Cattaraugus County SPCA: A “Slow-Kill” Shelter?

No-kill does not mean poor care and warehousing animals without the intentional killing. It means modernizing shelter operations so that animals are well cared for and kept moving efficiently and effectively through the shelter and into homes.” — Nathan Winograd, originator of the no-kill movement.

Lauren Melella, Global Animal

The Cattaraugus County SPCA No-Kill Animal Shelter. Photo Credit:
The Cattaraugus County SPCA No-Kill Animal Shelter. Photo Credit:

Contrary to its claim to be a no-kill shelter, the Cattaraugus County SPCA in Olean, New York, is considered to be a perversion of no-kill by a number of former volunteers, board members, and concerned citizens. In fact, many are claiming the shelter is one of the more dangerous places for an animal to reside. 

Kelly Chaffee, former CCSPCA President and Board Member, has been quick to say that “the facility has been no-kill since 1985.”

But many maintain that just because the animals are not euthanized at the shelter, does not mean that they are not emotionally and physically suffering. There is substantial proof regarding the neglect that these innocent animals suffer every single day. Animals at this facility are said to be confined in kennels for years, without socialization, veterinary care, or opportunities for placement into loving homes. 

One Citizens for Cattaraugus County SPCA Reform member says, “Animals just lay there and die. There is no routine for vet care.”

Photo Credit: Facebook
Photo Credit: Facebook

Countless of outraged members of the community point to Kelly Chaffee’s 28-year reign as President of the CCSPCA as the main driving force behind the shelter’s abuse and neglect. With a range of allegations including a DUI in an SPCA van, illegal loans, and a record of suspected neglect of thousands of helpless animals, those looking to reform the shelter can’t help but assume the only interest behind this shelter is that of monetary gain.

Records indicate that in 2011, the SPCA took in over $420,000. Yet a number of individuals are wondering where this money is going, as many bills are said to remain unpaid and have accumulated over the years.

In addition, the facility’s roof has reportedly been leaking for several years and a number of employees have complained regarding the constant lack of hot water and heat, especially during the cold winters. But according to the CCSPCA’s website, the shelter has finally decided to repair their roof as of April 15. 

Former Animal Control Officer for the City of Olean and Cruelty Investigator for CCSPCA, Phillip Barrett, is another accused culprit behind the scenes at the CCSPCA. Also said to be Kelly Chaffee’s boyfriend, Barrett is facing multiple counts of Felony Forgery charges stemming from alleged falsifying a veterinarian’s name on numerous rabies vaccination certificates. The case is set for trial June 11, 2013 in County Court, Little Valley, NY.

Many are concerned that these violations, in particular, have put the whole community’s health at risk.

“This is no joke. When you forge a rabies certificate, you put lives at risk and that’s where you need to draw the line,” said Morgan Dunbar, director, Animal Allies of Western New York.

To make matters even worse, it’s also been said that not one licensed medical staff member works at the CCSPCA, despite claims that its “medical area” serves as “temporary housing for animals in need of medical attention, rehabilitation, or recovery time where they can receive individual treatment from our medical staff.” 

Shane was sick for months, throwing up, and losing weight. Left to languish in the CCSPCA's "medical unit," without ever seeing a vet, Shane was found dead in his kennel. Photo credit: Kristi Solari.
Shane was said to have been sick for months, throwing up, and losing weight. Left to languish in the CCSPCA’s “medical unit,” without ever seeing a vet, Shane
was eventually found dead in his kennel. Photo Credit: Kristi Solari.

Aurora Cremen, a former employee, recalls her time at the CCSPCA, stating, “The people in charge didn’t allow us to take animals to the vet. Some got infections and died. Many remained hurt in their cages for a very long time. There is a ‘vet office,’ but never an actual vet or anybody with any kind of medical training and I had to perform surgeries. We had to cut open dogs with scalpels and stitch them up.”

Kennel Attendant Ryan Bordner and former employee Linda Vane have also described multiple occasions when animals in emergency situations went without medical care for days.

In a special investigation conducted by the Niagara Falls Reporter, reporters witnessed first hand the neglect and abuse the animals at the CCSPCA truly endure. They found multiple kittens with substantial ocular and nasal discharge, as well as lethargic behavior. In the misnamed “Kitty Kingdom,” housing approximately 70 cats, they found it disturbing to see so many cats showing obvious signs of upper respiratory distress, with nasal discharge, ocular discharge, and open mouth breathing.

