Editorial: Finding a common ground at the SPCA
Aug 03, 2014 | 776 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Activists with a deep passion for shared causes are a blessing; their common belief in change is how things get done in any community.

Unfortunately, these same personal convictions — no matter how well-intended — can harbor a dark side; and when this occurs little gets done.

Such a scenario is playing out locally in the animal shelter operated by SPCA of Bradley County under contract with Bradley County government.

Two groups are seeking the same goal; that is, the protection of Bradley County’s most defenseless population — our domestic animals, hundreds and thousands of whom are unwanted and that have no voice in their futures.

The difference in these groups is their approach. And it is this difference that is tearing them apart.

On one side is Betti Gravelle, president of the SPCA board of directors who designed an operational model for the shelter that includes a close working partnership with the nonprofit Cleveland For a No Kill City. The whole premise behind No Kill is that volunteers work to find homes or to “network” animals with existing rescue groups in order to avoid their euthanasia.

SPCA opened the shelter, as a No Kill facility, after being awarded an $80,000 contract by the Bradley County Commission with plans to supplement the amount by securing grants and raising an esimated $20,000 per month in donations.

On the other side is Bobbi Anderson, the shelter’s newly hired director who was brought on board by Gravelle and the SPCA board following the unexpected resignation of its original director, Jack Cooper. Like Gravelle and the volunteers of No Kill, Anderson is working with urgency to maintain the shelter and to provide humanitarian care for the hundreds of unwanted, or stray, animals being delivered each month.

Feeling overwhelmed with the sheer numbers (last week it was reported the shelter was far-exceeding its capacity of about 65 by housing some 125 animals with another 100 on a waiting list), Anderson publicly voiced her frustrations in a stunningly, and to some degree embarrassingly, candid interview that was published in the July 27 edition of this newspaper.

In the front-page article, Anderson urged SPCA to renegotiate the two-year county contract due to what she feels is inadequate funding and limited staffing; plus, she charged that No Kill volunteers are ignoring required paperwork for removing adopted or networked animals from the shelter. And, she accused Gravelle and former communications coordinator Beth Foster of undermining her authority as shelter director and failing to follow through on fundraising commitments made as part of the SPCA contract proposal.

Anderson’s comments to the Banner came one day after — while acting on her own authority — she closed the shelter doors to additional animals due to overcrowded conditions that she believed could lead to disease. Anderson admitted her decision violated the SPCA-county contract, but she felt she had little choice.

The volatile issue escalated last Monday night in an emergency session of the SPCA board. There, Gravelle countered Anderson’s claims by charging her shelter model will work if given a fair chance by the shelter director. In defending her position, Gravelle pointed to four key components of her plan that she believes are pivotal to the shelter’s success.

They include having staff members take photographs of sheltered animals from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday for electronic use in No Kill adoption efforts; documentation of animals being brought in and out of the shelter; collection of points of contact for information on the animals; and providing an avenue for potential adopters who cannot come by during shelter hours to fill out paperwork.

At the same meeting, Anderson reiterated her concerns, as reported in the prior Banner article: one, what she believes is the shelter’s sorely underfunded budget; and two, she wants a maximum cap placed on the number of animals the shelter will house at any given time.

Raw emotions grew even more intense when Gravelle charged, under Anderson’s leadership, that the shelter is heading down the road of becoming a kill facility. If this happens, Gravelle added, she and an army of No Kill volunteers, will walk away from the facility.

At this point, Gravelle made a motion to dismiss Anderson as shelter director, in part because of her unauthorized actions in closing the shelter doors. The motion received a second, but failed on a 3-2 vote.

Later, county commissioners Charlotte Peak-Jones and Mark Hall, who serve as SPCA board members, engineered a compromise by which — for the next 30 days — Anderson will remain shelter director; and Gravelle will work closely with No Kill volunteers to assure all shelter guidelines are followed, that they complete all required paperwork and that her operational model is put into motion.

The board agreed to meet again on Aug. 18.

Now that the stench of this dirty laundry has been aired publicly for all to smell, hear and see, we would ask that the SPCA board, staff and volunteers give the shelter every chance to succeed over the next few weeks.

In spite of the bitter words and hurt feelings that have emerged from this tempest, it remains our belief that common ground does exist.

One, it is obvious that Betti Gravelle and Bobby Anderson both want what’s best for the unloved domestic animals of Bradley County.

Two, good organizations with caring people are in place to perform endearing deeds; we count among them Cleveland For a No Kill City, SPCA of Bradley County, the SPCA shelter and many other groups who we encourage to rise in support of this shared vision.

Three, resources are limited — and everybody knows it — so dollars are being stretched and volunteers are surrendering an uncanny amount of time, energy and love to give a voice to those that cannot speak for themselves.

Four, too many domestic animals in Bradley County are being abused or neglected; their only hope is the compassion that dwells in the hearts of all who take time to care ... such as those working on behalf of the SPCA shelter.

And five, if the Betti Gravelles and Bobbi Andersons of this world don’t step up, then who will? Who will answer the thousands of mournful cries in the dark?

No system is perfect. No two people will always agree. No organizations are just alike. No ideals are quite the same.

Bridges will span any gap, but hands must first join in order to build them.