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SPCA Receives South Carolina Dogs as St. Frances Animal Center Prepares for Hurricane Dorian

September 3, 2019
By: SPCA Chief Communications Officer Gina Lattuca

As the state of South Carolina prepares for the possible arrival of Hurricane Dorian, St. Frances Animal Center in Georgetown sent 70+ dogs (and five cats!) on the road yesterday in an effort to open up space that may be needed for animals displaced by the hurricane.

The truck’s first stop? The SPCA Serving Erie County, receiving 14 adult dogs and five pups at 6 a.m. this morning.

A full crew was on hand to assist with the transport of these animals to the West Seneca shelter. See videos that were taken live of the transport arrival (Video 1) and hear from Devon, part of the husband-and-wife team who drove these animals to safety through the night (Video 2).

The SPCA’s Animal Transport Coordinator, Barbara Frazier, who worked through the weekend making arrangements for this transport, applauds the work of the St. Frances Animal Center. “In addition to making room for possibly displaced dogs, these dogs were proactively moved out ahead of the hurricane due to the potential danger they would be in if or when the hurricane strikes, as the shelter is right on the east coast of South Carolina,” said Frazier.

Things to know about this transport and these animals:

-The animals received by the SPCA Serving Erie County this morning had been previously surrendered to a shelter by their owners. They are not animals who have been separated from their owners by a storm.

-None of the animals in the videos will be available for adoption today.

-Many of the adult dogs are already spayed/neutered. They will be examined today, and those without pressing medical needs will be slated for behavior evaluations. This could happen as early as later this week. The dogs will be listed on the SPCA website’s Adoptable Dogs page when they become available.

-The five puppies who arrived this morning are not medically prepared for adoption and still need vaccinations and other treatments, so they are being placed in foster homes. If a foster family decides to keep and adopt its foster pet, that animal will not be available for general adoption. The animals not adopted by their foster families will be listed on the SPCA website’s  Adoptable Dogs page when they become available. Puppies are adopted very quickly and rarely spend the night at the SPCA once available. If you are interested in a transported puppy, remember to check that page several times throughout the day. To learn more about becoming a foster parent to a future animal in need, please visit the SPCA’s Foster Care page.

-Read more information on out-of-town animals accepted by the SPCA on our Animal Transports page.

The SPCA Says Goodbye After 38 Years of ‘Butler Service,’ as Joe & Fran Butler Retire

August 28, 2019
By: Gina Lattuca, SPCA Chief Communications Officer


This week, we at the SPCA Serving Erie County say goodbye to a husband and wife team whose names are practically synonymous with the organization. Joe Butler, a 38-year employee and former dog control officer in the town of Evans, and Fran Butler, a 33-year employee, will be retiring August 30 after a history with the SPCA that brought them to three different shelters: Pontiac Rd. in Angola, Ensminger Rd. in Tonawanda, and now Harlem Rd. in West Seneca.

Joe Butler down on the (SPCA) farm

For 24 and 23 years respectively, Joe and Fran managed the SPCA’s satellite shelter in Angola. Because they lived nearby, the two often worked around-the-clock helping thousands of animals along with thousands of people (many who were known to knock on the Butlers’ door at all hours of the night). They were involved in animal cruelty investigations, rescues, adoptions, admissions, public relations, special events…every single aspect of shelter work was handled by Joe and Fran, along with their small team of staff members and volunteers.

Fran at the SPCA’s Angola satellite shelter

When that satellite shelter was closed, the two relocated to the Tonawanda shelter (Joe had worked there prior to the opening of the satellite shelter) and eventually to our current West Seneca site. Here, their important work with animals continued in the Behavior & Training and Adoptions Departments.

Last week, I asked Joe and Fran a difficult question…consider the last 30+ years at the SPCA and share with me something you love now, or a favorite memory. For Joe, a significant time was in the early 90s, when the SPCA started performing early-age spay/neuters. Fran is thankful for the fact that the Adoptions Department is like a group of family members who can count on each other for help.