In the dog kennels, the majority of the animals in this area were literally bouncing off the walls, some circling repeatedly at high speeds and some appearing to self-mutilate, continually chewing on their paws and tails. The investigation found the stench of urine and feces throughout the facility to be overpowering. They also observed mice scurrying down hallways and under doors. 

According to Dunbar, “The despair and suffering I witnessed at the facility are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Each and every animal inside that facility is in desperate need of help.”

Cats showing signs of respiratory infection, nasal discharge, ocular discharge, and open mouth breathing. Photo credit: Niagara Falls Reporter
Cats showing signs of respiratory infection, nasal discharge, ocular discharge, and open mouth breathing. Photo Credit: Niagara Falls Reporter

But despite claims of the shelter being “a horror story,” one Olean citizen said, “I have been in the SPCA. I would say the conditions are less than good, but in the cases of some of the animals, it is better than being on the street.”

The Cattaraugus County SPCA has reached out to the community for help in the past, claiming that public complaints and criticism has hurt their fundraising resources.

“Get your hands dirty. Get up here and help us out. We are always looking for supplies. Any dog food, cat food, treats, bleach, cleaning supplies, people to come up and just clean the windows, wash the doors. Staff don’t get time to do that they are crazy busy taking care of all the animals,” Chaffee once told YNN Buffalo.

In a September 2012 article published in the Olean Times Herald, John Jeselnick, writes about his experience as a CCSPCA volunteer:

“As a volunteer since summer 2010, I have observed animals’ care and conditions, questioned needs, and been rebuffed often by management. I have seen a lack of proper vet care for a few chronically sick cats. Yes, other animals with burns, dangling limbs and abuses are given immediate vet care…My major concern is that sick animals are not given enough vet care early when it counts.”

Freezers hold dead animals.  Photo credit: Niagara Falls Reporter
Freezers are said to hold dead animals. Photo Credit: Niagara Falls Reporter

He continues, “We have rescued four cats from the SPCA, donated hundreds of dollars in supplies, and I worked countless hours. The workers are dedicated, yet volunteers often walk away saying that conditions won’t change…Management does not welcome input, critical or constructive. The officials will gladly take your money and help. Progressive, receptive board members leave because their ideas and logical goals and queries are not accepted.”

This letter of concern subsequently resulted in the banning of his volunteer work at the shelter.  

Another Citizens for Cattaraugus County SPCA Reform member said, “Those who have (tried to affect change from within) have been reprimanded, threatened, intimidated, suspended, fired and banned from the facility.”

Regardless, Chaffee has denied these allegations. “I think a lot of our supporters absolutely know that everything being said is not only unfounded but they’re ridiculous allegations. On top of that, they’re spiteful and they’re inflammatory and hurting the animals,” Chaffee told YNN Buffalo.

Yet, many believe this shelter’s negligence has carried on for far too long and maintain that the CCSPCA needs to be reformed from the ground up, starting with replacements of those in charge and a revision of priorities. Activists fear that if something isn’t done soon, animals will only continue to suffer a slow and inevitable death in “a prison disguised as a humane facility.”

Tina Wedge, former Board Member and current CCSPCA volunteer, said, “As soon as it becomes very clear that all those responsible for the ongoing crisis are removed from having control over these animals and these animals are going to get the care they’ve deserved for all these years, this community is going to rally beyond belief.”

Hundreds of signatures have been collected on petitions demanding that the contract between the city and CCSPCA be terminated and that alternative animal control services be pursued.

If the current board of directors resigns, the Citizens for Cattaraugus County SPCA Reform claim they “have something in the books right now” with a board in place and veterinary cooperation.

UPDATE: After reading this article, the CCSPCA Board Members responded with the following statement:

“We have responded to these allegations on a number of occasions in the past and they have been proven to be false, yet this small group of people continues to persist with the same negative campaign. We have spent the past year with a positive vision moving forward on a number of new initiatives and will continue to do so. We truly feel that all this time spent engaging in a negative personal-attack campaign takes our energy and resources away from what we really need to be focusing on – which is giving the animals in our shelter the best care we possibly can.”

Petition requesting that Cattaraugus County Municipal Officials terminate contracts with the CCSPCA.

Petition urging the current CCSPCA Board of Directors to resign.

Another petition urging the current CCSPCA Board of Directors to resign.



  1. Grant, you still have my only tapes of my daughter who passed away, Cory. You have had them for well over a year and I WANT THEM BACK!!!!!! You know how to reach me and give me a place where they can be picked up. This should not require getting the law involved but those tapes are ALL I have of her!!!!