Cecil County Exec Delays New Kennel License Regs; Animal Control Oversight Panel Questions Buddies’ $, Dog Housing at Shelter
Cecil County Executive Tari Moore announced Tuesday night a delay in enforcement of dog kennel licensing rules under a new animal control law until an oversight panel can propose revisions. And the county’s new animal control contractor could not answer the oversight panel’s questions about the number of dogs housed at its rented shelter but did admit that county money is being used to house animals after an eight-day holding period when the full cost of care is supposed to be covered by the private group with its own funds.
Moore– who was on vacation when a group of volunteers at the rented animal shelter operated by A Buddy For Life, Inc. met with other county officials a week ago to complain about conditions there– did not address those concerns directly. But she sounded a conciliatory tone, saying, “All of us absolutely have one thing in common and that is the best interest of the animals.” And, she added, “I think we’re all united” on that.
“There was every expectation that there would be a lot of things to work through” with the new animal law and the Buddies as a first-time shelter operator, she said. “Where we go from here remains to be seen,” Moore added. “We may need to make modifications.”
Moore then announced that new regulations and license application forms, which dog kennel operators and some members of the Animal Care and Control Commission that oversees the new animal law have said were both vague and onerous in their mandates, would be suspended for the next few months until the commission can propose revisions. The panel, Moore said, should “take the time to make sure it’s done right.”
County Administrator Al Wein proposed a tentative timetable for the oversight commission to present proposed revisions to the kennel regulations in the next few weeks, with a bill introduced in the County Council on 11/19/13, followed by a public hearing and subsequent council action in January. Revised kennel rules would then be effective in May, 2014, when license applications would be required.
The key concerns, raised by some members of the commission itself as well as dog kennel operators—such as breeders, dog boarding facilities and home “hobby kennels” that would have to be licensed and inspected if they had just four non-neutered/spayed dogs—were mandates that only a Maryland veterinarian could treat animals, each animal must have a two hours per day “exercise” regimen, and vets must examine each animal every six months.
The only point on which the Buddies group was willing to concede on Tuesday was the rule that only a Maryland veterinarian could be used to certify and meet the mandates. Some kennel operators have noted that, given Cecil County’s proximity to Delaware and Pennsylvania, a Maryland-only vet mandate in the county law amounted to restraint of trade/interstate commerce legal violations.
However, the oversight panel is working on other possible revisions, such as substituting a vet’s certification that an animal is in good physical condition for a mandatory two hours per day “exercise” program.
Meanwhile, after Moore left the meeting following a brief appearance at its outset, the oversight panel got into review and questioning of the Buddies operations and its most recent third-quarter financial and animal disposition reports.
Lyn Yelton–chair of the oversight commission who has been attacked by some allies of the Buddies for her past questioning of the group and the animal law—asked how many dogs were housed at the shelter that the Buddies rent from former Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Dexter Thompson and his wife in Elkton, at a cost of more than $15,000 a month.
Jenn Callahan, listed as the co-director of the Buddies, at first said that there was now dog kennel space for 39 dogs and other dogs were held in wire crates in an upstairs area for a total of 78 dogs on site.
But then Callahan immediately added, “That doesn’t seem right to me” and said she would provide another number to the commission later.
Under questioning by Yelton, Callahan admitted that the Buddies were housing animals at Rainwood at county expense beyond the eight-day county-paid holding period—despite contract provisions, inserted by Moore when she was a county Commissioner, that no county funds should be used to pay for subsequent “rescue” group care of animals after the required eight-day holding period.
Callahan defended the practice, saying that the county was paying $60,000 a month for overall operations of animal control and incurred no extra expenses by having the post-county holding period animals housed at the same Rainwood location. She did not address the issue of having almost as many dogs confined to wire crates in an upstairs area, without outdoor kennel “run” access, and whether county-paid strays were getting priority for the outdoor kennel runs during their eight-day subsidized stay.
Callahan also defended the expenditure of over $1,700 in county funds to pay for training of Heather Buckley in an animal control officer education program—despite language in the contract with the county that “continuing education” costs for animal control officers must be paid by the Buddies out of its own funds. Buckley– who lives with Mindy Carletti, the veterinarian who virtually single-handedly re-wrote the county’s animal law and now serves as the Buddies “staff veterinarian”– had no prior animal control experience before being hired by the Buddies.
Before getting the lucrative $2.2 million Cecil County contract for animal control, the Buddies had only about $6,000 in its bank account, according to federal IRS reports, and had no shelter, no employees and no experience in providing open-admission animal control services for a local government.
Callahan said that the Buddies have 7 full-time employees for animal care and one part-time adoption adviser as well as two Animal Control Officers to respond to complaints from the public about animal problems. She also said that the group’s program for volunteers to aid in shelter cleaning and animal care was now being “re-vamped
Those revisions follow the complaints by four of what was at the time five volunteers who met with Wein to complain about conditions, overcrowding and health of animals at the Buddies facility. Callahan said she wanted to bring in “more reliable volunteers” in the future.
During a public comment portion of the meeting, several members of the Cecil County Patriots—a grassroots community group concerned about county spending and taxpayer costs of local programs—questioned the costs and policies of the Buddies, including the fact that many taxpayer-supported dogs were being held in wire crates when private kennels were not allowed to do so.
Other public comment questions were raised about the Buddies’ reports listing multiple “incident” reports as though they were animal control responses to citizen complaints when in fact they were “ride throughs” or “patrol checks” of local neighborhoods where there had been no immediate reports of animal problems. Indeed, a Cecil Times review of such “incident reports” show they were clearly padded—such as a half-dozen reports on one afternoon in Earleville, in which each street in the area was listed as a separate ‘incident’ to look for possible stray dogs but none were found.
In other Buddies fiscal matters, Callahan declared that taxpayers should be required to pay for an independent audit of the group’s finances that is required by its contract. “That would be a county expense,” she asserted.
The previous county animal control contractor, the Cecil County SPCA, paid for an independent audit by a Wilmington, DE CPA firm at its own expense, and which certified all expenses and fiscal accounts were properly accounted for.