The La Baie SPCA in Clare experienced some online turmoil last week after a well-known dog lover in the area was sent a rejection letter. He was applying to become part of the board of directors.
Joey Wagner, owner of Wags Boarding Kennel, received the letter May 22 and immediately posted his frustration with the decision to Facebook, along with a copy of the letter.
By 3 p.m. the following afternoon, he had hundreds of comments from people in his community, and an online petition with almost 400 signatures. Most came from locals, but several from as far away as the U.S., Norway, and the UK.
Wagner is confused by the vague reasons for his rejection. “They say it’s based on personal reasons, which I just don’t understand.”
He applied last month because he wanted to get involved and help the organization run better. “I sent my application in to the SPCA, I filled out all the required paperwork, I paid my $15 fee to become a member, and I submitted my forms. When I read the letter on Tuesday, I couldn’t believe it.”
Wagner started his kennel five years ago, and is well known in the community as ‘the dog guy’. He regularly cares for lost dogs until he can return them to their owners, in addition to running the kennel business. The facility can house a maximum of 24 dogs at a time.
The La Baie branch of the Nova Scotia SPCA was started in 2007. It is entirely run by a group of volunteers, and does not yet have a building. Gail Melanson is the interim president, and she wrote the letter Wagner received.
She would not go elaborate on why Wagner’s offer was declined, but did say the process is clearly outlined on the SPCA website, in terms of the policies and procedures required to become a board member.
“It’s a personal thing with him and he did get a letter explaining exactly what the circumstances are. If he can’t understand that, there’s nothing we can really do.”
She also said the decision was not made by her board.
“This isn’t our decision. We always consult with the Halifax branch of the SPCA, and with Joey, I personally went to the board and asked for guidance. After discussion and deliberation, we were told we had to reject his application.”
In an email, the executive director of the Nova Scotia SPCA, Kristin Williams said, “I am aware of the application and the board’s decision to decline Mr. Wagner’s interest. I concurred with their decision and support the branch fully in this matter. The board deliberated over his candidacy at great length and ultimately isolated some specific concerns regarding fit and eligibility.”
Melanson said she encourages Wagner to re-apply in the future after consulting the policies and procedures. She also said that Wagner is welcome to help out in the meantime.
“Every animal lover in Clare has a place and can help animals. Joey can help too, without necessarily being a board member. He can do other things to help this community.”
However, Wagner said his offer to help is being ignored.
“Right now, Clare doesn’t have a kennel,” said Wagner. “They ship dogs all the way to Yarmouth. I have offered my kennels and I will let any dog stay in my kennel. Big or small, they’re all welcome.”
“All I want to do is help the dogs, you know. They have no say in what happens to them.
Wagner has posted dozens of updates on his Facebook since he received the SPCA letter. Many community members have taken to his side to protest the decision, by creating the petition and writing letters to the municipality of Clare, their MLA, their mayor, and the SPCA.
“The support is overwhelming. It’s snowballed beyond anything we could’ve expected. The community has joined together and is rising up, saying ‘No, this isn’t right.’”
“Jeez, my wife has been crying for the past two days. The support is so meaningful.”
Gail Melanson said the ordeal is unfortunate, since both sides are in it for the same reason.
“We’re all animal lovers. I know Joey is in this for the animals. My focus is on animals, too.”
She said the conflict has also been stressful for board of the La Baie branch who run the SPCA in their spare time. “What I really find discouraging, is how quickly all of these people get involved in the drama, without really understanding the issue. I understand why people believe in his cause, but going all over Facebook isn’t the best way to deal with this.”
La Baie was not the only SPCA in the Maritimes to deal with Facebook issues this week. The Happy Valley-Goose Bay SPCA in Newfoundland sparked controversy on May 22 after its president wrote an alleged racist comment on a Facebook picture of a puppy. The comment was offensive to an Innu community in the area and created a similar Facebook frenzy. Dozens of angry comments appeared on the SPCA Facebook wall, and a new Facebook group was created in protest.