A veteran volunteer at Charlottesville’s premier animal shelter has been terminated after he raised safety concerns amid an ongoing investigation into the organization’s treatment of animals and humans.
Louise Finger is a dog walker who has volunteered at the Charlottesville Albemarle Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals since 1998. She was laid off Tuesday without cause.
According to emails obtained by The Daily Progress between Finger and volunteer manager Krystyn Dotson, Finger had expressed concern over requests to train new volunteers and a deadline for walking shelter dogs, which Finger called a “recipe for disaster”.
A group of current and former volunteers and employees calling itself CASPCA Concerns shared the video of Finger’s firing online Tuesday.
“We really respect and appreciate what you have done, but it has been determined that you are not allowed to volunteer with us anymore,” said a woman identified as Dotson in the video.
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When Finger, who was recording the conversation, asked why, Dotson simply said, “The decision’s made, it’s settled and there’s nothing more to discuss.”
Finger told The Daily Progress on Thursday that the news seemed to have come out of nowhere.
Finger said he had stopped volunteering at the SPCA in February 2019 because he was unhappy with management’s treatment of staff and volunteers. He said he reapplied in October 2022 after another dog walker at the shelter encouraged him to come back. He was reinstated as a volunteer and classified as an “experienced dog walker”.
“On Saturday, I got several emails from the volunteer coordinator asking me and other volunteer dog walkers… if we would be willing to work with a new dog walker,” says Finger.
Finger said he told Dotson he would be uncomfortable taking the time to train new volunteers when the shelter was short on dog walkers and needed them for that. He does not have an estimate for the number of dog walkers at the SPCA, as volunteer availability fluctuates.
The email from Dotson also asks volunteers not to use their cell phones while walking the dog and to make sure the dog is out for a walk by 6 p.m.
Finger responded to Dotson’s email with concern about the new deadline. Needing to hunt down a highly reactive dog, which sometimes attacks other dogs, can be dangerous, Finger said in an email.
Finger added that there were too many dogs for the number of walkers, between 55 and 60 when the shelter was full, by his estimation. There isn’t enough time in the shift to give each dog a 15-minute walk, even if everything is going well, Finger said in his email.
Finger said Dotson never responded to his concerns.
The CASPCA Concern Group, which has been warning about alleged abuse of workers and animals in shelters since earlier this year, said in an email that Finger was only guilty of raising a safety issue with respect.
“The management of the shelter is behaving exactly as the original and subsequent letter predicted by targeting and retaliating against those who try to cooperate for what is best (or even sufficient) for the animals,” the group said in a post Thursday on Reddit.
The board of directors at the local SPCA has not responded to requests for comment since announcing it had hired international law firm McGuireWoods to investigate the group’s allegations.
Asked about Finger’s dismissal, SPCA spokeswoman Emily Swecker told The Daily Progress via email on Thursday that “it is the SPCA’s policy not to discuss volunteer matters.”
CASPCA Concerns now has a letter with more than 100 signatures requesting that SPCA CEO Angie Gunter be removed. The group has said previously that Gunter’s treatment of animals is “deeply concerning” and that he creates a “hostile work environment” for those who work under him.
Those concerns have been echoed at two protests held outside the SPCA’s main operation on Berkmar Drive. The latter drew more than 40 demonstrators calling for Gunter’s resignation or dismissal.
Protesters and signatories to the CASPCA Letter of Concern have described animal shelters as overcrowded and understaffed, with animals often kept in unsafe living conditions and volunteers and employees working too hard to keep adoption rates high and contributions flowing.
The SPCA board has defended Gunter and said it supports him throughout the ongoing investigation.
Meanwhile, Concern group CASPCA and its allies have asked the city of Charlottesville and surrounding Albemarle County, which donates funds to the SPCA, to launch their own investigation into animal shelters.
There’s no word yet on whether any of the regions are planning to carry out such an investigation.