Proposed shelter getting cold shoulder
Freshwater resident circulates petition opposing establishment of SPCA shelter
Spaniard’s Bay volunteer firefighter Brenda Seymour didn’t think she was doing anything wrong last spring when she attempted to secure funding to attend a training course, nor when she discussed her concerns about the department in her role as a town councillor.
According to a study that examined her subsequent suspension and dismissal from the brigade, the discipline was unjust, leading to Seymour’s reinstatement to the department by council on Jan. 10.
“I’m very pleased,” Seymour told The Compass last week. Seymour was elected to council in October 2009, seven months after she had joined the fire department.
“I didn’t have a doubt in my mind when the whole truth came out that I would be reinstated there.”
But it was a protracted battle — eight months, in fact, with the town council initially reluctant to become involved with the matter.
No gender bias
The study was prepared by Gerald Hiscock, a former chief of the Spaniard’s Bay Volunteer Fire Department. Hiscock also served three terms on council, including two as deputy mayor.
Seymour is the lone female with the department, and the study stated explicitly there was no indication of gender bias in the suspension and dismissal.
Seymour initially requested that council intervene at a May 31, 2010 meeting, but was told the town would not interfere with fire department policy. Council ordered the study three months later, after Seymour had contacted officials with Fire and Emergency Services, an agency of the provincial Department of Government Services, and other agencies of the government. The study said the province’s fire commissioner had concerns about the situation, resulting in the Department of Municipal Affairs getting
Overstepped her bounds
Seymour’s suspension came about after she made a request March 4, 2010 to obtain funding to attend fire school in Gander that spring. According to the study, Fire Chief Victor Hiscock said the department would have to wait and see how its financial situation was.
At the March 4 department meeting, Seymour mentioned a workshop on fire and emergency services would soon be held in Spaniard’s Bay, and the town clerk would be faxing letters to neighbouring towns about it.
Later in the month, she approached the chief about drafting a letter to send to other departments about the workshop, which he had not done. When the chief visited the town clerk on April 1, he was told that Seymour had already taken care of the letter.
Seymour apologized at an April 8 department meeting for overstepping her bounds. She was informed by the chief that this was not proper behaviour. At the same meeting, Seymour and three other firefighters were accepted as full members after completing their probationary periods.
A motion was also passed at the meeting stating that “nobody approach council” from the department, except for executive members and the chief. Seymour was the only member to vote against the motion.
In the study, Gerald Hiscock characterizes the move as a “gag order” on department personnel. Seymour subsequently secured 50/50 funding for training from the Department of Municipal Affairs, with Seymour covering half of the expenses out of her own pocket. After approaching the chief in late April to get his approval on the application, the study said the chief became angry.
“I guess to him, it seemed like I went over his head,” Seymour said.
A Freshwater resident who opposes the establishment of an animal shelter in the community to be run by the SPCA has circulated a petition against the move.
“My main concern is that Freshwater will turn into a dumping ground for stray animals,” Dwayne Parsons, who spearheaded the petition, told The Compass March 21.
Sitting at home with his black Labrador Retriever-German Sheppard cross at his side, Parsons said people in the community aren’t against the SPCA, but, like himself, they are afraid their community will become a dumping ground for stray animals.
He said the people he’s spoken to, who have signed the petition, believe “people from outside the community, who don’t want their strays will bring them to Freshwater with the thought in mind that the SPCA will look after them.”
He said residents fear the stray animals will end up in their back yards.
“ We already have a cat problem here which the SPCA is not going to cure,” Parsons suggested.
He said he knows one resident who has 13 stray cats, another 15 and another figures he’s feeding about 40 feral cats.
Estimating there are about 70 occupied households in Freshwater, Parsons said approximately 50 of them have signed his petition.
At a department executive meeting on April 25, a motion was made to suspend Seymour. She received the notice of her 30-day suspension the next day.
In the study, Gerald Hiscock writes the April 8 motion “could be considered punitive in nature as it appears Ms. Seymour was the impetus for this motion being made and carried.” He also questions how the councillor could logically adhere to new policy.
“ Were Ms. Seymour to adhere to this motion she would be compromising her position as a councillor with the Town of Spaniard’s Bay,” Hiscock wrote. “It would be, in essence, defying her Oath of Office as an elected official.”
Suggesting everyone who wanted to sign the petition has done so, Parsons’ next move was to present it to the Local Service District of Freshwater and “I hope they’ll call a community meeting.”
Parsons feels an animal shelter is better suited to somewhere else.
While “a physical shelter up and running in one year (April 2012)” is the first goal of the newly formed Baccalieu Trail SPCA, no site for the proposed facility has yet been identified.
Laura-Lee Hiscock has offered the use of her building in Freshwater, where she operates Happy Tails, a boarding and grooming facility.
When The Compass dropped into Happy Tails after speaking with Parsons to get Hiscock’s reaction, she said she hadn’t heard anything about it and was “shocked” to learn about such a petition.
She got on the phone immediately and started visiting residents of Freshwater and handing out pamphlets on the SPCA in an effort to disseminate information about the group to counter any misunderstandings or negative feelings the petition may have caused towards the organization.
Hiscock believes the petition was based on a misunderstanding of the SPCA and misinformation about the proposed animal shelter.
She said some of the people who signed the petition were led to believe the SPCA “ wanted to set up a no kill shelter where they would hoard stray animals.” Nothing could be further from the truth, she said. She said one of the ways the SPCA can help people who report stray cats around their property is to trap the cats and take them away to be euthanized because that’s about all that can be done with wild cats.
Last Tuesday night she showed up at a meeting of the Freshwater Local Service District and spoke to the group for about two hours on the SPCA and its role.
“ This organization will NOT be a no-kill shelter,” stated a pamphlet she handed to members of the Local Service District and residents.
She said the SPCA wants to educate the public on proper animal care and encourage spaying and neutering.
“ We hope to relieve the suffering of animals, rescuing those who need help and lend a helping hand to citizens ... in regards to animal control.”
Acknowledging Freshwater has a problem with stray cats, Hiscock said one of their goals is “to help the local feral cat population by medical attention, adoption or euthanasia.”
From speaking with Parsons, Hiscock said she believes “ he misunderstood our purpose.” She said she hopes Parsons and the other Freshwater residents she has spoken to now have a better understanding of what the SPCA is all about.
Meanwhile, contacted last Thursday, Parsons said his petition still stands. He declined any further comment pending a public meeting on the issue.