Who’ll Let the Dogs Out? Days from Deadline, Cecil County Scrambles to Handle Animal Control
A Cecil Times Special Report
Just days before a Friday deadline for Cecil County to assume responsibility for animal control, the county government is scrambling to cobble together a plan using wildlife trappers/pest removal contractors and a commercial boarding kennel, which is currently unlicensed, to handle emergency-only calls for help.
What emerged from a discussion at a County Commissioners’ worksession Tuesday, and follow up interviews by Cecil Times, is that the county is contemplating a bare bones, dire emergency only level of services and even those services are in a state of uncertainty and confusion.
An impromptu committee– consisting of County Administrator Al Wein, Emergency Services Director Richard Brooks, Budget Director Craig Whiteford, Treasurer William Feehley, County Health Officer Stephanie Garrity and other health department staff—has been working on a plan to handle animal control for several weeks.
But with just days to go, county officials were still unclear Tuesday on who citizens should call with animal complaints and how injured animals would be cared for in emergency situations. And a wildlife trapper hired by the county expressed concerns that the number of calls for animal services he would have to respond to may have been understated by county officials.
In addition, after inquiries by The Cecil Times, county officials admitted late Tuesday that their chosen boarding kennel operator, Canine Care in North East, was in fact unlicensed and that the facility had not been visited or the number of its available kennels verified by committee members before its selection to house animals under the new county government interim plan.
The Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA), which has handled animal control services for the county for decades under a fee-for-services contract, notified the county 7/17/12 that it would terminate the contract at the end of August, due to the County Commissioners 3-2 vote adoption of a new animal control ordinance that imposed multiple new duties and responsibilities without any willingness on the part of the county to provide additional funds.
Among the provisions of the ordinance, which takes effect 10/1/12, is an increase in the county-supported mandatory holding period for strays from five days to eight days, regulation and inspections of a new classification of home “hobby kennels” for families and inclusion of cats for the first time in county regulations. The county has frozen its funding to the CCSPCA for animal control for the past five fiscal years.
The CCSPCA’s pro-bono attorney, Michael Halter, also voiced legal concerns that the new ordinance contained provisions that were “in part unenforceable, unconstitutional, and onerous.”
[SEE Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/07/spca-dumps-contract-after-cecil-county-commish-pass-costly-animal-law-overhaul-on-3-2-vote/ ]
Wein reported at a commissioners’ worksession Tuesday that the committee had selected an animal transport contractor and a boarding kennel, on a temporary basis, to handle animal control duties through December, but did not identify the entities or the costs in the public session.
However, he said that no veterinarians had responded to requests to provide 24/7 on call services to treat injured animals or perform euthanasia if needed on an emergency basis to end a hopelessly injured animal’s suffering. He said the county would have to arrange to transport animals to a 24 hour veterinary hospital out of the county but no agreements had been reached. (After the meeting, he said that the county would not be using the widely-acclaimed 24-hour veterinary hospital in Newark, DE.)
There are no 24 hour service veterinary hospitals in Cecil County, although the CCSPCA has a licensed full-time veterinarian on staff who has frequently been summoned to provide emergency surgery and care to injured stray animals at no additional cost to the county under its animal control contract, according to CCSPCA officials.
Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5), who voted against the new animal control ordinance, said that it could be “very costly” for the county to assume the costs of taking injured animals to out of area emergency veterinary hospitals.
Wein also said that the committee would continue to meet weekly to oversee the interim program and would try to work with “rescue” groups to take in animals at the end of the current 5-day county-supported holding period. “Euthanasia would be the option of last resort,” Wein told the commissioners.
He did not identify the “rescues” with whom the committee would be working, but did say later that the trapper/transport company contracted by the county would handle a second transport of animals from the boarding facility to the rescues, or veterinarians, at the end of the county-supported holding period.
Brooks identified the animal trapper and transporter contractor as Mid-Atlantic Pest Services, which provides rodent, bat, squirrel, and insect removal services in Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Brooks said the firm had agreed to provide services to the county at a cost of $2,500 through December. Brooks told reporters that he had reviewed 911 emergency call center requests for services for emergency animal problems and claimed they amounted to “about a dozen a month.”
However, Brooks’ calculations apparently did not include calls for services placed directly by citizens, or by law enforcement officers’ cell phone contacts, to the CCSPCA, which provides detailed monthly reports of calls for services to the county administrator. Those calls included multiple calls well beyond Brooks’ estimates of emergency services, as well as broader animal neglect and cruelty cases that the new, interim services plan would not respond to.