Fran (sitting, in green) working at a busy Tonawanda shelter Adoptions desk

For the 29 years I’ve known her, Fran continues to teach me the importance of making a human connection no matter how busy you are. I’d watch her at a very busy Angola shelter adoption desk with several people waiting for attention; no matter how busy she was, she took the time to look each patron in the eye, thoughtfully respond to questions, and in doing so, made each and every patron feel valued. I still see her doing this today in West Seneca. That is a gift, and it’s one she shares with all of us.

Joe (right) at the SPCA’s Radiothon, talking with NewsRadio 930 WBEN’s Sandy Beach

I was a little afraid of Joe when I first met him. I was 24 and even in heels had to look up at this serious, steadfast man who was in charge of our Angola shelter. It didn’t take long to realize I now knew one of the most genuine, determined people I’d ever meet in my life. The love he exhibited for animals was unsurpassed, as evidenced by the work he did 24/7 (not an exaggeration), and I’ll always be thankful for his never laughing at how much I didn’t know, and how he helped me learn about the most difficult parts of the job while becoming acclimated to a small, insightful, tightly-knitted staff.

Left: Joe (left) and the SPCA’s Tim Tomkinson on a rescue. Right: Joe prepares for an investigation.

Sheila Foss, SPCA educational farm manager and 34-year employee, says, “When I think of Joe and Fran, the words that spring to my mind are respectful, dedicated, concerned, thoughtful, humble, gracious, helpful, humorous, calming, and mentors.”

She adds, “Fran & Joe demonstrate these descriptors to everyone they encounter: each other, co-workers, visitors, and patrons. I am blessed to have had the pleasure of being on their team, and hope their journey continues to bring forth an abundance of treasures, small and large.”

Fran attempts to untangle the neatly-put-away lights used as holiday decorations in Tonawanda

SPCA Petique Retail Store Manager Jessica Tyler, a 12-year employee, says “Over the last 12 years at the SPCA, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing these two. Joe is so knowledgeable and passionate about what he does here, and his love for animals shows.

“I worked with Fran doing adoptions for nine years, and we shared many laughs, many tears, and overall had a great time at work,” Jessica said. “She is more than a co-worker; she is family to me. She’s always there for me, and….I will miss talking to her and seeing her smiling face every day. Joe and Fran will be missed, but it’s time for more fun to happen!”

Joe and Fran make the big time

The impact Joe and Fran have made on the SPCA, its programs and services, its staff members and volunteers, and most of all its animals, will not be forgotten.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Thank you, Joe and Fran, for spending nearly four decades putting others’ happiness ahead of your own, and for living lives that truly made a difference in our community!


Susan Royce, Administrative Financial Assistant:
Fran is one of the kindest people I have ever had the privilege of working with.  When I stepped into my position of Administrative Financial Assistant I was constantly going to her with questions regarding Adoptions procedures and the reports they generated.  She was always right there to help me with a kind heart and gentle demeanor.  She is the Adoptions matriarch and her retirement will leave such a void; knowing Fran she will make sure that the staff is well-prepared in stepping in and picking up where she left off.  A sweet, kind and genuinely nice person.  I am going to miss her terribly!

I learned so much from Joe in how to handle and work with dogs.  He was always there to answer any questions with dogs and delivered information in a succinct and clear method so even a novice dog handler could understand.  It was always a comfort knowing that he was on the job taking great care of the animals, comforting the dogs who came in frightened and unsure.  The admiration and respect I have for him is huge, and he will be missed in so many ways.  Here’s to a job well done!!

Stephanie Pepper, Shelter Manager:
Fran has an amazing way of treating every adopter/potential adopter with kindness. I have never seen Fran frazzled; she always remains calm with a “can- do” attitude…no matter what came her way. I love how she refers to every animal while going over adoption paperwork as “your baby” –  always made me smile!

Fran was a great asset to the Adoptions Department. Every morning Fran comes in, and she cleans and prepares for the day. There is so much that Fran does behind-the-scenes that having her gone will definitely leave a void. Every morning when I come in I always said, “Good morning Fran!” I will miss her!

