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Cecil County Animal Law: Good Intentions Run a Costly Amok; Zoning Issues Ignored

June 7, 2012
By Nancy Schwerzler

ANALYSIS

After nearly two hours of testimony from 55 people at a public hearing Tuesday evening, the Cecil County Commissioners are set to finally make decisions on a three-year process to revise animal ordinances in the county—but they ruled out consideration of some of the most significant issues posed in the often difficult relationship between humans and animals in Cecil County.

As the hearing began, County Commissioners Board President James Mullin (R-1) declared that the panel would not entertain comments on “zoning” matters affecting animals. But one of the most contentious problems facing the county—noisy commercial kennels located in close proximity to residential areas and neighborhood businesses—is a direct product of flaws in the zoning code. And the Commissioners were warned several years ago about the problem and advised how to fix it, but have declined to act.

A previous new ordinance drafted by a multi-member task force was put out to a public hearing over a year ago and drew support from the local Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA) and many witnesses, with only two areas of major contention: sizes of outdoor kennels and zoning issues that had allowed a large commercial kennel to locate on Appleton Road in close proximity to residences and small businesses.

The County Commissioners sent the proposal back to what was left of the task force—virtually all of whose members had resigned after the lengthy and arduous process– to address those two issues. But instead, just one remaining member of the task force— Mindy Carletti, a Perryville veterinarian– along with an unappointed note-taker, Edie Crick, who has involved herself in the process— have spend the past year drafting their own overhaul of the ordinance that goes far beyond the task force proposals. Their proposals were sent out to the latest public hearing Tuesday night.

[SEE previous Cecil Times special report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/07/1432/

At the hearing, several commenters mentioned the potential costs of the proposed ordinance— to pet owners and county taxpayers— caused by multiple new mandates, fees and fines imposed on pet owners and oversight and inspection duties imposed on animal control authorities. Some of the newly proposed rules for inspection and licensing of kennel operations are modeled after new rules imposed by Pennsylvania, but in that state the kennel inspections are handled by and paid for by a state government agency—not a local county government.

Commenters at the Tuesday public hearing were about evenly divided between supporters and opponents of the revised ordinance, known as “section 209” of the county code. Supporters generally spoke briefly and in broad terms, such as “give a voice to the animals.” Opponents or critics cited specific provisions and detailed their concerns. The commissioners did not have the usual signup sheet for recording speakers’ names and hometowns. You can listen to the nearly two-hour hearing via audio posted on the county’s website, by clicking on the page’s hotlink labeled ‘link to audio”:
http://www.ccgov.org/cattail/templates/displayevent.cfm?MonthChange=None&eventid=7639&LastDate=06/06/2012&calendarname=CommissionersMeetings

Multiple critics of the proposal focused on its new requirements for “health certificates” for out of state animals entering the county. Pennsylvania and Delaware residents who own weekend homes in the county could be subject to the rules, even though their pets are duly licensed on their home turf, and organizers of tourism-oriented animal events would be impacted. And “free to good home” pet offerings would now require a family to pay for a veterinarian-signed health certificate before adopting out a pet.

The proposed ordinance requires a veterinarian-signed “health certificate” for any animal “being given away” and for “any animal crossing the state line into Cecil County.” The proposal further states that “any animal found without the required certificate of health shall be impounded and quarantined” and the owner can be fined $500.

Chris Bannister, of North East, said he has Huskies and organizes one of the most successful “dry land” sled dog races on the East Coast, which is held at Fair Hill. The certificates mandate would effectively kill that event, which has brought 100 ‘teams’ of dogs—and their owners—to the area. “This race brings in significant revenues to the county,” he said. He also challenged new rules for “tethers” and said that knowledgeable pet parents could be fined because of rules that were “written poorly” and do not reflect proper handling of “sporting dogs.”

Several national dog groups have submitted reports to the County Commissioners, citing tourism dollars from animal sporting events such as dog shows and dog agility events that would no longer come to the county if the new mandates were enacted.

Some speakers at the hearing noted that many of the new rules would also apply to horses and would override the “freedom to farm” law that applies to animals such as horses on their own farms. A member of the Maryland Horse Council testified that horsemen were not consulted and cited three sections of the proposal that would impact the equine community.

Under section 606 of the proposal, “The owner of every animal shall be responsible for removal of the excreta deposited by animal(s) on public property, including walks, recreation areas or on private property other than that of the owner.” Fines range from $25 to $100. Will the Amish buggies in Cecilton and riders on trails at Fair Hill—which is a state-designated recreation area-- have to stop and scoop or face fines from the poop police? Who will pay for the policing of this rule?

While the potential of dog cops stationed at the state line to check for out of state animals’ health certificates or poop police might seem fanciful, the new ordinance sets up very real, and costly, new mandates on so-called “hobby kennels” -- for owners of 10 dogs-- that do not solve the problem of inhumane conditions for large scale commercial breeding kennels.

