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NY Supreme Court Filing Exposes Animal Shelter's Dirty Secrets

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

A complaint filed with the New York State Supreme Court on Monday, July 31, 2017 exposes a long list of complaints against the Central New York SPCA adding another scandal to a long list of other scandals that have plagued the organization which provides animal control services for Onondaga County, the City of Syracuse and several surrounding cities and towns. The issues include large-scale embezzlement by multiple employees, needless killing of animals, nepotism on the part of board members, wrongful termination and more.

Near the end of 2016 three employees were either convicted of or confessed to stealing $754,000 between the three of them. Paul Morgan, who served as the executive director of the shelter for about 10 years, stole $475,000. Taylor Gilkey, a veterinary assistant, stole $217,000. Nicole Cafarchio, a 29-year-old administrative worker, walked away with more than $62,000.

In the wake of those scandals the Board hired Kerrin Conklin as the new executive director. Conklin had been a seasoned volunteer at CNY SPCA for many years and says she witnessed neglect and abuse of animals during those years, as well as the needless killing of animals, and was committed to changing that. According to the most recent 142 page complaint (plus an additional 62 pages of corroborating documents) filed with the New York State Supreme Court, she made great progress in the four months she worked at the SPCA, dramatically increasing the organization's Live Release Rate (LRR) and focusing her attention on essential shelter renovations and staffing issues, including staff she believed needed to be terminated.

Her focus on problem staff seems to be where she got herself into trouble, because at least one of those was a relative of a member of the Board of Directors. Conklin was terminated by the Board about four months after she took the job. The stated reason for her termination was that she had cats with ringworm destroyed, something that Conklin admits that she did. However, the complaint also indicates that killing ringworm positive cats had been standard practice prior to her arrival. According to other local animal advocates, the shelter continues killing ringworm positive cats since they terminated Conklin.

CNY SPCA does not publish their animal statistics on the organization's web site. New leadership there declined our request to provide it. Therefore, the only data available is that provided by Conklin in her complaint to the New York State Supreme Court. The organization also provides no financial reports on its web site and declined our request for the reports. Furthermore, while news reports from the area indicate the agency has more than 400 animals at the shelter, we were only able to find about 40 animals listed on the organization's web site.

Screen capture of the CNY SPCA web site indicating the numbers of adoptable pets currently available.

When asked why there were only 41 animals available for adoption, the new executive director, Linda DeMuro, initially said it was because they had many animals in foster homes. When we pressed on saying that would mean they have more than 400 animals and asked if the animals in foster homes are not available for adoption. She then told us that not all animals are available, because many are stray animals that are "on impound hold." This, of course, could not possibly account for so few animals being listed on the web site as available. She then refused to answer any more questions and abruptly ended the call. (Note: shortly after publishing this blog, the CNY SPCA web site was taken off-line and a notice published on the home page simply stating they were having "hosting problems.")

Other local animal advocates have indicated that killing at the shelter has accelerated again under the new leadership and based on all information available, this seems to be a shelter in crisis that has little and highly dysfunctional oversight from its current Board, and the municipalities that pay them for animal control services. People should contact City and County officials and demand oversight. At this point, an outside audit and management intervention are both urgently needed. This is an issue of failed leadership at every level. The elected officials need to be held to account, as do the board members who allowed all of this to happen.

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