When Dr. Peter J. Freyburger heard the allegations of animal cruelty at the SPCA of Niagara, he had the same reaction as many people in the community.
"I was shocked and disappointed like everyone," Freyburger said. "Having been in the veterinary community for as many years as I've been, I knew the Erie County SPCA had been very progressive and has made advances, while the Niagara County SPCA had made only minimal advances."
Freyburger, hired last week as interim veterinarian at the SPCA of Niagara, hopes to improve that record. As second-in-command at the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society, the Pendleton resident has developed relationships with many of the area's noted vets.
"Since I'm semiretired, I felt a responsibility for somebody to do it on behalf of all the veterinarians in Erie and Niagara counties to step in and give the necessary veterinary oversight," he said. "I just sensed a void that would make everything worse if nobody did."
Job One will be supervising the Lockport Road shelter's two recently hired veterinary technicians, each of whom Freyburger said graduated from a training program at the Erie County facility.
"They both know how things should be run in a well-run humane organization," he said.
A former veterinary technician at SPCA of Niagara came under fire by former staffers and the SPCA Serving Erie County for unnecessary and cruel euthanasia practices. The SPCA board, which remains in charge of the nonprofit organization, was also labeled "admittedly dysfunctional" by SPCA Serving Erie County Executive Director Barbara S. Carr.
"I don't know yet," Freyburger said of his ability to work under the board. "I've only been in the building twice for a short period of time, but I think what Mr. Cambria is doing is the best way to approach it."
Paul J. Cambria Jr., a defense attorney, has been advising the board since the controversy broke in January. The board has since hired Freyburger and interim Executive Director Amy Lewis, who supervised admissions and rescue at the Erie County shelter. A new board will be elected in May.
Unlike Dr. Grant H. Hobika, the veterinarian whose brief stay at the SPCA of Niagara ended with accusations of animal mistreatment from the past, Lewis and Freyburger appear to have the approval of animal rights advocates.
"We'll give him our full support, as long as we see he's an advocate for animals and working for their best interests," said Morgan J. Dunbar of Animal Allies of Western New York.
Freyburger, 60, who has degrees from Cornell University, acknowledged that he does not have an extensive background in shelter care but is intent on learning. He founded and has practiced at the Brighton-Eggert Animal Clinic in the Town of Tonawanda since 1979.
Freyburger, who will work as a volunteer without pay for six months, added that he has no definite plans for working at the shelter after that. "I think everyone's been looking for bad and evil, and I'm just going in to look forward to the future," he said. "I hope to work with Amy Lewis so we can create a facility that Niagara County can be proud of."