The foremost animal shelter in the Charlottesville area has issued a cease and desist order to CASPCA Concerns, the group that first raised issues about treatment of animals and people at the shelter.
Richmond-based attorney Buckley Warden sent a letter demanding that the group “delete all social media or online posts, comments, blogs, articles, or statements in which you defame my client,” on March 17.
It’s not the first time Warden has reprimanded the group of current and former volunteers and employees. The Charlottesville-Albemarle Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has retained Warden’s firm, Thompson McMullan. In March, Warden sent a letter firing longtime volunteer dog walker Sarah Lloyd.
“CASPCA has retained outside counsel to provide us with independent guidance and support. It is a common practice for professional organizations to contract for external support especially where expertise in specific areas can be valuable,” the SPCA’s Board of Directors told The Daily Progress via email in March.
In the March 17 letter, Warden cited a Facebook comment about a dog named Sadie who had to be euthanized. The dog was older and had cancer, and the commenter said Sadie began to have trouble breathing one morning. According to the poster, shelter leaders were made aware of Sadie’s situation at 11 a.m.
“Nothing was done until 7 pm when the decision was made to euthanize. Removed from her owner for neglect only to be placed in the custody of an agency that neglected her even worse,” the commenter said.
According to Warden, the comment implied that Sadie might have survived if shelter leaders had done more.
Members of CASPCA Concerns denied the allegation.
“Rather than making claims about Sadie’s outcome, the quotation identifies an eight-hour period in which an instance of severe veterinary distress was unaddressed despite shelter leadership’s knowledge of the situation,” the group said in a press release.
Warden also claimed that the group made “continued allegations of mistreatment persist despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary,” referring to an investigation by The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Veterinary Services. The investigation found several documents at the shelter were missing information required by state law.
“We dispute Mr. Warden’s assertion that one counterexample based on a review of a single day’s operations constitutes ‘overwhelming evidence’ sufficient to assuage our and the public’s concerns about animal welfare at CASPCA,” CASPCA Concerns said in press release March 28.
Warden said the group defamed the SPCA when CASPCA Concerns said “Virginia National Bank has completely pulled their over $25,000 yearly donation to CASPCA since finding out about the problems at CASPCA.” Warden said the bank made the decision to pull its donation to the Bow-Wow Walk fundraiser on its own, and not because of alleged problems at CASPCA.
“In fact, on March 16th, 2023, VNB President, Glenn W. Rust, specifically refuted this implication and pledged to make a donation of $7,500.00,” Warden said in the letter.
CASPCA Concerns said it made that assumption, but only discussed that via emails with members of the group, and never made that assumption public.
“As VNB has supported the Bow-Wow-Walk for the last several years, but did not after the public first letter was released, it was reasonable to think that there was a connection between the two,” the group said, referring to its initial Medium post alleging animal mistreatment.
The group declined to provide copies of the email correspondence, citing privacy as a reason.
Warden said the group’s allegations constitute defamation. A person has to prove that a statement was false in order for it to be considered defamatory, according to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University. CASPCA Concerns maintains that all of its claims are true. The SPCA has hired McGuireWoods, an international law firm with an office in Charlottesville, to determine the veracity of the group’s allegations.
Warden gave the group a March 24 deadline.
“If you wish to avoid further conflict, I demand that you remove all defamatory statements,” Warden said.
The Medium letters and Facebook posts are still available online.
Warden advised the group to retain legal counsel.
“We hope there won’t be a need to retain legal counsel,” a representative for CASPCA Concerns told The Daily Progress via email.
The SPCA’s Board of Directors did not say whether it would pursue legal action against the group, despite the fact the posts are still up.
“CASPCA has sought legal guidance with respect to allegations regarding animal abuse and neglect that are simply untrue. We appreciate the legitimate concerns that have been raised by members of the community…we do take issue with the means by which some individuals have chosen to advance their cause, including repeated anonymous posts making factually erroneous claims about clinical decisions made by licensed professionals,” the Board told The Daily Progress via email on Friday.
The board said the cease and desist letter would not have a bearing on the McGuireWoods investigation.
“The independent review is focused on the allegations made regarding our management team, the workplace environment and specific operational issues. Any allegations as to animal abuse and neglect are within the purview of the Virginia Department of Agriculture Consumer Services,” the board said.
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