Fraud. Sabotage. Disaster.
Those are words being used by the director of the SPCA county animal shelter to describe the recent activities that she says have derailed the potential of a successful operation.
In a stunningly frank and candid interview with the Cleveland Daily Banner Saturday, director Bobbi Anderson directly accused No Kill Cleveland of sending volunteers to the shelter who were actually “saboteurs” in an effort to disrupt and discredit the operations of the facility.
The facility became news once again Friday when Anderson, in what she described as “a strike,” placed a sign on the door saying the facility would not reopen until the contract between the county and the SPCA was renegotiated.
The contract states the shelter would be “open intake” — meaning the facility could not, under any circumstances, turn away animals that were brought there.
“When I took this job, I took it because it was ‘no-kill,’” Anderson said.
“I did not realize it was open intake. If I would have realized that, I probably would not have taken the job because I know what that means,” Anderson said.
She said when the facility had reached capacity, animal intake was stopped and a waiting list created.
“Then on Friday, we had a little strike thing because we refused,” Anderson said. “We refused because we refuse to take in so many animals we can’t care for them. Two people can’t properly take care of over 100 animals. It’s impossible.”
She said the size of the facility is a moot point since the contract states otherwise.
“I broke the contract,” she said. “Because we had that little strike thing, we got a board meeting.”
The SPCA board of directors has not met in two months — this month due to lack of a quorum.
“As soon as [County Commissioner and SPCA board member] Charlotte [Peak-Jones] got the board to have a meeting, I took the signs down,” she said. “I don’t know what else to do. I’m not willing to kill animals. I’m not willing for my animals to die from disease.”
That meeting will take place Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the Bradley County Commission meeting room.
Anderson said once the population of the shelter reaches a certain level “disease runs rampant.”
“Euthanasia is the last thing I worry about if they are all going to die from disease,” she said. “It’s just a mess. Honestly.”
She said she never knows how to answer anyone because she is in a position of not knowing “whose side they’re on.”
“This is not petty anymore. The animals are suffering. I have never, ever, ever in my life been in this situation. People tell me it’s like that at every shelter. Well, not in Indiana [where Anderson once worked] it’s not,” she said.
Anderson said she was not aware of the battling factions that have fought over animal shelter control when she came to the position.
“I knew nothing about that. I just knew this is what I always wanted to do,” she said.
She says now “I did not do my homework.”
“[The veterinarian she was working for] was leaving. I knew I was going to need a job within that month and I came into this craziness,” Anderson said.
She said despite all, there are some good things being accomplished at the shelter.
“We are building good relationships with other rescue and foster organizations. We’re working with animal control doing weekend events,” she said.
But, she says the quality control diminishes if there is not the adequate personnel for the intake numbers.
“It’s not possible with two people,” she said. “If I cannot do my job to the best of my ability because there is so many animals here, then what am I here for? And, unfortunately, there’s no more money to hire anybody else.”
She said the figure of $80,000 that was arrived for the contract with the county was a “bare minimum” figure from former director Jack Cooper.
“That is only the bare minimum with another $20,000 per month being raised through fundraisers which would be $320,000 per year,” Anderson said. “But, those fundraising expectations were never realistic by any stretch of the imagination.”
“$320,000 — feasible. $80,000 — not feasible,” she said. “They were well aware the $80,000 per year was not enough to run this shelter. Now, whether they understood that or not, I don’t know.”
Anderson said her office and records have been gone through by persons unknown.
When asked if she believed another animal organization had sent volunteers to the shelter under the guise of being helpful, her answer was, “Absolutely.”
“I have no problem saying that. None. It’s been made public that’s what they are doing,” Anderson said.
She said there are witnesses who observed members of another animal organization “carry boxes of paperwork out and animals out” during the handling of the recent puppy mill discovery.
“Were we overcrowded and did the animals need personal care? Absolutely. We’re at that point again,” she said.
“Unfortunately, I have to follow the rules. I have to take every single animal in. It was witnessed they did that. It was thought they were helping [assist] with the puppy mill situation. It was observed if they were helping, they would be bringing stuff in and not taking stuff out. That has happened over and over and over again.”
Anderson said those other “volunteers” have alleged they have not been allowed in the shelter.
