The Northwest Territories Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) denies that an act of racism took place against Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos when she visited the shelter on Feb. 1.
The SPCA issued a news release on March 5 following a story by NNSL Media where Marstelos alleged that management treated her in a discriminatory fashion in a statement during a sitting of the legislative assembly.
“I strongly feel I experienced systemic racism,” Martselos said of her trip to the animal shelter in hopes of adopting a puppy.
But in a three-page statement, the SPCA states that Martselos shouldn’t have been there in the first place because it was outside of public hours and that SPCA staff shouldn’t have given her a tour of the grounds.
The SPCA acknowledged that the MLA was treated poorly and apologized for the manager falling short of customer service standards, but added “we do not believe that racism was a factor in the incident, nor do we believe that is it an issue within our organization.”
The SPCA admitted that the staff member was “likely curt, and possibly irritated” in telling Martselos that the puppy she wanted was no longer available for adoption. However, the “understandably irritated” manager was upset because of a breach of internal protocol where she found “all staff on duty gathered, attending to an unscheduled visitor, holding an unvaccinated puppy with a view to adoption.”
In effect, it had nothing to do with Martselos being a Dene woman “or any other reason having to do with ‘her’ personally.”
“There were no public hours on the day that Ms. Martselos attended at the shelter, and she
attended without an appointment,” the release states. “She should not have been invited in by the staff members on duty that day; she should have been encouraged to come back during public hours, or make an appointment with our foster and adoption specialist.
“We regret that this policy was not followed by our staff.”
SPCA staff members acting outside responsibilities
The release states that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to safety protocols being necessarily expanded, and the demand on both staff and volunteers has increased.
“The stress level among staff, volunteers and board members is high,” states the release.
The release from the NWT SPCA states that staff members who facilitated Martselos’ visit were “acting outside the scope of their employment” and “not following requisite NWT SPCA protocols and procedures.
“Puppies fresh into our shelter require vetting and vaccinations before being exposed to animals in the shelter or to members of the public,” states the release. “Shelter staff are aware of the need to minimize the risk of potential spread of parvo or other deadly diseases. Shelter staff are also not responsible for providing shelter tours, introducing the public to potential adoptable animals, or being involved in the fostering/adoption program at all.”
The SPCA board took full responsibility of the situation and stated that staff involved will be addressed internally.
‘Extreme stress’ at facility
“The NWT SPCA has for some time been campaigning the GNWT to provide significant,
reliable, annual funding to allow us to focus on improving our services to the residents of the NWT, and the animals we care for,” states the release.
“Such funding could allow us to hire a full-time shelter manager or executive director to take over the full-time role currently being undertaken by our overworked and unpaid volunteers.”
Martselos was thanked in the release for “shining a light on the extreme stress” faced by volunteers and she was invited to attend a future board meeting to discuss her experiences or concerns and learn about the operations of the facility.
Martselos was not immediately available for comment.