EATONTOWN - Alleged racist and homophobic text messages may not have been the only issue with Victor “Buddy” Amato’s tenure as chief of the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A Kane In Your Corner investigation finds that over the years, Amato has sometimes publicly defended people and facilities accused of seriously mistreating animals, leaving some in the animal welfare community concerned.
Amato resigned Wednesday after a lawsuit by a former employee went public. The lawsuit alleges Amato sent text messages to colleagues that compared black people to primates and made derogatory comments about homosexuals. The former employee, Suzanne DesMarais of Jackson, alleges that when she gave the messages to the SPCA’s board of directors, she was removed from her position, and no action was taken against Amato. Amato says the messages were “a bunch of jokes” between “a bunch of guys.”
The text messages may be what ended Amato’s career, but some in the animal welfare community have long been concerned by Amato’s occasional propensity for defending rather than cracking down on those accused of mistreating animals.
In 2012, Amato claimed his inspectors found no problems at Distinction Acres, a large animal breeder in Howell. Hours after Amato’s supposed inspection, state and county health inspectors shut Distinction Acres down after their own inspection found dozen of violations, including rotting kennels and temperatures exceeding 114 degrees. Despite photographs taken by health inspectors, Amato continued to insist Distinction Acres was exceptionally clean, even making that case to one of the health inspectors in an email.
In the summer of 2014, Amato wrote another glowing endorsement, this time for the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter, which was the subject of a Kane In Your Corner investigation. He told Helmetta’s mayor that the facility was “very clean,” adding (sic) "I’m in shelters and or animal facilities on a daily basis and I only wish they followed your shelter's example.” When Amato wrote the letter, he was unaware that the facility was under investigation by the state SPCA, which eventually found it to be so filthy and disease-ridden that it demanded Helmetta relinquish control until it could be decontaminated.
“You could not walk into that facility and say it was a glowing facility,” says Collene Wronko, an animal rights activist who organized protests in Helmetta. “There was no way. He either wasn't there or didn't care or didn't have a clue how to do his job.”
Emails obtained by Kane In Your Corner show state SPCA officials were furious with Amato for potentially undermining their investigation. Within hours of his glowing comments, they ordered him to turn over reports, information and pictures and to cease involvement in anything having to do with the shelter. The next day, Amato emailed Helmetta’s mayor, asking her to take his letter of endorsement off the borough website.