According to a Cecil Times review of the June, 2012 report to the county, the CCSPCA handled 247 complaints. Included in the tally were many more serious and emergency cases than Brooks estimated, such as 4 cases of animal bites; 10 law enforcement agency assistance calls; 11 cases of vicious and aggressive dogs threatening the public; 29 cases of dogs seized in urgent cases of animal abuse or neglect, including overheated cars; injured and sick animals, 9. In addition there were cases of dogs running at large, stray and abandoned, 47; farm animals running at large, 3; farm animal neglect and cruelty, 6.
In an interview with Cecil Times, Mark Boggs, president of Mid-Atlantic Pest Services, expressed concern that he might have been given lowball numbers on how many complaints per month to which he might have to respond. “I was told maybe a dozen or less call a month,” he said. And there apparently was no discussion of secondary transport of animals, from the commercial kennel to “rescue groups” or to veterinarians.
Boggs said he would review the reports to the county administrator and evaluate just how many calls he might realistically expect to receive.
Meanwhile, county Treasurer Feehley, whose office is currently responsible for issuing annual dog and kennel licenses, said in response to a Cecil Times inquiry that Canine Care was currently unlicensed to house dogs and animals at its commercial boarding kennel, located on Shady Beach Road in North East. He said he did not know how many cages or kennels the facility was authorized to have since “I have no paperwork.”
After Cecil Times inquired about the license with multiple county officials, Feehley responded that “ someone from the county” on Tuesday afternoon had contacted the kennel’s owner William Simmons, who said he would show up at the Treasurer’s office on Wednesday to “fill out the paperwork” to get a license. Feehley said he had not visited the facility but thought that Brooks was “going to go out there today.” (About an hour before this conversation, Brooks said he had no knowledge of the Canine Care facility and directed inquiries to Feehley.)
The Canine Care boarding kennel has been the subject of complaints in the past to county zoning officials, with concerns from area residents back to 2006 about noise and other issues. However, according to county zoning officials, the Canine Care facility—housed on about 2 acres of land in a largely residential area—is “grandfathered” because it existed long before current zoning regulations were adopted that would not permit a large scale commercial kennel and boarding operation in the area.
According to documents obtained by Cecil Times, the Canine Care facility is allowed to have a commercial boarding kennel operation and the property owner, Simmons—whose website advertises he is a breeder of German Shepherd dogs he offers for sale to the public—is allowed to have 17 separate kennels for his “own” dogs that may not be combined with the boarding operation.
Brooks told reporters that Canine Care would have a “separate area” for county dogs taken into custody for animal control services, but it was unclear if he was referring to the kennels designated by zoning rules as personal kennels separate from the commercial boarding kennel operations. (Pictures on the facility’s website show one unified kennel area.)
Meanwhile, CCSPCA officials expressed concern for the welfare of animals in the county in light of the current uncertainty and insisted the organization would not abandon its commitment to animal welfare.
“We are heartbroken at these turns of events,” said Jeanne Deeming, executive director of the CCSPCA. “But we felt that the majority of the County Commissioners were unwilling to listen or do what was best for the animals and pet parents in our county. We just could not sit by silently with these misguided policies, and absorb the exorbitant costs that full enforcement of this new ordinance would require.”
Deeming said the CCSPCA was not consulted about the interim plans, but the shelter would be more than willing to accept adoptable animals from the temporary boarding kennel, at no cost to the county, at the end of the holding period so as to provide these animals with medical care, spay/neuter and vaccinations, and the chance for adoption.
“We continue to be committed to animal welfare in Cecil County,” Deeming said.
But the shelter is also embarking on a new course, in the absence of animal control duties and a contract with the county, to re-invent itself as a one-stop animal care facility and “no-kill” animal adoption/rescue center.
CCSPCA will continue to exist but will operate under the name of a subsidiary, “Eastern Shore Animal League,” to provide to the public low-cost animal medical care, including vaccine clinics and spay/neuter services, doggie daycare, and animal adoptions, Deeming said. Local artists are donating services to decorate the daycare area, kennels and new “get acquainted” rooms to bring animals and families together to facilitate adoptions.
She did not rule out a resumption of CCSPCA providing animal control services to the county in the future, but said it would “take a very different attitude” in Elkton.
[DISCLOSURE: The editor of Cecil Times has adopted several pets from the CCSPCA and in the past served as an unpaid, volunteer board member.]