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The former Argenteuil SPCA facility in St-Philippe. Photo: James Morgan

Argenteuil SPCA closes facility amid tension between organization and Brownsburg-Chatham

The Argenteuil Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has closed its facility on Route 148 in St-Philippe. According to SPCA President Hugo Blanchette, the organization still exists.

“We’re still there,” he said.

The former facility which the SPCA rented, was located in a vacant restaurant on Route 148. The building is now for sale.

The SPCA was founded in 2019. On June 22, 2021, it posted a statement on Facebook explaining the closure was happening because of financial losses due to the town of Brownsburg-Chatham terminating its animal control agreement with the SPCA, which had been approved on February 2, 2021. The town was to pay the SPCA $52,000 in 2021 and again in 2022 for dog-related animal control services.

The SPCA statement alleged that Brownsburg-Chatham Councillor Stephen Rowland, who had served as a member of the SPCA board and its Secretary-Treasurer, had withheld documents regarding SPCA finances and funds paid to the SPCA when a dog was adopted. The SPCA statement said it had launched a complaint with the Commission municipale du Québec (CMQ), the province’s municipal oversight agency, against Rowland.

The statement was subsequently removed because the allegations made within it were potentially libelous.

Town council, with Mr. Rowland having withdrawn from the vote, voted unanimously to end the animal control contract on June 15 and revert to its previous dog catcher. According to the municipal news release, the town had received several complaints about the quality of service from a representative of the SPCA, the town had identified examples of the SPCA not upholding the contract, and the SPCA did not follow advice it had received from the town.

Blanchette said the town never informed the SPCA of its complaints.

“They never asked to corroborate with our registry because we record all of our interventions.”

Blanchette said he only ever attended one intervention for the SPCA, which involved dogs, and he immediately notified the town about the situation.

The town of Brownsburg-Chatham issued a news release on June 23 stating there was misinformation circulating on social media about municipality’s relationship with the SPCA.  The news release from the town also told the SPCA to stop spreading false allegations about the nature of the town’s relationship with the organization.

During an interview with The Review on June 25, Rowland pointed out that there is no provincial oversight of SPCA’s across Québec, adding that anyone can register a business called an SPCA.

Rowland outlined his brief history with the SPCA. Rowland said when his wife Cheryl Goodman became an SPCA Argenteuil board member in late 2020, the organization had no administrative direction.

“No business plan, no accounting, no procedures, no general regulations.”

Rowland said there is no general membership and the only official members of the SPCA are its board members. There has been a large turnover (about 10) in the membership of the board in less than a year.

Blanchette and Goodman asked Rowland, who has an MBA and many years of business experience, to help organize the management of the SPCA.

Rowland created a five-year business plan and developed accounting and budgeting procedures for the organization. Rowland created all the forms and procedures for the animal control and adoption files. Rowland and Goodman initiated the Friends of the SPCA Argenteuil five-star program to allow supporters to have memberships. The Argenteuil SPCA has not yet become a federally approved charitable organization.

When Brownsburg-Chatham council approved the animal control contract on February 2, Rowland did not participate in the vote because he was planning to provide personal loans to the SPCA. On February 2, Rowland was appointed by the town to be its voting representative on the board of the SPCA.

In January and February, Rowland had developed a meeting agenda containing 19 resolutions establishing administrative policies and procedures, and all of them were adopted unanimously by the board on February 4.  At the same board meeting, Rowland was appointed secretary-treasurer of the SPCA.

Rowland said the progress was short-lived.

“Within two weeks, it started going downhill.”

Blanchette allegedly decided that only one vote per household was allowed at board meetings, and disallowed Goodman from voting. She resigned from the board. Rowland proposed enlarging the four-person board to seven or nine members, but Blanchette objected.

Rowland decided to not loan additional money to the SPCA and asked the town to replace him as its board representative. Councillor Antoine Laurin became the new representative until the animal control agreement was terminated. By the time Rowland and Goodman left the SPCA, they had donated hundreds of hours of their time and $1,500. They had also loaned more than $2,900 which Rowland never expects to see.

According to Blanchette, the board continues to exist, but with three members, following the absence of the municipal representatives.

On March 8, Rowland attempted to return his SPCA documents to Blanchette at the building in St-Philippe. Goodman and Laurin accompanied him, but Blanchette would not let them inside.

“They refuse to take the documents,” said Rowland.

“They refuse to have the financial statements audited,” he added.

Rowland is surprised that Blanchette told another newspaper than only $1,500 had been received in donations. Rowland stated that, as of the beginning of March, more than $12,000 in cash donations had been received in addition to food, cages, and other merchandise. Rowland wonders why the SPCA does not publish an accounting of its financial activities.

According to Rowland, on April 12, Blanchette contacted the CMQ and complained that Rowland kept money and withheld documents. On June 11, Rowland met with three CMQ investigators and the complaint against him was dropped.

Rowland said the recent months involving the SPCA were emotionally difficult for him and Goodman. He would like to see what he described as “a real SPCA” serve Argenteuil and hopes the SPCA in St-Agathe-des-Monts or St-Calixte could consider opening a branch in Argenteuil.

However, Blanchette seems determined to keep SPCA Argenteuil open.

“We closed the building in Brownsburg-Chatham. It does not mean the end of the SPCA.”

He said the SPCA would like a new space it could rent for a maximum of $500 per month and said it could even relocate to Ontario if necessary.

James Morgan

James Morgan is a freelance contributor. He has worked for several print and broadcast media outlets. James loves the history, natural beauty, and people of eastern Ontario and western Quebec.

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