Pro­posed shel­ter get­ting cold shoul­der

Fresh­wa­ter res­i­dent cir­cu­lates pe­ti­tion op­pos­ing es­tab­lish­ment of SPCA shel­ter

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANDREW ROBIN­SON BY BILL BOW­MAN

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

in­volved.

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.

30-day sus­pen­sion

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.

SPCA re­ac­tion

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.

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