Multiple witnesses at the public hearing opposed the new “hobby kennel” designation and rules. The new rules (section 702) set up for the first time the category of a “hobby kennel” housing 10 dogs and would allow no more than two litters of puppies per year, mandate annual inspections of the home, filing of a mandatory two times a day “exercise plan” for the dogs, require that all dogs are micro-chipped, mandate pre-licensing inspection of the home, and require inspection of “any mother and puppies to assure good health and proper nutrition.” There are also fees ($50) for even applying for a “hobby kennel” license, annual kennel license fees ($50), and annual inspections, and each dog would have to have an individual dog license.

One witness noted that if a family had only two dogs, but they produced a litter of eight puppies that they planned to eventually give away to relatives, they would become subject to the “hobby kennel” licensing and inspection rules—and the ‘give away’ health certificate mandate.

The new law also, by definition, sets up disincentives for people to rescue animals or provide even temporary care to animals in need. It treats even temporary caretakers who are the “custodian” or who are “feeding or sheltering an animal for three or more consecutive days” as the “owner” and they are then subject to licensing, care and other rules.

Meanwhile, the proposal sets up for the first time an “animal care and control oversight commission” (ACCO) that would create a buffer between the elected county commissioners and the animal control agency—currently, the Cecil County SPCA, operating under an annual fee-for-services contract. The proposal states that the ACCO has no legal authority to “enforce laws” and its reviews of citizen complaints will “result solely in recommendations or referrals to appropriate agencies.”

But in Section 7, the provisions on the ACCO state that a kennel or pet shop license revocation for violations issued by the animal control law enforcement agency can be appealed to the ACCO, which will eventually make a decision, that will be referred “to Cecil County government who shall make a decision affirming or reversing the decision of” and then that decision may be appealed to the Circuit Court. Can you say delay, delay delay and legal costs, to defend the ACCO and county government?

One of the better provisions of the new 209 ordinance is its increase in the county-supported holding period for stray animals from the current five days to eight days. BUT that provision could cost taxpayers over $100,000 a year, according to data submitted by the CCSPCA last year. The county commissioners have frozen the payments to the CCSPCA for animal control services for the past five years, despite rising county population and rising numbers of strays and owner-released pets due to the economy.

Michael Halter, the pro-bono, volunteer attorney for the CCSPCA, testified Tuesday that many provisions of the new 209 proposal are unconstitutional—such as mandates to allow inspectors into a home without warrants—and the county could face lawsuits. He said he would insist on “indemnity” from the county for the CCSPCA for potential legal actions stemming from violation of citizens’ rights.

Finally, the unspoken—but crucial—issue at the hearing is the failure of county officials to modify the county zoning ordinance to address the problem of large scale commercial breeding kennels, including a few who have re-located to Cecil County in response to tougher regulations in Pennsylvania.

One Pennsylvania operation relocated to the Appleton Road area in Elkton to a roughly one-acre parcel zoned “business general” and set up a kennel adjacent to a group home for mentally handicapped people, across the road from a popular local restaurant, and near individual homes. Due to the current zoning rules, none of the local residents were informed in advance, the property was not posted, and there were no public hearings before the kennel moved in several years ago.

Several nearby residents of the kennel spoke at the hearing of their frustration with that kennel, and one neighbor has filed multiple complaints in District Court over chronic noise from the facility.

Cecil County State’s attorney E.D.E. “Ellis” Rollins told the county Commissioners several weeks ago that he could not prosecute noisy kennels when the zoning code allows them to be there in the first place. “Dogs bark,” he said. And the county must have realized that when they allowed commercial kennels in business zones close to local residents.

In fact, the current zoning law that Commissioner Mullin said Tuesday he did not want to address sets lax standards in heavily populated areas but tougher standards in rural areas.

The law demands that commercial kennels in the NAR and SAR (northern and southern agricultural zones) must be located on at least five acres and must obtain a “special exception” which requires a hearing at the planning commission and the Board of Appeals. Those rules enabled the CCSPCA, and local environmental groups, to block a proposed commercial kennel adjacent to the Bohemia River several years ago.

Cecil County Commissioners were warned of the problem several years ago and then-commissioners Mullin and Rebecca Demmler indicated at meetings that they agreed all zones should require a ‘special exception’ before a commercial kennel could be opened. The county planning director was tasked to pursue the issue as part of zoning code revisions related to the revised Comprehensive Plan that was adopted. But the changes were never made.

In contrast, at the recent insistence of current Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) all medical clinics must now obtain a “special exception” permission as part of her efforts to limit methadone clinics in the county. Those clinics are open a few hours a day and do not make noise all night as do commercial kennels.

[DISCLOSURE: The editor of Cecil Times has adopted several pets from the Cecil County SPCA and in the past served as an unpaid volunteer board member.]

