Animal Oversight Nominee Cited for Violations of Animal Law; Questions on ex-Carletti Cat Pal
A nominee for the new Animal Control Oversight panel was cited for two violations of animal laws in 2011, documents obtained by Cecil Times show.
But the documents also show departures from usual protocols for handling a non-emergency, anonymous complaint regarding cats and there are questions about the timing and intensity of an investigation initiated by Gerald Hawkins, the new chief animal control officer for A Buddy for Life– the Delaware rescue group that recently began a $2.2 million contract with the Cecil County government for animal control.
Asked about the citations on Monday, Hawkins said he would have to “consult with my attorney.”
Ricky Lewis II, who operates the “Cat Crusaders” cat rescue group, was nominated by County Executive Tari Moore—following the wishes of District 4 Councilor Diana Broomell—for the new animal control oversight panel. Moore picked one person from each Council district that had been endorsed by Council members.
Ratification of the list of nominees is on the agenda for County Council meetings on Tuesday 2/19/13.
Lewis, who lives in Perryville, was cited on 5/5/11 for failure to have proof of current rabies shots for one cat, “Star,”—it was two months overdue– although 17 other cats at his property did have proper shots. A citation was also issued for failure to have a current county dog license for “Jenny.”
Lewis had been associated with another cat rescue group operated with Mindy Carletti, a Perryville veterinarian who re-wrote the county’s animal control ordinance and is now the vet for the Buddy group under contract with the county. But Lewis disassociated from the Carletti cat group shortly before he was investigated by Hawkins.
At the time, Carletti was in the process of presenting her re-write of the animal ordinance to the county Commissioners– and Hawkins had been appearing at meetings in Elkton as a guest and consultant on the ordinance.
The enforcement action was initiated by Hawkins—at the time, an animal control officer with the Cecil County SPCA that then handled animal control under contract with the county government. Information obtained by Cecil Times shows that Hawkins filed a complaint into the animal control computer system at the SPCA in Chesapeake City at 10:21 a.m. on 5/2/11, listed a “dispatch” at the same time, and he reported arriving at the distant Perryville location eight minutes later. He reported his inspection of the property concluded four minutes after arrival.
Reports filed by Hawkins stated that he was responding to an “anonymous complaint” about “cats in a large shed” that were “not being cared for properly.” At the time, another employee who was the chief animal control officer was in charge of such duties, not Hawkins, and Hawkins did not normally receive or enter complaints into the tracking system, sources said. And an anonymous complaint about cats that were not injured on the roadside or in emergency distress would not have received such an immediate, instantaneous priority response.
Hawkins’ reports show he visited the Lewis property and observed some cats peering out the window of a shed and he made another visit to the location on 5/5/13, when he spoke with Lewis and issued the citations.
Cecil Times attempted to contact the Buddy group’s offices on Appleton Road in Elkton but there was no answer to phone calls and no voicemail messaging available. However, we did eventually reach Hawkins on a cell phone.
Asked about the investigation of Lewis, Hawkins said he did not recall it and initially said he did not know Lewis. But then he said he knew “of” Lewis. Asked about why he initiated a top priority investigation of an anonymous complaint about cats in a non-emergency situation, Hawkins said, “I’m going to have to consult with my attorney before I answer any more questions.”
Hawkins is now a full-time employee of the Buddy group, after his employment with the CCSPCA was terminated.
Cecil Times has contacted Lewis repeatedly for his comments, and Councilor Broomell for comment on whether she was aware of the animal law citations against Lewis, and will update this report upon their responses.
On their face, Lewis’ citations for violations of animal laws raise questions about his role on an oversight panel to review the handling of animal control services by the Buddy group.
But more to the point is whether he was singled out for unusual scrutiny at a time when he had disassociated himself from Carletti’s cat rescue operations, and at the time she was seeking to establish herself as the dominant force in county animal matters and push ahead with her animal control ordinance agenda with the County Commissioners. And still unclear is whether Hawkins’ handling of the matter was in any way influenced by possible ties to Carletti or her agenda.