“There was a stop put to it after the so-called ‘takeover’ because they were being very detrimental,” she said. “Even during that time we asked them to network our animals. They said that there was no reason to do that because they were not on ‘death row’.”
She said the hopes are the other organization knows there is a death row.
“If we would have gotten the cooperation in the first place, maybe we wouldn’t be in the situation we are now,” Anderson said.
The director said there has been a continuous attempt to reach out to No Kill Cleveland to work together and cooperate.
“Even when they were not here,” she said. “The weird thing is they have continued to state this stuff, but they have been welcomed all but a period of three weeks and we have begged for them to help.”
Anderson said all No Kill Cleveland wants to do is network the animals, but they didn’t want to do that until “Cleveland animal control was down to three dogs and they were bored and they needed something to do.”
She said it is all about the animals in her eyes.
“They have slandered me so much. I don’t even care about that. But, if they would get off their rears and spend as much time here as they spend complaining on the computer, maybe they could make a difference,” she said. “It’s to a point that with them it’s no longer about the animals and it is for me. It’s really, really sad.”
Anderson said NKC refuses to come into the shelter because they do not want to sign the confidentiality agreement, that is part of the contracts required when animals are taken from the shelter to a rescue organization.
She said Cleveland animal control does it for free, but does not give them veterinarian care first and puts no cost into the animal.
She said the agreements are common and “we didn’t make them up.”
“It’s common in most corporations,” she said. “Who wants somebody to come in here and represent the SPCA and then go bash them on public forums?”
“They won’t even take responsibility for the payment of medical treatments we have already done,” she said. “They just want the animal for free.”
She said if the shelter made as much money as the animal control made in a year, there would not be a problem. But, with the $80,000 a year, she says there is a problem.
“This comes out of our budget. We are over budget in every way shape or form. What are we supposed to do?” she asked.
“How are we going to afford that as more animals come in and more veterinarian bills come? It is impossible,” Anderson said.
“Whoever started this up were idiots. It was not ready to open. Nothing was put into place. I’m still implementing paperwork ... in my free time,” she added.
Anderson said at the bare minimum “the community coming together” could make the situation better.
“Unfortunately, this community is so torn. There are so many organizations doing good things for animals, but bridges have been so burnt people won’t come together. I’ve never seen such a thing in my whole entire life,” she said. “Not even in high school.”
She said she feels there is nothing she personally can do to make it better.
“They’ll come in here and take animals. Where they go, I don’t know and there’s no paper trail, because they won’t sign the papers. So, is that OK to do? I’m stuck,” she said.
“If they have all these resources and contacts, why haven’t they been giving them to us the multiple times they’ve been asked for them? If they have all this information to move animals, why can’t they share it? Why keep stuff from the SPCA when supposedly you’re the one that built this in the first place.”
Anderson said the situation was “all about personal agenda.”
“It is a complete and total disaster,” she said. “I’m embarrassed to be a part of it. I’m so ashamed of this community.”
“When I came here the first time, the first sign I saw was ‘Cleveland — The city with spirit.’ I thought this was what I need,” Anderson said, but ends with no words and a grimaced look.
She gives great credit to commissioners and SPCA board members Charlotte Peak-Jones and Mark Hall as well as board member Jack Burke and a core of loyal volunteers.
Anderson also said the County Commission has been very supportive of her and understands “they have to do and the community has to get what they were promised.”
“Unfortunately, there’s been a ‘no-kill’ equation thrown about which is a very good idea and it’s very ideal except for this situation,” she said. “If they had done it right in the beginning, it could be that. It could be the dream they wanted.”
She said the contract should never have been signed.
“I think it was a fraud,” she said. “It was a fraud to me and to the county. This shelter can never operate under those terms.”
Anderson said she is hoping a solution can be attained.
“Unfortunately, I don’t know if I want to be part of that solution anymore,” she said. “I am physically and mentally worn out.”
She said when she came into the job, “I was not the director. Beth [Foster, former communications director] and Bettie [Gravelle, SPCA president] were the boss. As soon as I did things correctly and did not conform to their ways, I was basically a piece of s--- and have been ever since. There was only been two good weeks here.”
As more dogs and cats are brought in during the interview, Anderson said pictures and documentation are being kept.
“We are not going to take the fall for this,” she said. “It is nothing we have done. We have only tried to make it better.”