Cecil County Cats: Vets Urge Cat Rules for Safety; Activists Seek County $, Claim Mass Murder if Cats Regulated
It was the veterinarians and victims of problem animals versus the cats activists Tuesday, as the Cecil County Commissioners held a public hearing on their latest proposal to re-write a new animal control ordinance. And both sides highlighted serious problems with the county’s “interim” animal control plan that has left people, seeking help for stray and injured animals, helpless
One woman rolled up her sleeve to show scars from a cat attack; a veterinarian new to the county described her problems finding county government help for an injured animal “dumped” at her clinic; a woman told how she lost a baby due to an infection caused by cat feces; and supporters of several animal rescue groups urged deletion of cats from most provisions of the law and they asked for money from county government.
The county has been operating without an animal control services contractor since 8/30/12, when the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA) terminated its contract to provide services due to what its attorney called unenforceable, burdensome and in part illegal provisions of the new ordinance.
The CCSPCA also withdrew its bid to reinstate services under a “request for proposals” (RFP) several weeks ago, because it felt the bid process was “tainted” by possible advance communications with a rival bidder that costly cats provisions would be removed from the law after the deadline to bid. The county is currently reviewing the bid proposed by A Buddy for Life, a Delaware volunteer group with no shelter to house stray animals.
During the formal hearing as well as in an earlier “citizens’ corner” public comment session, veterinarians and citizens also criticized a flawed temporary animal control plan, as well as the new ordinance that was adopted in July by the usual Three Amigos majority of the county commissioners—Commissioners Diana Broomell (R-4), James Mullin (R-1) and Michael Dunn (R-3). The ordinance just took effect 10/1/12 but the Amigos have proposed new changes in the law they voted for in order to exclude its regulation of cats, especially on “public nuisance animals,” damage of neighbor’s property and “fouling” of the air from feline odors that affect neighbors.
The discussions on Tuesday also had political dimensions, both real and perceived, just a few weeks before the November election.
Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5), who voted against adoption of the new law, was particularly outspoken– perhaps prodded in part by the presence in the audience of his election opponent, James Crouse, a Democrat, who spoke out at a candidates’ forum in support of the CCSPCA and criticized the delays and setbacks in producing a workable animal control ordinance on Hodge’s watch. Hodge has been the commissioners’ designated point person on the issue for the past four years.
Hodge blasted the majority of his fellow commissioners, saying that “three of the commissioners decided they wanted to make a big change but they didn’t have a Plan B.” And the animal ordinance drafting process was “hijacked by some people with special interests,” Hodge said.
He added that he has three indoor cats who sleep with him, as well as barn cats on his farm, and “nobody is trying to kill cats” by ensuring that cat owners were held responsible for damages or public health problems their pets create.
Hodge also said the interim animal control plan—which only responds to emergency situations with an animal trapper transporting injured animals to 24-hour veterinary hospitals in Harford County– was flawed and the county was just “faking it” on animal services now.
Broomell repeatedly accused Hodge of “political commentary” and “politicizing” the animal law issue.
Dr. Alan McCarthy, a Chesapeake City veterinarian and the Republican candidate for County Council in District 1, called out Broomell during the ‘citizens’ comment’ discussion Tuesday evening in a spirited debate.
“This is an animal control ordinance, not a dog ordinance,” he said. Dr. McCarthy pointed out that cats are the leading cause of rabies transmission to humans. He also noted that Mullin and Broomell had previously admitted in public sessions that they did not read the final version of the animal law, which included cat regulations, before they voted to support it. And now they want to exclude cats from the law they voted for, he said.
McCarthy then challenged Broomell on what was the responsibility of a commissioner as “a representative of Cecil County.” Broomell said she had read previous versions of the law and thought that cats had been removed from the final version. “I view it with a great deal of reverence and honor,” she said of her duties as a commissioner.
Meanwhile, Dr. Gloria Kilby, a Colora veterinarian, testified that cats should be included in the ordinance because, unlike the sentimentality of the Disney movie of “Lady and the Tramp,” emotions do not reflect the reality of animal issues. She listed the problems of cats that negatively affect neighbors, such as “screaming tomcats” and potentially toxic excrement on neighbors’ property. “This ordinance is nuts, as far as I’m concerned,” she said.