Krissi Miranda, Adoptions Supervisor:
Fran, you have the kindest heart of anyone I know! I’m going to miss the way you called every animal being adopted the adopters new baby. From coming in early every morning and making sure we were ready to hit the ground running as soon as the doors opened, making sure this place didn’t look like it went to the dogs, to working from the moment you came in until the moment you left, this place will not be the same without you!!!

I will miss your smile and your kind heart. I am so excited that you are retiring and able to do the things you enjoy most!  I’ll miss you but you deserve to retire while you’re still young enough to enjoy it!!!!!!

Joe, you have a kind heart and it shows in the love you have for your family. The thousands of animals whose lives you changed I’m sure would thank you if they could. This place will not be the same without you. I am so excited for you and Fran and in some way I’m envious of you both. Take care, live large, and enjoy your golden years! You deserve it!!!!

Jennifer Grzeskiewicz, Adoptions:
One thing I have learned from Fran is that there is no “I” in team. Teamwork is a very important part of our jobs and without it we wouldn’t be able to function the way we do. I love that Fran welcomed me into our Adoptions family – without them to talk to or rely on for help, things would be much more difficult.

Tina Corcoran, Adoptions:
I remember bringing my daughter Devan to the Angola shelter when she was young. We would walk the dogs and even adopted our second family dog named Bojangles from Fran and Joe!

Sandy Comes, Adoptions:
To Fran: I will miss the morning stories and jokes; you always made the mornings silly!  Thank you for always being there as a co-worker and a friend to help me when I was stuck with anything. You always made it seem easy.  I will miss you my dear friend. You were a joy to work with and honor to become friends with. I hope you and Joe get to enjoy all the wonderful things retirement offers! Always remember you can volunteer anytime as a greeter! Love you!!
To Joe: Over time I got to know you and learned what a wonderful person you really are.  You have done the work of many in this shelter and I am sure [there were times that were not] easy, so please enjoy your retirement! You have more than earned it!

Julia Walsh, Lipsey Clinic & former Veterinary Department Assistant:
Joe and Fran are very passionate and dedicated to the SPCA. 

I look up to them and am inspired by their relationship- it must have not always been easy to work with your spouse for 30 + years 🙂 !

I looked forward to Fran’s warm greetings every morning. It has been a pleasure working with them both! Best wishes!

Lydia Stineman, Veterinary Technician/Lincoln Memorial University Program Support:
I [had heard] about “Fran and Joe from the Southtowns” and when that shelter closed, heard they were coming to the “Northtowns” shelter [in Tonawanda]. I was excited to meet them, because I had heard so much about them but had never seen them! Fran was so sweet, and we connected right away. Joe is a big teddy bear! He gets right to the point, and that’s THAT! It was awesome working with them, and I will miss them both! 😘 


Courtesy of

Inmates train shelter dogs to be model canine citizens


Jessica Knight put Leo through his paces.

“Down. Good down, Leo.” She fed the shepherd mix some kibble. “Stay. Good stay, Leo.” More kibble.

If you want to adopt a dog with Canine Good Citizen certification from the American Kennel Club – the gold standard for good-dog behavior and basic obedience training – then you’ll want a dog that has spent six weeks in jail.

Knight, who is serving an 8-month sentence, is one of five female inmates at the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden who trains dogs as part of the Pups at the Pen program. The program started in 2016 in partnership with the Erie County SPCA. The program has recently been upgraded to turn untrained dogs into nationally certified, model-worthy pets.

“The Canine Good Citizen program really wasn’t designed for shelter life,” said Matt Cicatello, the SPCA’s director of behavior and training.

Living with inmates offers a more homelike environment for dogs.

“I hate to say they get freedom when they go out to a jail, but they do,” he said.

The benefit isn’t one-way. Pups at the Pen helps inmates.

Of 61 women who have participated in the jail program since its inception, only 15 have returned. That represents a reoffense rate of 25%, more than three times less than the overall reoffense rate for both the Holding Center and Correctional Facility, said Thomas Diina, superintendent of the Erie County Sheriff’s Jail Management Division.

