By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO March 21, 2006 Puppy palace or hound hotel from hell?
When it comes to talking about the local SPCA, folks around these parts have drawn a line in the sand: a lot of them support the local effort to take care of abandoned animals, while others are calling for an investigation into alleged mismanagement, "missing" funds or at the very least, an overthrow of the existing board of directors of the shelter in Rock Hill.
On Thursday night, a public meeting at the county government was ostensibly announced by Terri Murphy, the former manager of the local animal shelter, to air both sides of the situation.
But she never showed up.
Later Murphy said she was unable to attend because as she was preparing to leave for the meeting she received a phone call from a friend who committed suicide that night.
When she arrived home, the windows of her house had blown open and all 11 of her exotic birds had frozen in the bitter cold.
But Murphy said the meeting she missed was supposed to be a fact-gathering, informational meeting.
The SPCA officials were invited as a courtesy.
Chris Cunningham, chairman of the county Legislature, dropped his paperwork and stepped up to the plate as stand-in moderator.
After about an hour of listening to folks vent frustrations and offer few suggestions on how to improve things at the shelter, Cunningham pulled the plug on the meeting when some comments went over the line of propriety.
"That's it, this meeting is over," he said.
Having spoken with people who were in attendance, Murphy said she felt Cunningham had done the right thing in shutting down the meeting when it turned into a mud-slinging contest.
Earlier in the meeting, the head of the county's legislative body confirmed reports that allegations of mismanagement at the SPCA were under investigation at various levels by authorities.
Marlene Patten of South Fallburg attended the meeting along with her 14-year old daughter Rochelle, an eighth grader at Fallsburg High.
"The animals are very well taken care of . . . this woman Terri was making all these accusations, and I came to help," she said. "These animals need a place if we're not happy with everything, everybody gets together and let's change it."
Arnold Burger, the dog control officer for the Town of Forestburgh, said nothing was resolved at the meeting.
"I would like to know what the county's position is and their role towards the shelter, and the shelter's role in the county," he said. "I don't understand how they fit into the scheme of the things, because every town has a dog or animal control officer that enforces the same regulations they want to enforce so you've got duplication of services."
"It's weird to me," added Burger.
Leona Naughton is a member of the SPCA board of directors.
Her take on the meeting?
"I think it was very positive for the SPCA, everyone understanding all the work and the lack of money," she said. "We need expanding and volunteers and money to make it all happen.
"Taking care of the animals while they're waiting for a home, that's all it is," added Naughton.
Cathy Farris of Mountaindale made no bones about her thinking the SPCA needs a new board of directors.
Bonnie Swack, president of the animal shelter, is going up for re-election in April.
"I'm running unopposed, so it'll be for at least another year," she said.
Her reaction to the allegations and calls for upheaval of the sitting board?
"Most of the allegations are being made by past employees such as Ms. Murphy and past members who failed to get their way so are now are using a forum to make the SPCA look bad, at a time . . . when we're trying to get money," she said.
"They figure they're going to hurt us, but all they're hurting is the animals," said Swack. "We keep fighting, pushing on and doing our best.
The folks on the other side of the issue made similar vows.
Were going to continue the fight and investigation about whats going on down there at the SPCA, Murphy said Monday.