Cecil County Commish Catfight: Questions Raised About Removing Cats from Law while Animal Control Bids Pending
It was yet another catfight among the Cecil County Commissioners Tuesday afternoon as they discussed a proposal with mysterious origins seeking to remove “cats” from much of the new animal ordinance the commissioners adopted just a few months ago.
But this time two commissioners raised questions about the “timing” and politics of the effort, coming as it does while county officials are considering two rival bids to assume animal control duties under contract with the county.
A committee of county officials is slated to meet with representatives of the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA) to discuss its response to a county Request for Proposals (RFP) to provide animal control services to the county government. A second bidder is A Buddy for Life, Inc., a Delaware-based volunteer dog rescue group that has no shelter of its own and no employees.
The new animal ordinance, which formally takes effect 10/1/12, does include cats in numerous sections. At another recent commissioners’ session, Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5), who advocated inclusion of cats, said the sudden proposal to delete cats was suspect and in line with demands by Mindy Carletti, a Perryville veterinarian who was the lone remaining member of a task force on the issue and who re-wrote most of the ordinance that had been proposed by the broader group.
(Carletti provides veterinary services to the Buddy group and she also put in a bid to the county for interim veterinary services that was rejected as too costly.)
On Tuesday, Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2) pressed the point of the origins of the new no-cats proposal: “Where did that come from?”
Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) who has been leading the charge to drop cats from the ordinance lately, responded, “I think we had a number of communications that some people have forgotten about that including cats would make it enormously expensive” for animal control.
Moore noted that commissioners put cats into the ordinance by intent and said that it now looked like some cat advocates and their allies among the commissioners were “sneaking through” a change in the law.
Later in the session, Moore tried again, insisting, “Who submitted this version?” After a long pause, county administrator Al Wein said he received the document from Commissioner James Mullin (R-1)
“I didn’t put the whole document together,” Mullin responded, without identifying who else was involved. He then launched into a tirade against the Cecil County SPCA, claiming the group never dealt with feral cats. But Broomell disagreed, noting she had obtained humane traps for feral cats from the CCSPCA and the organization took the animals into its shelter in Chesapeake City.
Moore and Hodge questioned the push to remove cats now, while a team of county senior employees is reviewing the two bids to provide animal control services that were submitted two weeks ago.
Moore questioned “the timing of this” and said, “If you change this it closes the whole RFP process.” She said the bidders “responded to the ordinance and now you are changing the ordinance.”
Hodge said that if the ordinance changes were made, the whole RFP process should be started over so that bidders could respond accordingly to the revised provisions.
Implicit in the mystery of the proposed changes is whether one bidder might have had advance knowledge or communication that services to cats would be removed from the ordinance and a bid adjusted accordingly.
Wein and County Attorney Norman Wilson then insisted that any discussion of the RFP and bidders must be done in a closed-door session. Broomell and Hodge voted no, but a three-vote majority agreed to throw the press and a political ally of Broomell out of the room.
After about a 10 minute closed session, the open meeting resumed.
County Treasurer Bill Feehley, whose office handles dog licenses and is sitting on the review team for the RFP, said he thought it was “just not right” to remove cats from most of the ordinance’s regulations, especially “nuisance animals” that destroy neighbors’ property. He said he had had a problem with a neighbor’s cat that used his children’s sandbox as a litterbox. He said “nuisance animal” regulations, requiring an owner to be responsible for damages caused by their animal, should apply to all animals, not just dogs.
Wilson and others pointed out that state laws reference nuisance “animals” in broad terms and do not limit it to dogs. But Broomell said she wanted to limit it to dogs and if someone has a problem with a cat or other animal, “you can go to District Court” and complain citing state law, not a local ordinance.
“So cats are a special race,” Hodge said sarcastically. He also commented with sarcasm that interpretations of the regulations by a majority of the commissioners “depends on who gets the contract” for animal control.
Hodge pointed out that state law requires cats to have rabies shots, but without including cat enforcement provisions in the county ordinance there would be no way to ensure compliance. “Are you ever going to impound a cat for any reason whatsoever?”
And, he said, “If it’s all about the money, we can take cats out of the contract” with an animal control provider–so they would not have to go out on calls to pick up stray or feral cats—but, he said, the county could still maintain provisions in the law to provide authority to deal with vicious or destructive cats or cat hoarding situations that endanger public safety.
(Other counties in the state already regulate cats. Montgomery County, MD requires county licenses for cats, with a $12 annual fee for an altered cat and $25 for a non-neutered/spayed cat. The county includes cats in “animal at large” prohibitions, applying to a cat that “is outside the owners’ premises and not leashed or immediately responsive to verbal or non-verbal direction.” (In contrast, dogs must be leashed at all times unless in an approved dog park or similar activity.) The county’s code also applies its “animal trespass” and “animal noise” rules to all animals, including cats.)
At one point, Hodge cited provisions of the proposed revisions that indicated it would be a non-punishable offense for an owned cat to bite a human, whereas there was a $500 fine for a dog biting a human. “They should be accountable,” he said of cat owners.
Meanwhile, pinpointing the politics of the situation, Moore inquired, “Are there three votes here to change ‘animals’ to ‘dogs’?” If so, she said, “why waste everybody’s time?”
She didn’t get an answer to her question from the Three Amigos’ faction of the board—Broomell, Mullin and Michael Dunn (R-3).
Moore and Hodge had ultimately voted against adoption of the new animal control ordinance, citing onerous and costly provisions regulating tethers, hours of outdoor exposure, family “hobby kennels,” requiring microchips in some animals and mandatory inspections of family homes having over two litters of puppies a year. The Three Amigos voted for the ordinance that they now want to change.
After two hours of loud meowing and claw-baring on Tuesday, the county commish reached no final decisions. All together now, sing: “Who let the cats out….”
[UPDATE: The agenda for the Tuesday 10/2/12 commissioners' worksession lists action on 'updates' of the animal ordinance and also states the commissioners will consider adding members to the RFP review committee.]