“Everything about this ordinance is unconstitutional so I think it needs to be re-thought,” Dr. Kilby said.
Dr. Kerriann Hanlin, the new owner of the North East Animal Hospital on Route 40, testified about her recent experience trying to be a “good Samaritan” when a stranger “dumped” at her clinic two stray dogs he had hit with his car. One dog was so injured it could not be saved, she testified. But when she sought help for the other dog that she could not assume responsibility for, she said she hit “a brick wall” from county officials and 911 emergency staffers, who refused to do anything to help the injured animal.
(Jeanne Deeming, executive director of the CCSPCA, told Cecil Times that the Chesapeake City shelter responded to Dr. Hanlin’s plea for help and the same day the dog was “dumped” on her, the CCSPCA took the dog into the shelter at no cost. And, the Doberman mix dog—now named “Priscilla”– has been spayed at the CCSPCA’s expense, treated by the shelter’s staff veterinarian for wounds and skin conditions, vaccinated and is now available for adoption.)
Dr. Hanlin also testified that from her professional experience, “I don’t see how you could possibly exclude cats from the ordinance.” She also urged that there should be “a way to re-write the ordinance to enable the contractor to come back on board” to provide animal control services.
But the medical professionals’ views were in sharp contrast to some of the cat activists and volunteer animal rescue groups, who had organized an email campaign to the County Commissioners and Facebook postings that claimed the county government would be subsidizing the killing of thousands of cats by including cats in regulations governing “nuisance” animals. They also claimed that the ordinance would impose a costly burden on an animal control contractor, and ultimately taxpayers.
One Earleville man, who said he is involved with “trap, neuter, release” (TNR) of feral cats, testified that such cats were in danger of being “round up and sent to death camps” and “killed for convenience.”
Brieann Masenior, who operates a volunteer group known as “Rufflife Rescue” that houses animals in several private, volunteer homes locally and in nearby states, testified that such rescue groups should get money from the county government. “We are entitled to it,” she said. Masenior has also posted on Facebook allegations that county government money set aside for animal control has been misappropriated and she wants funds given to volunteer groups.
Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2), who voted against the new animal ordinance along with Hodge in July, called local volunteer rescue groups “our heroes” at the evening meeting and posted on their Facebook group after the hearing that their fears of a “round up” of cats to be killed was a “point well taken” even if that was not the law’s intent.
Edie Crick, an animal activist who served as an unofficial note-taker and “administrative assistant,” according to county records, for a disbanded animal control task force, said she wanted cats removed from the ordinance because otherwise it would be “a law that would be too costly to enforce.”
The task force largely disbanded after it produced an ordinance, based on two years of work, that was put out to public hearing in early 2011. However, Crick, along with Mindy Carletti, a Perryville veterinarian, re-wrote the task force plan for the next year and a half. They opposed putting cats in the law but commissioners inserted the language during deliberations before it was adopted.
Crick testified that the county government should give the animal control contract to “A Buddy for Life.” Carletti provides vet services to that group and one of her employees is actively involved with the group and handles its internet postings.
Ricky Lewis of Perryville, who operates “Cat Crusaders” rescue group, said cats should be deleted from the ordinance because enforcement costs would be “astronomical.” And “why should I have to pay for a problem somebody has on their property,” he said.
A woman who identified herself only as “Vanessa” of Perryville and a tattoo parlor operator, said she worked with Carletti on cat TNR and such programs should get county money, instead of spending it for “mass murdering” of cats and “murdering the family pet.”
Christina Clark, of Port Deposit, rolled up her sleeve to show Commissioners a scar on her arm from a cat attack. “I’ll have this forever,” she said. Roaming cats have also attacked her chickens, she said. “This whole law is nothing but a loophole and designed to fail,” she said, and it “should be stripped down and re-worked by a more qualified staff.”
Anke Masters, of Elkton, brought the room to a hush as she described moving many years ago into her house that had previously been occupied by a cat hoarder. After removing loads of feces from the house, she developed toxoplasmosis and the disease was transmitted to her unborn child. “I lost the baby,” she said.
She questioned why the commissioners seemed to be “bending over backwards on behalf of” certain groups and said the handling of the bidding process for an animal control contractor was a “giant conflict of interest” that “maybe the Ethics Commission needs to look into.”