office suggesting they bring their cats in to an SPCA that was already at full capacity.
Steve Tardifs response?
That is 100 percent untrue, he said. I sent no one to the shelter.
But Miller said he pulled a similar stunt on Sept 15 stirring up what she likened to a lynch mob to come in and put him back in power.
Again, the Tardifs had a response these people were all upset because of changes made in the shelter during the time Steve was off the board, changes they said adversely affected the shelter.
But Miller said they made no changes until Ankers hiring on Sept. 7. Not one staff member was fired even when Anker was installed, her predecessor was kept on board.
As for records the Tardifs allege were stolen, Miller said the only paperwork removed from the shelter was decades old and illegible thanks to flooding that happened at some point during the shelters history.
It was all wet, and there were bits of food on the papers, she said. It was disgusting.
She said the Tardifs have used the shelter to their own ends putting the animal health van sponsored by their non-profit organization, TARA, on SPCA premises during the week so the veterinarian they approve of can spay and neuter cats.
Miller said the rest of the board wanted to include other local veterinarians and make this a local shelter once again.
Rose Tardif said thats baloney putting the TARA van on the premises would not benefit her or Steve, as it helps the organization only. Besides, she said, it was actually costing TARA to send the van to the SPCA she paid for the vet tech, fuel, etc. The SPCA only paid for the services of the actual veterinarian.
And one of her approved vets is local, she said, a woman from Livingston Manor.
Other allegations have been flying back and forth, even since Tardif closed the shelter for the clean-up period. But both sides agree this needs to be taken to the public, the people of Sullivan County.
The only way to get things better is to remind people in the county that this is their shelter, Rose Tardif said. We need help, we need people to get involved.
There are a lot of really caring animal people in Sullivan County now is the time were going to turn it around.
Miller said the only way to do that is to turn the shelter upside down and make it a professionally run organization.
We need to make sure the public are holding the people of the SPCA accountable, she said. The public has got to be aware of what really goes on in a shelter, the politics and the policies.
Its absolutely dependent on public support, she added.
Miller said she and Wiggs are exploring their options. Although they havent returned to the shelter, theyre sure they are still legally on the board and they arent acquiescing to any of Tardifs demands.
Rose Tardif said the women will likely face charges from the organization although the police have not been involved, she said they did not follow the bylaws of the SPCA.