Thief targets SPCA fundraiser

By Becky Benoit

It’s the last thing you’d expect at a fundraiser for abandoned and abused animals. As staff and volunteers wrapped up the animal shelter’s third annual Paws in the Snow fundraiser, held Saturday night at the Den Lounge in Gregoire, they were shocked to discover the event had been the victim of a theft. An unknown person made off with an auction basket valued at over $200, and a donation jar from the coat check holding well over $500 in cash.

“It made the end of the night a little disheartening for the staff and volunteers who put so much effort and time into making the event a success,” explains Tara Clarke, executive director of the Fort McMurray SPCA. “It directly affects the animals, the services and the care we’re working to provide, and it’s really sad.”

While the theft itself is disappointing, what’s worse is that such crimes are becoming a common problem at not-for-profit fundraisers in the city, says Clarke. “I’ve heard from other not-for-profits that it’s becoming quite a common occurrence,” Clarke says. “I think it’s pretty low, to steal from a non-profit agency that’s trying to provide services and support for the community. For non-profits, it’s so important to stretch every dollar, because every dollar counts.”

Clarke acknowledges that the organization is looking at beefing up security at future events. “You don’t put on a fundraiser, or attend one, thinking that this is going to happen,” she says. “You want to be able to trust people and believe in the good in people, but when things like this happen, it makes it hard to maintain that optimism.”chipper jones

The theft comes on the heels of another sad case for the staff of the animal shelter. This week, the SPCA saw one of the worst cases of neglect in its history with the arrival of a young Australian shepherd-husky cross, barely more than a year old. “When the animal came to our facility, its martingale collar was completely embedded in its neck,” Clarke says. “The collar had to be surgically removed in pieces.”

A martingale collar, which is a variation of the “choke” collar or training collar, is a fabric collar with a small section of chain attached. When used properly, a martingale collar can be an effective training tool, but owners are advised not to leave the collar on an unattended animal, because of the risk the collar might become caught on something and present a strangulation hazard.

In the case of this unfortunate pup, who the SPCA has christened Chipper Jones, the collar became too small over time as the dog grew, and eventually embedded itself in the animal’s neck, resulting in a horrific infection.

“The infection in the neck was so bad, it had a maggot infestation. It had such a strong odour that it elicited gagging [from the staff],” explains Clarke. “It was evident from the animal’s condition that it hadn’t been cared for, for a number of months prior to coming to us.”

In addition to the life-threatening infection, the dog was also suffering from frostbite, malnourishment and a parasite infestation.

Despite his dire condition, Clarke says the pup is recovering well. “He’s certainly on the mend. He’s gaining some confidence and obviously feeling better, and the odour from the infection has subsided, but he still has a ways to go,” Clarke says. Thanks to the terrible mistreatment he’s suffered, the pup is very shy and timid, but Clarke says the staff are working to help him overcome his nervousness of people. “We’re working to build up his confidence through training techniques, but I think what this animal really needs is some love. With that will come trust,” Clarke says. “We are confident that he will have a full recovery and find a loving home.”

Buoying the SPCA’s hopes for Chipper Jones is the case of another unfortunate canine, Marty McFly. The young shepherd cross was found starving and trapped in a sinkhole by Good Samaritan Anthony Needham of Hover Taxi of Fort McMurray. Needham, a dog lover and helicopter pilot, spotted the pooch at the bottom of a deep sinkhole while on a routine flight north of Fort McMurray, and enlisting the help of some friends, performed a heroic rescue, forming a human chain to scoop the dog out of the pit to safety.

Marty McFly, as the pup was later dubbed by SPCA staff, was extremely underweight, but thanks to the care of dedicated shelter staff, he has made a full recovery and has found himself a new home with a loving family.

“We’re very excited for him. We’ve found the perfect home for him, and it’s always heartwarming to see an animal who hasn’t been treated very well heal, thrive and then find a loving home – it makes it all worth it,” Clarke says.

The SPCA is hoping the fundraisers planned for the end of the year, which include a booth in the Peter Pond Mall from December 2 to 6 and another at the Christmas trade show, will help make up for the recent disappointments.

To find out how you can help support the Fort McMurray SPCA, call 780-743-8997, or visit the shelter’s website at