Pups at the Pen is one of two animal programs at the Correctional Facility. While female inmates train rescue dogs, roughly 60 male inmates a year raise pheasants – 1,800 this year alone – to help restock state forests prior to fall hunting season.

The Pups at the Pen program provides inmates affection and teaches them compassion and empathy.

“It helps being with them when I’m here,” said inmate Nicole Andrews, who said she has mental health and anxiety issues.

Housing the program

Both the Erie County Holding Center and the Correctional Facility are part of the same county jail system.

But the rural Alden facility houses about 420 inmates who tend to be low- to medium-risk offenders. The correctional facility also has more room to house inmate rehabilitation programs involving animals.

Pups at the Pen is modeled after programs at state prisons. Since 2016, female inmates at the Correctional Facility have trained 47 dogs.

Diina recalled a few memorable canine trainees.

There was Chowder, a hyperactive and hulking 81-pound dog who also happened to be deaf. She was such a tough case that she went through the six-week program twice. She ultimately was adopted.

Then there was a female dog who came to the correctional facility with a litter of puppies.

“I thought there was going to be a fight in the staff dining room about who was going to get to adopt them,” Diina said.

The inmate trainers last completed training with Caesar, a shy Doberman with separation anxiety issues. When he left, the inmates were bereft.

“It was very emotional,” Knight said.

Life behind bars

The Pups at the Pen housing unit is home to five inmates, who now work with two 6-month old dogs, Leo and Athena, a Rottweiler mix.

Inmate participants are nonviolent offenders with a clean track record in jail. The group includes women convicted on burglary, DWI and drug charges.

The dogs sent to live with the inmates have no major behavior issues but come to the SPCA without any training at all, Cicatello said. Some dogs might have special needs or be too loud or boisterous in a shelter environment to be a first choice for prospective owners.

Within a week of Leo’s and Athena’s appearance at the jail, they’ve been housebroken and learned how to sit, lie down, “leave it” and make eye contact on cue despite distractions.

The inmates say they bond more strongly with each other, as well as the dogs, even though they may start out with little in common. It’s a program that fosters growth for everyone, said inmate Savannah Adams.

Baughman was sentenced to jail for 8 1/2 months after failing a court-mandated drug program. She says the dogs give her hope that she can survive in the outside world without drugs or alcohol.

“I can be happy without drinking,” she said. “The dogs make that possible.”

Canine Good Citizen

Within the last two months, the Pups at the Pen program has upgraded its training program so that dogs entering the Correctional Facility aren’t just taught basic obedience but are taught behavioral and obedience skills that meet the Canine Good Citizen certification requirements of the American Kennel Club. This certification is required by most therapy dog groups.

Aside from learning basic commands, the dogs must be accepting of friendly strangers, allow themselves to be petted by people they don’t know, respond to sudden distractions without panic or aggression, behave politely toward other dogs, and withstand temporary separation from their owner without whining or agitation.

A staffer from Sit n’ Stay Pet Services in Orchard Park travels to the Correctional Facility once a week to educate the inmates on training techniques to enable dogs to meet the Canine Good Citizen standard.

The intensive training could not easily be offered by the SPCA because it doesn’t offer the same consistency and structure, said Kim Sauer, owner of Sit n’ Stay.

“It is, in my opinion, a little more like what the family dynamic would be in a real home,” she said.

With all the training, even if the dogs don’t pass the Good Canine Citizen test at the end of six weeks, they’re still appealing to prospective adopters, who can complete the training, Sauer said.

Pheasant rearing

Pups at the Pen is limited to female inmates now, but male inmates at the Correctional Facility look after another animal – the feathered kind. Since 2016, they have raised nearly 5,000 pheasants as part of a game bird restocking program sponsored by the Department of Environmental Conservation, which runs from early May to mid-October.

The program started in 2016 with inmates raising 1,500 birds that year from newborn hatchlings to full-grown birds with bright flags of color around the eyes. This year, inmates are raising 1,800 birds, the highest number yet.

