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Embattled Charlottesville SPCA to replace director

A month after putting its executive director on administrative leave amid allegations of mismanagement, the Charlottesville area’s animal shelter has announced an interim leader to take over the role.

Sue Friedman, who most recently served as executive director of the Jefferson School Foundation and served for years as the leader of the Alzheimer’s Association of Central and Western Virginia, is set to take the top job at the Charlottesville Albemarle Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

She will be replacing sitting Executive Director Angie Gunter on May 24.

“We are excited to welcome Sue Friedman as our Interim Executive Director,” the local SPCA’s board president, Jenn Corbey, said in a Friday statement announcing the leadership change.

Gunter had served as director of the local animal shelter since 2017.

In the final months of that yearslong tenure, however, she faced mounting allegations of mistreating both people and animals at the SPCA.

The decision to place Gunter on leave, the board said in April, was made after the conclusion of an independent review conducted by international law firm McGuireWoods at the board’s behest after allegations first started to mount earlier this year.

“The review included recommendations for changes designed to improve our workplace culture and the quality of care for the animals entrusted to us,” the board said in a statement at the time. “Based on the results of the review, we are developing a specific plan with concrete steps to effect operational changes across several departments. We look forward to sharing more information with the community about our plan of action in the days ahead.”

The decision to hire McGuireWoods in the first place was prompted by a flurry of allegations from current and former employees and volunteers at the SPCA.

At the start of the year, a group calling itself CASPCA Concerns sent a letter to the SPCA board, which has since garnered more than 100 signatures, detailing what signatories described as misconduct and mismanagement at the shelter that has translated into animal neglect bordering on abuse. The shelter, the group said, is overcapacity and understaffed, with animals often kept in unsafe living conditions and their carers overworked in order to keep adoption rates high and contributions rolling in.

The letter called out Gunter by name and included photos of dogs in pens full of urine and feces, animals living in crates the group said are stored in the shelter’s basement and facilities that appear to be unclean, unkempt and dangerous to the animals living there.

In February, after the SPCA’s board hired McGuireWoods to conduct its review, a Virginia Department of Agriculture inspection found repeat violations of state law at the animal shelter.

The report mentioned no evidence of animal abuse, neglect or other mistreatment. However, it did highlight multiple instances in which several documents at the shelter were missing information required by law.

March saw multiple volunteers either resign or asked to leave. And in one instance, the SPCA employed a Richmond-based law firm to dismiss a volunteer dog walker, a decision it said was necessary “given the current climate and level of scrutiny at CASPCA.”

Throughout all of this, the SPCA’s higher-ups said they stood behind the shelter’s CEO.

That position has clearly changed since McGuireWoods concluded its review.

The CASPCA Concerns group has applauded the shelter’s decision to remove Gunter, while noting that Gunter was only part of the problem.

“While we are glad that the board has taken action,” the group said in an email to The Daily Progress in April, “it is crucial that the SPCA continues to prioritize the safety and well-being of the animals in their care, and we hope that the temporary replacement will be someone who is able to do so effectively.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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