For more than 70 years the SPCA Tampa Bay in Largo has been on the front lines of animal welfare, taking in strays and abused animals, investigating cruelty cases and adopting out countless dogs, cats and other pets.
But these days, controversy is swirling around the shelter, as several former and current volunteers claim the SPCA has lost its way.
The complaints went public last October when then-volunteer Cindy Crane set up a Facebook page and titled it "SPCA Tampa Bay Behind the Kennel Doors."
It became a cyber gathering place for volunteers past and present to post their observations and pour our their hearts.
"I think it's important for the community to understand that what the SPCA used to be is not what the SPCA is now," says Terry Meeks, who left a year ago.
In a gathering of 15 of these volunteers, three hands shoot up when I ask how many were asked to leave the SPCA.
Five-year-volunteer and foster mom Amy Ulrich was released just a couple of weeks ago.
"I was actually asked to no longer volunteer, dismissed, fired as a volunteer on February 9th of this year," Ulrich said.
Ulrich and the others claim that since management changed two-and-a-half years ago, so have conditions at the shelter. They post photos of uncleaned kennels and messages saying dogs aren't being walked daily.
Current volunteer Susan DeWitt says, "I would ask paid staff did those dogs get out today or did they just not change the date and they would say no, they didn't get out today. "
CEO Martha Boden disputes that, saying dogs are walked every day, usually twice.
She also says kennels are cleaned daily. Says Boden, "Will you find poop here? Yes you'll find poop here. It's an animal shelter. But our staff does a deep cleaning once every day and they go around and spot check throughout the day."
Boden acknowledges changes in the volunteer program that may have made some unhappy.
"Those changes have been a lot more structure than some of our volunteers were used to, and we've had a lot of volunteers who've embraced the changes and liked it, but some volunteers chose to leave because it was more structure than they wanted," Boden said.
She also noted they have two full-time behavioral specialists on staff to test dogs and make sure they're safe before being put up for adoption.
Behavior department manager Meagan Montmeny showed us video of two tests: one where the dog eventually passed and was adopted, and another where the dog bit the artificial hand and was euthanized.
Former volunteer Joseph Ciccolini says despite that, too many dogs are being overlooked.
"If a dog looked like it was easily adoptable or a puppy it would get evaluated right away, then other dogs might sit in their kennels for two or three weeks, not because they were sick, but just waiting to be evaluated," Ciccolini said.
Boden says her approach and policies are working, and that the proof is in lower intake and euthanasia numbers. She also says they're actively looking for new volunteers, while the ones who no longer work there say they're not giving up.
A tearful Nancy Widke, who just got a letter stating she was no longer needed after taking care of dogs and cats for 10 years, says "It has broken my heart, the animals need us... ...it's sad."
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