Krista Wander of Lockport and her father drove to the Niagara County SPCA to look for a dog to adopt. She soon wished they hadn't.
"The second we walked into the dog adoption center it was filthy, reeked and the dogs were overwhelmingly barking and growling and throwing themselves against their cages," said Wander, who had never been in the Wheatfield shelter before.
She said she saw dogs with rashes, open wounds and other signs of illness.
SPCA Executive Director Amy L. Lewis said Wander saw the dogs in the condition they were brought in that day and before their treatment.
"All of our dogs are under medical care at the shelter," Lewis said.
But Lewis acknowledged the shelter's dog kennels are more than 30 years old and need to be modernized.
"Our shelter is not as beautiful as Erie County SPCA's brand-new shelter," Lewis said. "We're well aware of that, and that's why in the coming years, we'll be working on a capital campaign. We're just now five years out of a scandal, we took a huge hit in donations and we've been steadily correcting in that regard."
The scandal to which Lewis referred was the 2012 revelation of animals being put to death and otherwise mistreated at the SPCA, which led to the ouster of the previous management and the replacement of the entire board of directors.
Lewis said replacing the 30-year-old kennels, which have chain-link sides, tops the SPCA's wish list. She said the kennels often result in dogs reacting against their surroundings.
The SPCA, however, doesn't have the money now for a major makeover.
Long-term plans call for an $8.5 million renovation of the shelter on Lockport Road as part of a 10-year capital plan.
"I don't foresee it occurring any sooner than that, really," Lewis said. "We have a lot of challenges."
Lewis said the SPCA plans to spend about $60,000 to install a new ventilation system this winter. That should deal with complaints about how the kennels smell, she said.
During her visit to the shelter, Wander recalled seeing families coming into the adoption center and walking along a hallway that offered views of some 30 dogs. But they walked right out without spending much time with the dogs.
"These dogs will rarely be adopted because clients are just going to see the horrifying conditions of the facilities and walk out the door," she said. "If these sweet dogs were picked up by the Erie County SPCA or another dog shelter they would be adopted in a heartbeat."
"The way our kennels are set up, they create barrier frustration," Lewis said. "The dogs are barking and the dogs get very excited when they see people come through the kennels. They do throw themselves at the kennel door. That's not anything we can really prevent. We have tried placing corrugated plastic on the outside of the kennels to reduce their frustration, but we've found it has actually increased it versus reducing it."
Lewis said the plastic was placed on the bottom side of the kennels "to create a visual barrier. We found dogs jumped up more because they couldn't see from the bottom."