The board that oversees Charlottesville’s animal shelter and adoption center is looking into allegations that the organization’s leader is mistreating both animals and humans.
Nearly 60 current and former employees and volunteers at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have signed a letter to the board detailing allegations that CEO Angie Gunter’s treatment of animals was “deeply concerning” and that she created a “hostile work environment” for those who worked under her.
“During my career in animal welfare I have never witnessed or experienced a toxic culture and unethical practices like I witnessed at CASPCA,” the shelter’s former Director of Operations Taylor Lefebvre wrote in the letter.
Lefebvre’s group, which is calling itself CASPCA Concerns, declined to make a comment directly to The Daily Progress and instead directed the newspaper to its letter and a post on Medium.
Gunter referred a request for comment to the local SPCA’s board of directors.
“The Board intends to pursue diligently the goals of making the shelter a better place for both the animals and the hard-working employees and volunteers on whom they rely,” the board said in a statement.
The board said that it would be working with Gunter to address concerns and that it believed Gunter is still “the best person to lead this effort forward.”
“We ask for your patience as this process moves forward.”
The statement did not directly address comments or photos posted by the group of current and former staff on Medium.
One photo online shows puppies and one adult dog standing on top of a sheet that appears soaked with urine and feces, which the CASPCA Concerns group said shows the dogs in the facility’s basement training room. According to the group, the animals had tested positive for canine distemper, a contagious disease that attacks a dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems. It is usually fatal.
Another photo in the post shows a pool of urine and feces on the floor of the same room, along with multiple dog crates. One dog sits on top of a box that CASPCA Concerns said contains bleach. CASPCA Concerns wrote that while it’s typical for a shelter to adapt extra spaces in emergency situations, the practice has become routine at the Charlottesville-Albemarle shelter.
The group said that Gunter’s desire to maintain a high adoption and live release rate means that animals with behavioral or health issues get adopted out to inexperienced adopters or suffer in the shelter.
The SPCA announced earlier this month it had achieved a record number of adoptions in 2022.
Adoptions were arranged for 3,803 pets last year, the highest number in the organization’s history, according to a Jan. 12 post on the group’s Facebook page. The same post said that it achieved new highs in both its canine and feline live release rates, at 99% and 98% last year, respectively.
“Dogs are being warehoused with no resources and no behavior modification plans, while they continue to bite each other and humans,” Lefebvre said in the letter.
Katie Roche, a former adoption coordinator at the shelter, cited a dog named Jenny who could barely walk as an example.
Jenny “would lay in her own urine for hours each day because she was unable to properly urinate. Veterinary staff recommended euthanasia but Angie dismissed their recommendations. We had to watch Jenny suffer for months before Angie finally conceded,” Roche said in the letter.
“On several occasions, [Gunter] asked me for my personal opinions about other staff members, and aggressively countered anything positive I had to say about them,” former adoption counselor and rescue manager Tori Cunningham wrote.
“I left the Shelter in tears because Angie was upset with me because I didn’t share office gossip with her,” Tomeka Rhoades, a former administrative assistant at the shelter, wrote.
Multiple employees said that Gunter yelled at them in front of other employees or visitors at the shelter.
The original letter’s signatories said the board has been unresponsive to their complaints, though the board has since said it is looking into the allegations.
CASCPA Concerns has urged the community to continue supporting the shelter’s employees and volunteers by adopting and fostering.
“Don’t let Angie Gunter and the Board just count your caring act towards their precious numbers. Tell them you foster and adopt despite their leadership. Tell them you foster and adopt because you want to save animals from their cruelty,” the group said in a statement.