“When we first got the babies, I didn’t realize how cute they were,” said inmate Mark Evans, referring to the first batch of 850 egg-sized hatchlings that first crowded under the heat lamps in the hay-filled shed.

“They looked like little Tweety birds,” said inmate Lamont Hamilton. “The best part is seeing them grow, watching them mature.”

The worst part – the smell.

As the pheasants get older, inmates attach foam or plastic blinders to obscure their forward vision so they don’t attack other birds. Then they are released into large, grassy flight pens with bell-shaped feeders and shelters for shade. When they are released into state-owned forests in Zoar Valley each fall, the inmates who helped look after the birds travel there to watch the release.

“They’re pretty psyched,” said corrections officer Bill Moss, who supervises the pheasant program. “It’s a good behavior-modification tool. They don’t want to get into any incidents in the jail that’s going to jeopardize their participation in the program.”

The pheasant program has grown the past three years. But Pups at the Pen has not – limited by the number of eligible inmates who want to participate, said corrections sergeant Deanna Lates. Limited access to outdoor grass is also a factor.

Cicatello, the SPCA’s director of behavior and training, and Diina said they would like see the program grow.

“I think the more we get people excited about the program, the more there will be a desire to expand,” Cicatello said.

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Patty Ralabate, discussing her work with Star 102.5 FM’s Roger Christian during one of the SPCA’s annual Radiothons

August 23, 2019

Next week, our own Patty Ralabate will be retiring from the SPCA.

Patty has been affiliated with this organization either as a volunteer (Petique, Veterinary Department, Adoptions, and Admissions) and/or as an employee (Adoptions, Admissions) for 23 years! Patty worked as Volunteer Rescue Coordinator for the SPCA part of the time she was an employee, communicating with rescue organization representatives, maintaining the database of the SPCA’s approved rescue groups, and engaging in the transports of those rescue dogs brought to our organization.

Transports have been a large part of Patty’s work during her tenure at the SPCA. She helped coordinate transports between southern states and into Canada for various rescue groups. Patty, who transported dogs between the US and Canada as well as within the US (New York, Pennsylvania), also maintained the database and assisted in aquiring volunteers to participate in different legs of transport runs, often monitoring some of the runs to ensure they were glitch-free. If there were problems, Patty smoothed them over.

Patty also obtained farm dogs and dogs from puppy mills during her many trips to Ohio, sometimes attending auctions to rescue these dogs from harsh treatment. She is a founding member of Furever Friends Dog Rescue of WNY, is currently the Intake Coordinator and a writer for that organization, creates and maintains records and statistics for each of their transports, and if that’s not enough, she is at the SPCA to personally meet every Furever Friends transport. You may see Patty representing Furever Friends at various events, educating members of the public on the link between pet stores, the Internet, and puppy mills.

We asked Patty about some of her favorite SPCA memories. She said that, in addition to Furever Friends becoming a respected partner of the SPCA, one of her fondest memories is of the day former executive director Barbara Carr agreed to accept Patty’s first four dogs from a puppy mill dog auction: two Pomeranians and two Cocker Spaniels.

When asked what has meant the most to Patty here at the SPCA, she responded in this way: “Just the fact that, even on the busiest day, or the most emotional day, or during truly tragic events that occur on any given workday at the shelter, I have been so blessed to be considered both an employee and a volunteer with an organization to works tirelessly for the good of all animals. I never once had the feeling, ‘I don’t want to go to work today!’ And I have been surrounded by a whole army of people who feel the same way! “

We know Patty’s pets Corrie, Lilly, Farren, Aubree, and Shea, will be thrilled to have her around more often, and we know thousands of pets’ lives will continue to be enriched by Patty’s work. She has dedicated her life to making each little life she touches better, and we’re honored she has spent so much of her time bettering the lives of the animals and people at the SPCA!

–Gina Lattuca, SPCA Chief Communications Officer

Williamsville Central schools approve new therapy dog policy

The policy allows district employees to potentially bring their dogs to school, if they meet the proper criteria.

