Democrat Photo by Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY SPCA President Bonnie Swack holds Throcky, an 18-month-old purebred Weimaraner who is up for adoption at the Rock Hill shelter, along with his sister Shadow.
War of Words Follows
Investigation of SPCA
By Jeanne Sager
ROCK HILL January 24, 2006 Its just too much of a coincidence, said Bonnie Swack.
A developer approaches the Sullivan County SPCA with an offer to buy the shelter off of Route 17 in Rock Hill.
Weeks later last Thursday to be exact the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department launches an investigation into whats said to be years of mismanagement at the non-profit.
Swack, the SPCAs president, said she smells a smear campaign.
Among the individuals shes fingered is Town of Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini, who set up a meeting between SPCA officials and Orange County developer Jonah Mandelbaum to discuss the sale of the property in exchange for a state-of-the-art shelter built somewhere else.
The best way to drive down a price is to make it look bad, she said. Its to the point where people think the place is awful . . . its not, the animals are healthy, they are taken care of.
Parvo outbreaks, like the one that closed the shelter in December, are a fact of the shelter industry, she said.
The virus came in with an abandoned dog. The dogs were all inoculated. They were treated, and the dogs too sick to be saved were euthanized.
The shelter was quarantined, Swack said. They followed the proper procedures.
But the Town of Thompson has severed ties with the shelter because of the outbreak, she said.
Last week the board voted to stop using the Rock Hill shelter to harbor its stray dogs.
A $300-a-month contract was cancelled, and Swack said she was never notified.
The courtesy could have been extended to us to meet with us, she said.
Cellini said the town boards decision was unanimous. From now on, theyll be kenneling their dogs at Glen Wild Animal Rescue up the road.
We have to have a place where we can take our animals, he noted. And the parvo keeps cropping up ... that place needs to be cleaned.
Cellini said he served only as the conduit between Mandelbaum and Swack. He said there were no numbers bandied about at the meeting, and he hasnt met with Mandelbaum since.
Mandelbaum, who is behind the Regency Estates senior housing project on Sturgis Road in Monticello, said he merely looked at the property.
Theres nothing on the table, he noted.
As for smearing the SPCA, Cellini said hes been a supporter of the shelter since the days of the Board of Supervisors.
But he didnt hide his disgust with Swacks leadership.
The only thing Ive ever said is they oughta clean up that mess, he said. I think its a necessity in this community, but I think under her leadership its a mess.
The Sullivan County Legislatures meeting on Thursday was apparently unrelated.
But Swack said its just more smearing.
We had no knowledge of this meeting to defend ourselves, she said.
Swack said she received a phone call from a reporter asking questions about the meeting 15 minutes before it was scheduled to begin.
I live in Callicoon, she said. By the time I got there, it would have been over.
Because she didnt make it to the meeting, Swack said shes working with secondhand information.
They said they requested information, and weve never gotten such requests . . . financial information, membership information, she said.
We have nothing to hide, and were willing to give, she noted.
Another contention coming from the meeting was a lack of staff necessary to run the shelter.
There are three full-timers, Swack said, plus part-timers and volunteers.
Give us the money, and well hire someone, said Vice President Rosa Lee. The more I see, the more astonished I am that we handle so much.
Lee said she got involved with the SPCA three years ago when she went to a meeting of the non-profits membership and was greeted by screaming and infighting.
She said things have changed in the last three years.
All of the negative things Ive heard, the backbiting and the viciousness thats been going on . . . contrary to the viciousness, Ive found this is a dedicated staff, Lee said. Im astonished by how few people can handle so many animals.
Swack has been working with the SPCA for eight years. Shes been president before, and shes worked with different boards before.
Never before have things clicked as well as they do now, she maintained.
All those accusations of mismanagement and infighting . . . theres no current infighting, she said.
Those who are still fighting, including former volunteers who she said are constantly putting up lawsuits against the SPCA (volunteers Swack wouldnt name on record), are outside forces stirring up trouble, she continued.
The people on the board and volunteering at the shelter are dedicated to the animals, Swack said.
We shell the money out of our own pocket to keep it going, Lee said. And what do we get in return? False accusations.
Swack said it takes $150,000 to keep the shelter running each year.
Thats running it the way we have to: the basics with no luxuries, Swack said.
Moving the shelter, as suggested, would mean losing at least $20,000 a year earned for the non-profit by the sale of billboard advertising on its Route 17 property.
Swack contends that the aesthetics of the shelter are whats causing the problem.
The property across the way was bought up by developers, and theyre putting in half-million-dollar homes, she explained.
Swack admitted the shelter would probably be considered an eyesore for someone looking to sell that kind of home.
But thats no reason to run them out, she remarked.
Let us stay here, help us build a new shelter, and well rip this one down, she said.
It aint pretty, Lee admitted. But we dont have the money.
The women said it all comes down to money the shelter is a non-profit serving the entire county, and they dont get much in terms of funding.
As for the allegations of mismanaged funds, Swack said the only time there has been real trouble was when a former treasurer (whom she would not name on record) was taking funds from the SPCA.
But, she said, the complaints never cease.
Nobodys ever happy, but theyre not the ones who put in day after day . . . even when Im not here, Im at home on the phone, she said. Its a full-time job with no pay, except the love.
And the love makes it well worth it.
By Nathan Mayberg
ROCK HILL January 24, 2006 The Sullivan County SPCA is currently under investigation by the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department following allegations about funds being misappropriated, missing materials and questionable business practices.
According to Sullivan County Commissioner of Public Safety Richard Martinkovic, he and Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham said that individuals formerly involved with the SPCA made the charges and questioned them on what the county could do about the alleged criminal misconduct.
The Legislature has no authority over the organization, although it has a $15,000-a-year contract with them which expired this month. The sides are currently negotiating a new contract, but the county is hesitant after this latest controversy involving the group. Both Martinkovic and Cunningham said the county is re-evaluating its contract with the SPCA.
The county utilizes the shelter to house animals involved in county cases where individuals are arrested, evicted or otherwise are unable to take care of their animals.
Cunningham described the charges as serious and said he would be meeting with SPCA President Bonnie Swack and members of its board.
The county has already notified the District Attorneys office as well as the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department about the latest charges. The Sheriffs Department is currently in the midst of its investigation and will turn over its findings to the DAs office once completed. Martinkovic said a resolution could come as early as this week.
Martinkovic said the county has put a new contract on hold with the SPCA because we dont want to be criticized for doing business with a contractor that may be operating under conditions that may be embarrassing.