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Protesters call for CASPCA director's resignation

A group of about a dozen people gathered outside of the Charlottesville Albemarle Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on Friday, calling for an investigation into Executive Director Angie Gunter’s alleged mistreatment of animals.

The protest comes a week after a coalition of current and former employees, calling themselves CASPCA Concerns, posted a letter online describing animal neglect and a hostile work environment.

“I stopped volunteering because of my negative experiences with them,” Juliet Rowland Lunka told The Daily Progress at Friday’s protest, citing shelter overcrowding as one of the reasons she left. “After hearing about other people’s worsts, I felt I needed to come out.”

Kay Cross, who serves on the SPCA’s board of directors, pointed out the small size of the crowd protesting the organization on Friday compared to the more than 70 who signed the online letter.

But that small crowd said they remain undaunted.

The SPCA is ostensibly dedicated to protecting animals, but current and former employees and volunteers said Gunter is more concerned with protecting herself.

“I don’t know how the community or the staff here have any trust in her,” Betsy Greco, a former volunteer, said on Friday. “She should resign.”

The reasons CASPCA Concerns has given for why Gunter should leave are varied.

“Her lack of knowledge regarding animal welfare, and unwillingness to collaborate, is frankly astounding,” the shelter’s former director of operations, Taylor Lefebvre, wrote in a letter to the SPCA’s board of directors.

On Wednesday, the SPCA’s animal care manager resigned.

“I worked on an adoptions team where I had to try to place dogs that have killed other animals or severely injured people in homes,” Courtney Ott wrote in her resignation letter.

Penny Elliott, a woman who said she fosters a cat for the SPCA, told The Daily Progress the animal was given to her with bumps on his tail that bled and oozed pus.

“I was told last week by the adoption coordinator that it’s nothing, he’s available for adoption,” Elliott said via email on Tuesday. Elliott’s email included a photo of the cat’s shaved tail, which showed a bump with a scab covering it.

Gunter has referred requests for comment from The Daily Progress 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 sent to The Daily Progress on Monday.

The board said in that statement 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 CASPCA Concerns group.

The Blue Ridge Group, a local marketing firm, issued a statement on Friday that said Gunter was not to blame. Instead, it said current and former staff and volunteers are responsible for “the poor treatment of the animals.”

CASPCA Concerns disputed the claim.

“The substandard care for and placement of animals is the direct result of Angie Gunter’s ineffective management style, failure to retain staff, and unqualified decision making,” the group said in its own statement.

A photo the CASPCA Concerns group has posted online shows dogs standing on top of a sheet that appears soaked with urine and feces, which CASPCA Concerns 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 online 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.

CASPCA 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 original CASPCA letter.

Protesters on Friday said they hoped the board would take their concerns seriously.

“Gunter has to be disciplined by the board, if not removed,” a protester named Olivia Gabbey said.


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