See video and read the full story here >>




Starting Monday, August 19 for 19 days, the SPCA Serving Erie County will bring back its Name Your Own Price adoption special for kittens and cats ages 20 weeks and older. The adoption special will run through Friday, September 6 and applies to felines temporarily residing at the SPCA’s 300 Harlem Rd., West Seneca site, or one of several offsite adoption locations.

Included with the adoption is the cat’s spay/neuter surgery; age-appropriate vaccinations; initial worming; flea control medicine; feline leukemia test; microchip; temporary identification; a certificate for the new pet’s first physical examination at the SPCA’s Lipsey Clinic or at the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society’s veterinarian of choice; the option of a 30-day pet health insurance plan provided by 24PetWatch; and while supplies last, a bag of Purina cat food.

See photos of cats available in West Seneca here, and for a list of offsite adoption locations along with photos of cats available at those sites, click here.  Questions about Name Your Own Price adoptions? Call SPCA Adoptions:  716-875-7360, ext. 233.

See the story on WKBW-TV >>

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See the story in Bee Publications >>

UPDATE, AUGUST 16, 2019: Jarrod Dillman appeared in Buffalo City Court this morning. He has waived his felony hearing and his case will now proceed to the grand jury. Please keep watching for further information on this animal cruelty case.


August 13, 2019


Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn announces that 23-year-old Jarrod Dillman of Buffalo has been arraigned before Buffalo City Court Judge Barbara Johnson-Lee on one count of Aggravated Cruelty to Animals, a felony, and one count of overdriving, torturing and injuring animals; failure to provide proper sustenance, a misdemeanor.

It is alleged that on Saturday, August 3, 2019, the defendant, while working as a [daycare attendant and bather] at PawPrints by Penny & Co. on Niagara Street in the City of Buffalo, caused the death of “Alessio,” a three-year-old Havanese, by throwing the dog against a wall and repeatedly kicking the dog while wearing boots. The preliminary necropsy results determined that the dog died as a result of blunt force trauma.

Dillman is scheduled to return on Friday, August 16, 2019 at 9:30 a.m. for a felony hearing. Judge Johnson-Lee set bail at $5,000 cash, bond or property.

DA Flynn commends the SPCA Serving Erie County, including Officers Paul LeShay, Amy Jaworski and Lindsey Styborski, for their work in this investigation.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Erin E. Hart of the DA’s Animal Cruelty Unit.

As are all persons accused of a crime, the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.



Dog day care attendant arraigned on felony aggravated animal cruelty charge

By Harold McNeil
Published August 13, 2019|Updated August 13, 2019

An attendant for a Buffalo dog groomer was arraigned Tuesday in Buffalo City Court on a felony charge of aggravated cruelty to animals, after an animal in his care died, according to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors said 23-year-old Jarrod Dillman of Buffalo was additionally charged with overdriving, torturing and injuring an animal, as well as failure to provide proper sustenance.

“We’re horrified and saddened by the death of the dog that was in our care, and this is the first that I’ve learned that he was arrested,” said Penelope Lanich, proprietor of PawPrints by Penny & Co., when contacted by The Buffalo News Tuesday.

“We’ve been working closely with the SPCA to make sure justice is served here,” she added.

On Aug. 3, while working as a day care employee at PawPrints by Penny & Co. on Niagara Street in Buffalo, Dillman allegedly caused the death of a 3-year-old Havanese named Alessio by throwing the dog against a wall and repeatedly kicking the animal while Dillman was wearing boots. The preliminary necropsy results have determined that the dog died as a result of blunt force trauma, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Dillman initially was identified by the District Attorney’s Office as a dog groomer at PawPrints, but Lanich said that is not a position Dillman ever held at the business during his 1 1/2 years of employment there.

“I’ve been in business for over 15 years and I’ve never had anything like this happen,” Lanich said.

Dillman is scheduled to return to court Friday for a felony hearing before City Court Judge Barbara Johnson-Lee, who set bail at $5,000.

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