Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Troubles at the Montreal SPCA

Collecting stray dogs is good business in Montreal and lots of people want a slice of the municipally funded pie. With all the knives going in trying to cut themselves a piece, it's no wonder the result's a globby mess. And of course, it's the dogs that end up suffering - or maybe not suffering, maybe just dead. But even that's okay because sometimes a dead dog is worth more than a live one to the pounds of Montreal. So, needless to say, there are a lot of dead dogs.

Let's see if we can get past the body count and figure out how this can be. We'll start with the Montreal SPCA.

The Montreal SPCA is $4 million in debt and no one is quite sure why. They've got the forensic accountants working on it but nothing is clear yet except that the spending habits of their last director, Pierre Barnoti, probably didn't help. That spending would include his travel expenses to New York, Boston, Dallas, Europe and South America to the tune of $128,000. That spending would include a minimum of $120,000 in annual salary - the amount declared on his tax form though the actual amount is unknown. That spending would include annual $25,000 bonuses for the years 2004 - 2006 for "amazing success" on the job.

Now what's the definition of "amazing success"? I suppose that would include the above mentioned $4 million in debt, no money for staff training or computers, the laying off of staff members to cut costs, euthanizing dogs to sell to the vet school at the University of Montreal, consideration of industrial espionage on competitor Berger Blanc (Berger Blanc and the SPCA compete for lucrative city dog control contracts), extremely poor record keeping (in part due to lack of computers), a culture of fear amongst staff and volunteers and, worst of all, disturbingly high animal kill rates: 6000 in 2007.

Then there's also the issue of their fundraising campaigns or perhaps it would be more correct to say Pierre Barnoti's fundraising campaigns. Type in SPCA.com and you end up on a website called SPCA International. Now, originally, SPCA.com was owned by Montreal SPCA but through some slight of hand, the domain name was given over to Barnoti for safe keeping. He rolled that over into something called SPCA International which has become a massive fund raising machine. No one at SPCA International is willing to say exactly how much money they're generating but in a tax statement to the US government, Barnoti said he plans to raise more than a million dollars per annum with the site.

Now that's smooth. Barnoti has taken a site dedicated to the Montreal SPCA and turned it into a site that generates a million bucks a year but for what and for whom exactly given that SPCA International is his own pet project and is in no way affiliated with Montreal SPCA? Apparently, at least some of that money is making it to shelters. 33 "Shelter[s] of the Week" are listed on the site and each shelter is given $1000 each by SPCA Internaltional. That's a whopping $33000. Out of a million. At least a million. Because now with their highly publicized Baghad Pups promotion, where they help fly back puppies from Iraq, I'm sure the money is just pouring in. Just check out the Baghdad pups site with its multitude of Donate Now buttons urging you to do just that (compare that with 2 on the ASPCA site). According to the site's own accounting, they've brought back over 35 dogs at a maximum cost of $1200/dog. Let's give them 40 dogs then at $1200 each. That would be $48,000. So far, that's a grand total of $81,000 out of at least a million. Where does the rest of the money go? No one knows. And no one's telling.

Pierre Barnoti is no longer the director of the Montreal SPCA. Before the last general meeting could be held in April earlier this year, it was becoming obvious that people were fed up with the upper management and Barnoti decided to go on indefinite sick leave. He left behind an animal shelter in shambles and on the verge of bankruptcy but for himself he had already created a comfortable new work environ with SPCA International.

Let's hope that the new incarnation of Montreal SPCA pulls through and manages to regain the public trust. Their two recent puppy mill busts is a step in the right direction.

For a more detailed look at the troubles experienced by the Montreal SPCA and Pierre Barnoti, check out the CTV series of articles starting with "SPCA Part 1", as well as the New York Times piece, "From Porn to Puppies" .

Continued here.

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