The SPCA has been caught in a glaring contradiction over its protocols, which it appears to have violated along with a City by-law when its staff euthanised much-loved Hout Bay family cat, Sonix.
The organisation has also added salt to the family’s wounds by refusing to disclose what action it took against the four employees involved in the “erroneous euthanasia”.
In late October, resident Elise de Beer revealed on Facebook that the Maine Coon had been taken to the SPCA by a neighbour and euthanised less than 48 hours later (“Uproar over SPCA killing cat,” Sentinel News November 4). A public outcry followed, despite the organisation acknowledging it was at fault and compensating the family.
On November 23, the SPCA released a statement announcing the disciplinary process against four staff members involved in Sonix’s euthanasia had been concluded, but it refused to say what action it had taken against them.
“We are satisfied with the sanctions handed down to the suspended employees by an impartial chairperson, and these sanctions have already been enforced,” the statement said.
“We will not be making the details of these sanctions or our staff member’s identities public in the interests of protecting their rights – something which we ask everybody to remain mindful of. We are thankful to all our supporters who have stood beside us during this very difficult time and we assure you that we have done all we can to ensure that this incident is never repeated.”
However, Ms De Beer is not satisfied the SPCA has been transparent enough. She feels doubts and mistrust will be cast on the organisation which she has always known to be trustworthy.
“This is not about Sonix anymore. He is gone. But I have serious questions about the way in which Sonix was euthanised and how four employees could get something so wrong,” she said.
The SPCA has corresponded with Ms De Beer and her lawyer husband through advocate Cecilia Brummer, who is also a director of the Cape of Good Hope SPCA. In an email dated November 25, she told Ms De Beer that Sonix had spent 27 hours at the SPCA.
“An animal deemed to be ‘feral’ is put to sleep within 24 hours after its arrival at the SPCA as per the standing operating practice. Sonix was signed in at the SPCA at 10.17am on the Friday, 28 October 2016…”
However, this contradicts what SPCA spokeswoman Belinda Abraham told the Sentinel shortly after Ms De Beer’s Facebook post about Sonix’s death went viral. She said City by-laws stipulated that a stray animal should be kept for at least 10 days to allow an owner to come forward.
“We refer to this period as the ‘pound period’. When the pound period expires, this does not mean that the animals will be euthanised. Animals exiting their pound period are behaviourally assessed to establish, among other criteria, the animal’s temperament before being put up for adoption,” she said at the time.
And the Cape of Good Hope SPCA website says the same thing:
“When a stray/lost animal is taken to the SPCA, the local by-laws prescribe how long the animal must be kept before it can be put up for adoption. When the pound period expires, it does not mean the animal is euthanised. It means the animals can be legally adopted.”
Section 7 of the City Animal By-law of 2010, which applies to both cats and dogs, says an impounded animal may be sold or destroyed after it had been detained for not fewer than 10 days, and after destruction has been approved by a vet.
In Ms Brummer’s correspondence to the De Beers, she said she had been led to believe the method of intraperitoneal (abdominal jabbing) euthanasia was used when an animal was deemed “feral”, as it would not be possible to find a vein and would cause more distress to the animal to attempt any other form of euthanasia.
However Ms De Beer said four different vets she had spoken to had told her animals took 10 to 20 minutes to die using this method.
“Couldn’t they administer a light tranquiliser so that the animal can be relaxed and they can use the intravenous method instead? I appreciate that the SPCA had to attend to a lot of animals, but surely administering a tranquiliser so it can have less suffering is worth it and therefore not cruel?”
The Sentinel asked local vets their views on the different types of euthanasia used, but given the sensitivity of the case they preferred not to comment. Instead they directed us to the South African Veterinary Association.
They, in turn, referred us to the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC), but it did not respond to our questions by the time this edition went to print.
Ms De Beer said it worried her that four employees had been involved in Sonix’s euthanasia.
“That’s a lot of people making a lot of mistakes. We don’t know what has happened to these employees, because the SPCA refuses to divulge these details. But four people messing up on one case does make you wonder who is working at the SPCA. In fact, do we even know if these four staff were the ones responsible? Someone must have given them instructions and enabled their transgressions?
“They assure us they’ve dealt with the situation to prevent the same from happening again which is a relief, but as disclosure to us is limited, we’re just left with many unanswered questions.”
Ms De Beer hopes the public will be more mindful when taking an offending “stray” animal to the SPCA or other facilities.
“Instead neighbours should communicate more with each other regarding their pets and try resolve their issues before taking such drastic and fatal action, leading to regret and heartache.”
The Sentinel contacted SPCA spokesperson Belinda Abraham for comment on Monday and again on Wednesday. She said she would respond shortly, but no comment had been received at the time this edition went to print on Thursday morning.