Cecil County Council OKs Animal Control Oversight Panel; ‘Buddy” Group Moves to Thompson Kennel
The Cecil County Council voted 4-1 Tuesday 2/19/13 to approve five nominees to an Animal Control oversight panel, despite one member having been cited for violations of animal laws. And a Delaware rescue group that is being paid over $2.2 million by the county to handle animal control is abandoning its animal-less shelter on Appleton Road and moving all its operations to the private Rainwood Kennel in Elkton, county officials announced.
Since A Buddy for Life, Inc. began its three-year government contract on 1/1/13, the group has had an office on Appleton Road that lacked proper zoning to house dogs so animals were taken to 11 leased kennels at Rainwood, on Hutton Road, and an equal number at a Chester County, PA private kennel.
But an announcement by the county government stated that the Buddy group would be consolidating its operations at Rainwood as of 2/25/13. “This facility will allow A Buddy for Life, Inc. to have all animal control services at one site and will provide the residents of Cecil County one physical location to search for their lost pet, adopt an animal or volunteer,” according to the county government’s statement.
The Rainwood kennel operation and its five-acre commercial site are owned by Mary Thompson and Dexter Thompson, a retired Cecil County Circuit Court Judge. The premises also include space leased to a private dog trainer and a groomer.
The Buddy group’s contract with the county requires submission of a lease for kennel space to the county for review. Al Wein, the county’s Director of Administration, said the group had a “verbal” agreement to take over space at Rainwood but a written document would be submitted soon. He said he did not know the terms of the proposed lease, including costs, duration and the number of kennels that would be available to house strays.
The three-year county contract with the Buddies was rammed through the former County Board of Commissioners, in the final moments before the county shifted to Charter government and the installation of a new County Executive and County Council. Part of the rationale for the last-minute extension of a previously proposed 18-month contract apparently, as a Cecil Times special report showed, [SEE Cecil Times special report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/01/cecil-county-animal-control-buddy-group-begins-2-25m-contract-carletti-fronted-for-bid-dog-less-shelter-farms-out-pets-to-pa-homes/ ] was a three-year lease—with penalty clauses for early termination—on the Appleton Road site. Wein said he did not know how the Buddies got out of their long-term lease on Appleton Road. He said the county was not paying any costs associated with their move to Rainwood.
Meanwhile, at a late-night session of the County Council—after a more than three hour public hearing on state objections to a “tier” land use map—the panel voted 4-1 to approve the list of nominees to the animal control oversight panel that will review how the Buddy group does its job. Dr. Alan McCarthy (R-1), who is a licensed veterinarian, cast the lone dissenting vote.
Cecil Times had reported exclusively that one nominee, Ricky Lewis II, operator of the Cat Crusaders cat rescue group, had been cited for two violations of county animal laws in 2011, including failure to have a rabies shot for a cat and no county license for a dog. [SEE Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/02/animal-oversight-nominee-cited-for-2-violations-of-animal-laws-questions-on-inquiries-on-ex-carletti-cat-pal/]
Lewis was picked for the oversight panel by Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4). County Executive Tari Moore formally presented a list of five nominees—one picked by each Council member from residents of their district—to the Council for final ratification.
Dr. McCarthy, who said he believed the oversight panel’s work should be “based on fairness, honesty and be totally non-partisan,” asked Broomell if she “was aware that Ricky Lewis had these citations, two violations against him” when she endorsed him.
Broomell said she “didn’t ask him” if he had any citations against him but “I wouldn’t have taken away my nomination anyway.”
Broomell said that after she received a message from Cecil Times seeking comment about Lewis’ violations, she called Gerald Hawkins—now the chief animal control officer for the Buddy group, who had initiated a top priority investigation of Lewis based upon an anonymous tip. She said Hawkins told her he was “impressed” with the quality of care provided by Lewis for the animals on his Perryville property.
However, Hawkins told Cecil Times he did not remember Mr. Lewis or his investigation of the property and that he would “have to consult my attorney” before answering any more questions.
Documents obtained by Cecil Times show that Hawkins—then an animal control officer for the Cecil County SPCA that was handling animal control for the county at the time—initiated an immediate, top priority investigation of an anonymous complaint about cats that were not in any imminent danger, such as injured by the roadside, contrary to the protocol for investigations at the time. He made a second trip to the property, after initially observing cats in a shed, and issued citations on the second visit, documents show. (Hawkins’ employment by the SPCA was terminated in 2012.)
At the time of the Lewis investigation, Hawkins was an invited guest and individual consultant for a re-write of county animal control laws taken over by Mindy Carletti, a Perryville veterinarian who is associated with the Buddy group and now listed as their “staff veterinarian.” Lewis had previously been associated with another cat rescue group tied to Carletti but had disassociated himself to form his own group shortly before he was investigated. Unanswered by Hawkins, or Broomell, were questions whether the investigation was initiated as possible retaliation against Lewis.
Under questioning by McCarthy, Broomell declared that she had not discussed her nomination of Lewis to the oversight panel with anyone from the Buddy group.
McCarthy questioned whether Lewis could be “impartial” in reviewing the actions of Hawkins in his current role as chief animal control officer for the Buddies, in light of the past citations. Broomell said she believed he could be impartial, and asserted she had received an email shortly before the vote from Moore stating the county executive believed Lewis could be impartial and still supported his nomination.
Cecil Times obtained a copy of an email sent by Moore to Council members Tuesday morning, the day of the vote, in which she said:
“I’ve personally spoken with Mr. Lewis on several occasions, the most recent conversation was this morning. He provided a very reasonable explanation of the statements made, and I remain comfortable of his ability to be impartial and be a good appointment to the committee.”
On a roll call vote, the full list of nominees was approved on a 4-1 vote by the Council, with McCarthy voting no.
The list of members is as follows:
–Madelyn B. Yelton (Dist. 1), (McCarthy nominee) Elkton–owner of Rebel Ridge Farms, a cat and dog boarding facility, and active in retriever dog clubs. She holds an MBA from the University of Rochester (NY) and is a certified financial planner.
–Kerrianne Hanlin (Dist. 2), Elkton– (Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey nominee) a veterinarian who took over the North East Animal Hospital on Route 40 over a year ago
–Kelly Kalman (Dist.3), Rising Sun—(Councilor Michael Dunn nominee) a dog groomer at an Oxford, PA veterinary clinic.
–Ricky Lewis II (Dist. 4), Perryville–(Broomell nominee) employed as a public works inspector in Baltimore county and operator of a local cat rescue group, Cat Crusaders.
–Veronica Dougherty (Dist. 5 )– (Council President Robert Hodge nominee) A professor of biology and chair of the Science Department at Cecil College. She holds a doctorate in biology from the University of Connecticut. She is involved in training seeing-eye dogs.
Wein said the oversight panel would meet for the first time in March. Under the new contract, the Buddies do not have to provide reports to the new oversight panel on the number of stray animals handled, the disposition of each animal, adoptions, euthanasia, etc., until the end of the first quarter. In the past the Cecil County SPCA provided such activity reports to the county government monthly.