Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter know a few weeks ago I took my adorable kitten, Chubbers, to get neutered at the SPCA of Westchester. I have taken other animals there before and they did a great job. In fact, I thought they were so great that I signed up to make a monthly donation, a bit of a stretch for a budding entrepreneur like me.

So on March 13th, I took Chubbers in for his surgery and all went well until I went to pick him up. The technician latched his cage, but apparently not well enough because as I was walking him out to the parking lot, he hit the cage door, which popped open and he scampered away. He moved pretty quick too, given he’d just had pretty extensive surgery.

Soon the parking lot, which had been empty until that point, was filled with technicians, rushing out of The Simpson Clinic in an effort to capture Chubbers. We were not successful. The technicians assured me they would do their best, contacting local businesses and telling me that sometimes the animals make their way back. I went back to the car, empty cage in hand and told Cole what happened. We both cried right there in the parking lot, our hearts were so heavy.

Weeks passed. I called the SPCA of Westchester, only to get a voicemail message. I went back several times on my own to comb the area, hoping against hope my little orange tabby would hear the sound of my voice and come back from wherever it was he was hiding. He never did.

About a month later, I was combing through my American Express Card statement and saw the charge for the neutering, 185.00, was still there. Since I didn’t have my cat (due to their apparent negligence, for which the technician profusely apologized) and I never heard another thing from them, I thought they might refund the charge. They did not.

Since I had no luck reaching anyone on the phone and I work all day, I decided to send an email.

I had my cat neutered at your clinic on March 13. When I went to pick him up, the technician had not completely latched the door of the crate and while taking him to the car, he pushed on it, got out and ran away.
We searched the surrounding area for him, to no avail at which point the technician told me she would keep my number and call if he showed up. She never called. I phoned the office several times only to get an answering machine.
Now, going through my American Express card statement, I see I was billed 185.00 for the neutering.
I make a monthly donation to your operation there so I understand the mission and how important it is but I would respectfully ask that you refund me the 185-dollar fee, since, due to negligence on the tech’s part, I no longer have my cat.
I would like to talk with someone there about this so please call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx
I look forward to hearing from you.

The Executive Director, Shannon Laukhuf, finally called and what she said to me was truly shocking. She showed absolutely no sympathy as she proceeded to blame me for Chubbers’ great escape. She told me that the technicians who watched me walk to my car from their clandestine outposts, saw someone hovering over the cage as I was walking to the car. Problem is, there was no one in the parking lot with me; the only person with me was Cole, who was waiting in the car with the dog. When I told her that, she back-pedaled, then blaming my faulty cage, the one that was fine when I took the cat in to the clinic. The conversation deteriorated from there; I was so upset that an organization that I had given so much money to and believed so profoundly in, was placing blame for their error on a heartbroken pet owner.

I took Ms. Laukhuf’s name and told her I would be taking this up with their national board and this, ladies and gentlemen, is the point of this post.

The SPCA of Westchester is not affiliated with the ASPCA; it is its own organization with no national oversight. There IS no one else to complain to. They have a board of directors but ultimately, there is no oversight.

When I did a little more digging, I found Charity Navigator, an organization designed to help people decide the best use of their donor dollars, gave them just 2 out of 4 stars overall (you can read the entire report here). They garnered only one star when it came to transparency with several key parts of the organization, such as the conflict of interest policy, Whistleblower policy and the process by which they determine the CEO’s salary, being unreported.

Now here I sit, no cat, heartbroken kids and out 185 bucks. There is no one I can report to and Ms. Laukhuf was less concerned with making this right as she was making me understand it was all my fault.

So what did I learn? Never again will I let warm, fuzzy feelings and slickly-produced commercials sway my decision about to whom I give money. As for The SPCA of Westchester, though I am a huge animal lover, I will never again give them another dime. Instead I will find an organization with better oversight, customer service and a heart for its furry friends AND their owners.

What about you, have you ever had anything like this happen to you? What did you do? And do you have any suggestions for me and my kids, all desperately missing Chubbers?

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