Buddy Group Profits $25K from Cecil County Animal Control in 1st Quarter– Where’s the Cats?
A CECIL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT
A Delaware animal rescue group that took over animal control for Cecil County in January realized a nearly $25,000 profit in the first three months of its contract with the local government, which cost taxpayers $190,000, according to documents submitted to the county.
And some of the group’s past expenses—such as renting vans—will disappear going forward since the county recently purchased two pickup trucks—at a cost of $65,270– that are being leased to the group for just $2 a year. The cost of the vans is paid by the county in addition to the $60,000 a month contract for animal control services. Overall, the three-year contract and government expenses for animal control services will cost taxpayers over $2.2 million.
The rescue group, A Buddy for Life, Inc., submitted reports showing financials, animal population, and responses to citizen complaints for January, February and March, after the close of the business day on Wednesday, 4/10/13. Under the new animal control ordinance adopted last year, the Buddies were required to submit the documents “at least seven days prior to the quarterly meeting” of a new Animal Control oversight commission that will hold its first meeting at 7:15 pm Thursday 4/18/13 at the county building in Elkton.
Meanwhile, one of the previously appointed members of the new five-member oversight panel has already fallen by the wayside. Kelly Kalman, who was selected by Councilor Michael Dunn (R-3) and endorsed by County Executive Tari Moore, has moved out of the county, sources said. So the County Council will be asked on Tuesday to support as her replacement Laura Hudson, operator of a horse rescue group that got $12,000 from the county last fall for sheltering ailing horses. (If Hudson’s group receives future funds via the animal control contractor for handling horses, it could be a violation of the county ordinance that requires members of the oversight panel to have no potential conflicts of interest.)
Cecil Times requested the required reports, in person, today at the county building in Elkton and county officials initially were reluctant to release them to the press—but relented when it was pointed out that the reports were specifically mandated by law. (The ordinance also states that failure to file the reports by the specified deadline is grounds for “termination” of the contract and that failure to comply “will also result in a penalty of a nonrefundable five-percent reduction of the County’s monthly” payment to the Buddies, to be “deducted from the next month’s payment for every business day the required documentation is not provided.”)
Apart from financial matters, the reports list intake of cats that were surrendered by owners, strays brought in by citizens, or strays apprehended by the Buddies’ two animal control officers. However, multiple calls to Cecil Times—and emails or calls to some County Councilors from citizens—have claimed that people contacting the Buddies were told that the animal control agency did not handle cats.
(A county resident who contacted officials, but asked not to be identified, recounted her problems with getting help on roaming cats that repeatedly invaded her back yard, menacing her dog and her two very young children. After contacting the Buddies, she said she was told “They are not required to do anything about cats.”)
On the Buddies’ online listings of “strays” for the past few months, only dogs were listed and the stray cats tab was empty.
Nevertheless, the official reports to the county stated that the Buddies took in 70 cats in January; 11 in February; and 27 cats in March. Only two cats were listed as having been adopted, with most of the remainder transferred to the Buddies private rescue operation or other cat rescue groups. Several cats were listed as euthanized for medical reasons or dead upon arrival at a complaint scene.
The Buddies’ contract with the county requires that cats be sheltered on a “space available” basis, with the group responsible to provide shelter space for 40 cats. The Buddies’ initial shelter on Appleton road included one open room that was supposed to hold cats, and an unheated closet designated for cats.
Inclusion of cats in animal control has been a controversial issue, with the Buddies and its allies among the “Three Amigos” faction of the former County Commissioners trying to get cat language removed from the animal control ordinance due to costs. However, the law was not changed despite a public hearing last fall on proposed revisions to drop cats, including “nuisance” cats, from the law. The Three Amigos gave the contract to the Buddies—and extended it from a proposed 18 months to 3 years—in the final hours before the county shifted to Charter government and one of the Amigos was put out of office.
For dogs, the reports listed intake of dogs as 66 for January; 46 in February; and 39 in March. The reports list a total of 20 dogs as being adopted.
The financial reports tell an interesting tale of how the Buddies—which never had its own shelter before it was given the multi-million dollar county contract, never handled animal control for a government agency and never had any paid employees—are adjusting to their new role and the money provided by the county.
The major expense of the group is renting office and kennel spaces—first, at a building on Appleton Road that county zoning authorities rejected for housing animals under the zoning code—and, increasingly, at a private dog kennel on Hutton Road in Elkton that is owned by Mary Thompson and her husband, retired Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Dexter Thompson.
In January, the Buddies paid its Appleton road landlord $8,400 for a site that could not legally house dogs; $5,000 to a Pennsylvania private kennel for 11 kennel spaces, and $5,515 to Rainwood for another 11 kennel spaces.
In February, the Appleton Road no-dog site cost $4,116; the Pennsylvania kennel was paid $5,000; and there were two payments of $12,000 each, or a total of $24,000, to the Thompsons’ Rainwood kennels. In March, the Buddies were still paying the Appleton Road no-dogs site $4,246 and the Pennsylvania kennel $5,000—with their March Rainwood fees of $12,000 apparently pre-paid on 2/28/13. Several weeks ago, the Buddies announced they had consolidated their operations at the Rainwood kennels.
(Unlike the Buddies who do not own a shelter or office space, the previous animal control contractor for the past two decades—the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA)—owns its own shelter in Chesapeake City that houses more than 50 dogs plus an open cat room for at least 40 cats as well as separate medical and quarantine areas for ill or dangerous animals. The CCSPCA also has a full-time licensed veterinarian on staff.)
In contrast, the Buddies are contracting out for medical services. However, the financial reports supplied by the group raise questions about how such services are handled, especially extra add-on fees for medical services that the reports do not list– but the group is charging families whose pets might end up in the Buddies’ control.
The reports list some modest veterinary fees paid by the Buddies to the VCA emergency hospital in Delaware but do not specify payments for basic services such as rabies shots—which, under Maryland law, must be administered by a state-licensed vet. In its contract proposal and presentations to the county, the Buddies said that Mindy Carletti, a Perryville veterinarian who wrote most of the county’s new animal control ordinance, would be on call “24/7” to care for sheltered animals.
Online data posted by the Buddies disclose that every dog coming into their care is immediately administered a rabies shot, and two other medications for distemper and Bortadella diseases—at a total cost of $30. That cost is in addition to a $25 per day fee charged by the Buddies to reclaim a stray pet. But the reports to the county do not document how much money was charged to citizens—and paid directly to the Buddies– for such extra add-on costs of shots to families redeeming lost pets.
Overall, the financial reports show that the Buddies have a net gain or profit of $24,566 over their expenses in the first quarter of the year. The Buddies contract with the county specifies that they may not use county money to subsidize any of their private animal operations not directly related to animal control services paid for by taxpayers.
That gain may increase in the future, as the Buddies will no longer have to pay the cost of renting vans—which cost $1,662 in February—now that the county taxpayer-funded pickup trucks are being given to the Buddies.