By Maria R. Hayes
Former Wyoming County SPCA shelter manager Susan Davila and former Wyoming County SPCA board president Janet Foisset appeared in court on Thursday, May 24.
Davila was arraigned for 10 counts of animal cruelty and 10 counts of failure to provide sustenance to an impounded animal, which are both misdemeanors. Both women were arraigned for tampering with physical evidence, a felony. If convicted, they could be sentenced to 1 1/3 to four years in jail.
Both Davila and Foisset have pled not guilty. A hearing has been set for July 12.
“From my perspective, these are two women who have desperately tried to prevent cats from being killed in shelters,” said Thomas Eoannou, the women’s lawyer. “Did people drop off too many cats? Yes. Was the shelter too small? Yes. Did that in anyway make the people trying to help the cats criminal? No. Not at all.”
On Feb. 15, New York State Police and the Wyoming County District Attorney executed search warrants at the Wyoming County SPCA’s main building on Route 98 in Attica and at its storefront location in the Eastern Hills Mall in Clarence, N.Y. After discovering deplorable conditions, approximately 515 cats were processed and removed from the Attica facility. Between 40 and 50 cats had to be euthanized due to malnourishment and dehydration. Three dogs were also removed.
Following the raid, the Eastern Hills Mall location was taken over by the Erie County SPCA and the Attica building was declared unfit for occupancy. Problems with the building included a failing septic system.
To address the problems with the organization, Wyoming County SPCA members called a meeting on Saturday, March 24. They decided to remove Foisett, Davila and remaining board members from their positions, and installed a new board and a new president. Since then, the SPCA has worked to bring the building up to code again. Members have donated materials and services to make thousands of dollars in repairs without using the SPCA’s remaining funds. The organization has inherited unpaid bills that leave it an estimated $25,000 in debt.
Davila and Foisset’s arraignment was attended by their supporters and other people concerned with the future of the Wyoming County SPCA. Among them was Chris Wiehe, one of the original whistleblowers.
“We did what we needed to do to rescue those cats that were living in deplorable conditions,” said Wiehe, who was a volunteer at the Wyoming County SPCA prior to the raid. “I do believe that there were people that should have been charged besides Sue. Scapegoat is the only word that comes to my mind. Her heart was always in the right place. She loved the animals.”
As of press time, no one else has been charged in the investigation.
Some have criticized the new SPCA board, claiming that they’re illegitimate. Foisset and other former board members have said they would have stepped down were they given the chance to do so. The board insists it is a legal organization, citing laws regulating New York State’s non-profit corporations. It currently has 10 members, some of whom have served on the board in the past.
That doesn’t sit well with those that think Davila and Foisset aren’t the only ones who should be charged.
“How can they pretend they didn’t know what was going on in the shelter?” said Arnie Davila, Susan Davila’s husband, who was a board member from June 2010 to February 2012. “They walked past that every day. They knew. You know why they didn’t say anything? Because they were part of the problem. They’re the same board.”
Current board member and Wyoming County SPCA spokesperson Candee McConnell has repeatedly told Warsaw’s Country Courier in the past that a similar situation will not happen because animals are going to be adopted out. Davila has been called a hoarder by those who volunteered in the shelter prior to the raid.
“If they had been adopted out, we wouldn’t have had the problem that we have,” McConnell told The Courier in an April 12 article. “It will never be the same as it was before.”
The SPCA has continued to make repairs in preparation for reopening the shelter sometime this summer. Since last week, volunteers have repaired all of the molding around the windows and installed wide windowsills for future cats to sit on.
“I can’t believe the difference from what we found when we walked in there,” McConnell said. “The change is tremendous.”
The SPCA will hold a chicken barbecue on Friday, June 8 at Clor’s Meat Market in Batavia from noon to 6 p.m. Half of the proceeds will benefit the SPCA, which is currently $25,000 in debt due to old bills. Their next community workday will be June 16.
The investigation continues
The investigation into the Wyoming County SPCA is ongoing. However, no one will be charged with misappropriation of money or grant funds. The SPCA was using a $10,000 grant given by two trustees and managed by someone from M&T bank. The grant was vaguely written and designated for animal care and shelter care. Because the grant’s description is so broad, the people who gave the grant won’t press charges.
McConnell says the SPCA was given three grants: one for a generator and lawn mower, one for a new floor, and one for a spay and neuter program for low-income families. The spay and neuter program was never started, and the new floor was not installed prior to the raid. The SPCA is looking for someone to help with lawn care. Approximately $30,000 in grant money is missing, according to McConnell.
The attorney general looked into the SPCA’s fiances, but based on the volume of records and lack thereof, said it wasn’t feasible to determine whether or not there was misappropriation of funds.
“The responsibility of a good board is to have a system of checks and balances,” said Wyoming County District Attorney Donald O’Geen. “Everything is not always criminal. It can be a mistake, it can be mismanagement. You have to prove that someone took money intentionally or to benefit themselves.”
The two veterinarians who were providing the SPCA with medicine without seeing the animals will also not be charged. One vet was providing a drug that was banned from the United States. The other was providing basic medicine that was not controlled substances. This was not criminal activity, but it is also not a common practice.
“I spoke with local vets, and they have said that’s not appropriate,” O’Geen said.
Both vets were referred to a veterinary ethics board.
By Maria R. Hayes