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8 Responses to Cecil County Animal Law: Good Intentions Run a Costly Amok; Zoning Issues Ignored

  1. doug williams on June 8, 2012 at 11:54 am

    My, my that vet and her “secretary” have been busy little bees, writing rules that will limit all sorts of animal activities plus make sure that fewer people own pets and less revenue comes to the county. Throw the whole thing OUT. It is obviously written to feather her own nest through “health certificates” and is basically unconstitutional as well.

  2. Duhh on June 9, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    When you only have one remaining committee member, that suggests everyone else resigned because of a bully. Now a bully brings along a secretary because, after all, it at least needs to “appear to be a committee–and besides there needs to be a “secretary for the committee.” What a joke on Maryland.

  3. Vet Barnes on June 9, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    These laws are being pushed by HSUS cult members who want to end all use of animals as pets. This is very typical of the cult members of the animal rights organizations like HSUS. HSUS, PeTA and ALF all want to end pet ownership in this country. READ the goals of the animal rights groups and you will see they push a vegan diet and no more pets.

    These two people must be animal rights cult members. These laws are not constitutional and all should be thrown out. Who is allowing these cult members to come into our area and make laws against dog breeders who are best at providing well socialized pets for the community as part of their hobby of showing dogs?

  4. Erica on June 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    Sounds like it’s time to file this in the round receptacle and form a new committee made up of actual people chosen from a large group of people of varying backgrounds, and make sure Ms. Mindy and Ms. Edie (her secretary) are no part of this group. Although I hear there are openings at H$U$.

  5. B Sten on June 10, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Wow, nobody could deal with the last remaining member of this committee. They do nothing to replace them and even allow this person to bring in one of her own to jot down notes. So I am assuming the legal procedure no longer exists in Maryland? That is a shame. I thought they had rules and stuff they had to follow. This *vet* is SO not writing rules that helps her bottom line? Do they still call that conflict if interest in that state/city?

  6. Jenn on June 10, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    Just want to clarify a few things. First, regarding the health certificates, both citizens and Cecil times would be wise to look at the state laws of Maryland, the state in which you live. The health certificate is a STATE law, and as such, if you don’t like it, need to contact your state delegate. The state law on health certificates does include an exemption for shows, exhibitions, etc.

    HSUS, PETA and the ASPCA are radical groups. The task force has no interest in those organizations and their kill more animals agenda. However, I will point out that when Cecil County SPCA, who you pay with your tax money, came under fire for alleged abuse, they called those very groups in to do assessments of their shelter.

    Further, Edie Crick was voted onto the task force after another member resigned. If you had come and listened to those meetings, you would know that.

    • Cecil Times on June 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm

      Jenn, since you have been Dr. Carletti’s vet tech and friend for many years, your perspective may be clouded. In fact, COMAR 15.11.01 and its subsections in the state code for the Agriculture Dept. deal with “importation” of livestock into the state. At the end of the section, in subsection .08, there is a section on dogs that is clearly related to importation of dogs for commercial purposes, such as retail sales, as the entire section deals with commercial importation of animals regulated by the Ag department. There is no point in including a dog health certificate in the county ordinance, which makes the COUNTY taxpayers responsible for its enforcement and the implication of it applying to individuals rather than commercial operations. The state Ag department regs would still apply to commercial operations. The state regs also do not intrude into private ‘free to good home’ pet transfers among individuals, while the pending county proposal would require a vet’s health certificate even in these private, non-commercial adoptions.

      Edie Crick was never appointed by the County Commissioners as a task force member. All official task force members had to be approved by the Commissioners, and I dare you to show a vote by the County Commissioners as recorded in their official meeting minutes. Indeed, on some documents she is listed as an “administrative aide” who took notes.

      You try to distance your friend and the task force from groups such as HSUS, but in fact Crick has donated to a political action committee that was set up with assistance from HSUS and has co-ordinated lobbying efforts in Annapolis with HSUS.

      We have never heard of the ASPCA in New York EVER referred to as a radical group, and, as the oldest humane organization in the nation, it has avoided the extremism of other groups. It actually operates its own animal shelter and one of the oldest humane-based low-cost animal hospitals in the nation. Do not malign the ASPCA, which is NOT affiliated with and does not financially operate other local shelters. But unlike HSUS and PETA, ASPCA walks the walk of helping animals, not just talking the talk.

      • Thomas Kirby on June 14, 2012 at 1:04 pm

        The ASPCA is also an extremist group and it’s just as bad as the rest. It has been so for over a hundred years.

        You can see it from the way that they support so many animal rights causes like the elimination of the exotic animal industry and carriage horses.

        Now you have heard the ASPCA referred to as an extremist group.

        They also work side by side with PETA to attack circuses and to try to outlaw circus elephants.

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