About 250 gather to protest changes at Victoria SPCA

Debbie Vermaning adopted her dog 12 years ago from the Victoria branch of the B.C. SPCA and enjoyed speaking to manager Penny Stone about animal welfare.

When she found out Stone had been fired last Tuesday, she was upset. When she heard Cory Bond, the former assistant manager of the branch who resigned in July, was organizing a peaceful protest, she decided to attend.

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“I’m worried about the animals. Who is going to take care of them?” she said while holding a sign that read Support Protection and Care for Animals.

About 250 people gathered near the Victoria branch on Sunday afternoon to protest the firing of Stone, who had worked as the manager for 10 years, and what some former staff believe is the changing use of the Friendly Neighbour fund.

The fund is collected by public donations to provide care for the sickest animals and currently has about $400,000 to spend on animals.

Bond resigned on July 20, protesting the alleged changing use of the fund. Marty Meszeros, the kennel master, resigned the next day after Stone was dismissed.

“I would like for the SPCA to acknowledge changes in the past were not consistent with practice we had for eight years … we don’t want to see any animals turned away,” said Bond at the protest.

A memo from provincial SPCA staff in October called “Procedures for the Friendly Neighbour Fund” first brought changes.

According to Bond, it was changed after the memo was released at meetings with head office staff and shelter managers changed it even further. The medical budget of each month would come from the fund instead of general revenue, and staff were also told to reduce costs, which Bond said was a change.

The interim manager of the Victoria SPCA said the memo from the provincial office had been a mistake and said there will be no changes to the use of the fund.

He said the branch estimates it will spend about $280,000 on medical care for animals this year. About $159,000 is covered in their budget; the rest will come from the fund — which, he said, has been a longstanding practice — and no cap will be placed on spending for medical care.

But there are problems.

“Victoria is not a sustainable shelter… . The cost to run the branch is $1.8 million and most of that doesn’t come from fundraising but from people’s wills,” said Leon Davis, the general manager for the Nanaimo SPCA who is working as one of four interim managers. “The model is unsustainable.”

Marg Williams and her husband Ray had donated to the Victoria branch for years. They got involved when their daughter moved to Lytton and started finding dogs that needed homes.

She estimates more than 100 dogs her daughter found made their way to Victoria, and even recognized some in the crowd at the protest.

Williams said the care Stone and the branch provided animals made her and her husband decide to list them in their will.

“I would like the SPCA to apologize and bring [Stone] back and we won’t cancel our donation in our will. If they don’t, then we will certainly consider giving it to another organization,” she said.

nwells@timescolonist.com

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