Chairman says search is on for new executive staff and animal inspector

By Jonathan Bell

The SPCA, the animal charity, is reportedly suffering from staff shortages after walkouts over what former workers describe as a lack of rapport with management.

Ex-workers, who spoke to The Royal Gazette on condition of anonymity, claimed SPCA were functioning without an animal inspector.

However, shelter chairman Andrew Madeiros said that while management of the organisation had been “somewhat piecemeal”, there were no voids in its service, and the SPCA was currently seeking to recruit a new inspector, along with fresh executive staff.

One worker, who left the SPCA after many years with the organisation, said both the facility’s animal caretakers resigned without notice in June, along with the group’s acting inspector.

The development and volunteer coordinator also handed in her notice last month, bringing the total of recent resignations to eight.

“I think it was a culmination of things — it’s management in particular that’s been very challenging,” said one of those who has stepped down.

“You have to trust that you’ve got trained staff who are doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. It’s a small staff with only two caretakers overseeing a lot of animals. Part of the problem is there was an enormous amount of change at the SPCA, a lot of it just coming verbally — you could be out for two days and then come back and find all sorts of things changed.

“The atmosphere there became very segregated — it wasn’t inclusive, meaning it wasn’t a team. We originally had staff meetings scheduled and it seemed like those dropped off.”

With the resignation of the last inspector, the former worker said the SPCA had become limited in its ability to check up on problems.

“Let’s say you call up the SPCA because a neighbour’s dog is barking incessantly and you’ve begun to worry that something’s not right. Someone at the SPCA would then make a note of it and the inspector would make contact and have a discussion with the owner. They don’t go around pointing fingers, just highlight things that could be issues. But the SPCA has gone through several inspectors and right now they don’t have any.

“The quick departure of the animal caretakers has also thrown a spanner in the works for them. I believe they’ve brought in a summer student to cover some of that.”

Another former long-time employee praised the SPCA for initiatives such as its spaying, neutering and microchipping programme, but said the charity’s core problem lay with its management culture.

In the wake of the resignation of executive director Kim Sherlaw, SPCA president Allison Williams has run the organisation as a de facto director, but the head position remains vacant.

“The executive committee and management need to re-examine themselves, reassess, and follow the mission statement of what the SPCA is all about — the prevention of cruelty to animals and the protection of animal welfare. What’s happened is a lack of communication and teamwork, which has caused staff shortages and resulted in a lot of volunteers coming and then going.”

A third former staff member told The Royal Gazette they’d left after years of feeling overworked and unappreciated.

“My issue was that the management team showed no regard for the animal care staff. We were barely shown any recognition — and if we were given it, it felt fake.

“It started out as a really pleasant job. The animal purpose of it is beautiful. But my experience with management was horrible.”

Dr Madeiros acknowledged that the SPCA currently has no executive director.

“That position has been empty for a couple of years now,” he said.

“It became vacant pretty much at the beginning of the economic downturn — the SPCA has financial concerns like everybody else. We didn’t fill the position right off the bat. We’re trying to re-evaluate the position. We’re looking at it now, since the committee struggles to do that role; we’re all volunteers. I think we will have somebody imminently — not an executive director, but someone who can handle a number of roles that are currently being done in a piecemeal manner. I know that can be frustrating for people but our current staff are filling voids where voids occur.”

Currently, he said, the SPCA is seeking a new staff member to handle its fundraising, volunteering, marketing and communications.

Dr Madeiros said he wasn’t aware of “a mass exodus of volunteers”, adding: “Turnover is the nature of volunteering. We’ve had some absolutely great volunteers, and we’ve got some great ones now.”

The chairman said the organisation has also sought a full-time animal inspector for the past six months, but hasn’t found a fully qualified local candidate — and is currently seeking an officer from the UK who could potentially assist with finding a local replacement.

“Animal cruelty remains our mandate. We’re open for business and our hours are the same — at the moment, when we get calls, we can still do property checks. We’re also able to refer cases to the Government animal wardens. We don’t get a tremendous number of cruelty calls — the vast majority we get are about stray dogs, barking dogs, people saying their neighbours have pit bulls and they’re not sure it’s legal. A lot of that we can deal with over the phone.”

The SPCA will meet with a potential candidate in the UK within a matter of weeks, he added.

“Obviously, in North America, animal control is very different from Bermuda, and going to the US or Canada to find somebody is difficult. In Bermuda our laws are based on the British system, and it makes more sense for us to get somebody from the UK, someone fully trained and ideally somebody who’s worked elsewhere as well. The only place to find somebody like that is the RSPCA.

“It’s not that we aren’t looking. We recognise there are some gaps there and currently we’re actively working to fill both the executive role and the inspector role.”

By The Royal Gazette