SPRING HILL — News that a group of former board members had suddenly taken over the SPCA of Hernando County facility two weeks ago was no surprise to former board president Dave Raponi.
A week earlier, Raponi was present at what was purported to be a "members only" meeting of the organization and saw no one from the group that has been running the shelter.
"It was a strange gathering," Raponi recalled. "They pretty much just voted themselves into office, and went around the room asking if anyone else in the audience wanted to be on the board. I had never seen anything like it."
According to the ballot that was circulated at the meeting, the new board included former board members Michelle McCabe, Lindsay Rance, Al Iannuzzi and Mary Zero, all of whom were implicated last week in an attempt to occupy the facility on Grant Street without the consent of the sitting board.
According to a Hernando County Sheriff's Office report, deputies were called to the facility on Oct. 12 to serve an injunction to remove McCabe, Rance, Zero and Iannuzzi from the premises after SPCA employees and current board members said they had been locked out of the facility. Authorities said they observed no criminal activity.
But SPCA treasurer Wendy Porter isn't so sure of that. The group broke locks, damaged doors and appeared to have emptied several cabinets of supplies, she said.
"We are pressing charges," Porter said Thursday. "This isn't over."
Porter said she was advised by the SPCA's attorney not to talk about the takeover incident, but said the rogue group never expressed to her why it wanted to occupy the facility.
McCabe, Rance, Zero and Iannuzzi could not be reached for comment last week by the Times.
Raponi, who served as president of the nonprofit organization for six months before being voted out of the position in June, linked the dispute to bad blood that has been going on between the two factions for more than four years.
"There are a lot of egos involved in animal rescues," Raponi said. "You get different groups that want to do different things and have different priorities. It gets to be a people versus people matter, and the welfare of the animals takes a back seat."
That seemed to be the case back in 2008, when McCabe, Rance, Zero and three others resigned from the SPCA board after only a few months. All three said they had become fed up with what they considered to be blatant disregard for acceptable practices at the no-kill shelter.
Linda Brack, one of the board members who resigned in 2008, said that at the time, the shelter was taking in more cats than it could comfortably handle. She and the others finally decided it was no longer worth the fight.
Brack said Friday that a similar situation exists today at the shelter. And although she was not part of last week's occupation attempt, she supported the former board members' action.
"They had very serious concerns," Brack said. "The place is not clean, there are roaches everywhere and they have more than 160 cats when they should only have 70."
Porter, who has been on the board for a year, said she couldn't speak to past boards, but defended the current board.
"These are very dedicated people who love and respect animals," she said.
Porter said that a recent addition to the cat area has enabled the shelter to take in more strays. And while she admits the shelter is above capacity, she denied allegations about uncleanliness, saying that a veterinarian regularly visits the facility and has found no sanitation issues.
However, Porter said that she and other board members are concerned that publicity from the takeover attempt could have detrimental effects on the shelter's ability to raise funds.
"We do a lot with the limited resources we have," she said. "We operate on a shoestring."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or email@example.com.