Cecil County Animal Control Contractor Nets Extra Cash from Taxpayer Contract Despite Multiple Rents; Dog Head Count Questions
A Cecil Times Special Report: Second in a Series
Cecil Countyâs animal control contractorâwhich has a more than $2.2 million contract with the local governmentâis spending less than it gets from the county to take in and care for animals, according to required financial reports. But the reports also raise questions about where over 200 dogs were cared for after their county-paid holding period ends and their care becomes the responsibility of the contractor.
A Buddy for Life, Inc., a Delaware animal rescue group linked to Mindy Carlettii– a local veterinarian who almost singlehandedly re-wrote the county animal law– was given a three-year contract by the âThree Amigosâ political majority of the former county Board of Commissioners in the last few minutes of its existence last year. The Buddy group has consistently documented costs below the $60,000 a month that taxpayers are giving the group. In addition, the county purchased two pickup trucks and special âcapsâ for them at taxpayer expense, that are leased to the Buddies for a total of $2 a year.
In the first quarter of the year, the Buddies reported a net gain of $24,566 over expenses; in the second quarter, the gain was $5,434; and the group ended the third quarter of the year with a net gain of $2,621.
Foremost in the Buddies fiscal reports to the county, which by contract are due on a quarterly basis, is the cost of renting kennels. The group was given the county contract late last year although it had no shelter of its own, no experience operating an animal control facility, no employees and no track record in handling an open-admission facility charged with taking in all stray dogsâand housing at least 40 cats– in Cecil County.
The Buddies have been paying an average of $5,000 a month to a Pennsylvania kennel to rent 11 kennels, and at least $3,000 to $4,000 a month to an Appleton Road building in Elkton that, under county zoning law, was not permitted to house dog kennels and has been vacant for much of the time. And the group has paid an increasing amount of rent to occupy part of the Rainwood Kennels in Elkton, which is owned by retired county Circuit Court Judge Dexter Thompson and his wife.
The Buddies managed to get out of their lease on the no-dogs building on Appleton Road, despite a three-year contract the group had signed, in August, after a final $3,006 rent payment, records show. In previous reports, the group was paying from $4,000 to $8,000 on a monthly basis for the Appleton Road no-dogs-allowed building. In addition, the Buddies were paying $5,000 a month to rent 11 kennel cages in Oxford, PA, through July.
The Buddies have now consolidated their operations at the Rainwood Kennels owned by the Thompsons, who continue to operate a private kennel in a separate area of the building. The Buddies recently escalated their payments to the Thompsons from about $12,600 a month to $15,909 in August.
But even after costs, questions arise about the accounting for animals after the county-paid eight day âholdingâ period for stray animals– and whether the costs of kennel rents are being charged to the county allocation to house animals that, by contract, are supposed to be the full financial responsibility of the Buddies. Overall, the care of over 200 dogs, after accounting for adoptions and other dispositions, has been turned over to the Buddiesâ own financial responsibility since the group began its contract in January.
Prior to obtaining the county contract, the Buddies had just $6,000 in its bank account, according to federal IRS filings.
The Buddy group states in online posts that it uses âfoster homesâ to house some of its animals but the reports to the county do not specify how many of the animals it takes in under the animal control contract are subsequently placed in temporary custody in private homes at the end of the county-paid holding period or if they remain at the Rainwood rental property. Previous reports to the county earlier in the year listed a few animals that were transferred to the custody of outside ârescueâ groups but the most recent report does not show such listings.
In the third quarter report, the Buddies stated it took in 150 dogs, of which 45 were returned to owners, and 8 died or were euthanized for medical reasons. After the holding period, 97 dogs were listed as being âtransferredâ to the custody of A Buddy for Life.
In the second quarter report, 154 dogs were taken into the shelter, with 33 returned to owners, 2 died/euthanized, 24 transferred to other rescue groups, and 34 adoptionsâfor a net remaining Buddies responsibility for 51 dogs.
In the first quarter report, 151 dogs are listed for intake, with 32 returned to owners, 4 died/euthanized, 20 adopted and 6 given to rescue groups, for a net remaining Buddies responsibility for 89 dogs.
Consequently, after accounting for other dispositions of dogs taken into the shelter, the Buddies were left with responsibility for caring for 209 dogs, on their own without county funds, through September.
The Rainwood facility has a limited capacity even as the Buddies have expanded their presence and the kennels rented with county funds are supposed to be reserved for incoming strays and dogs still in the âstray holdâ period.
The reports do not indicate where the net remaining 209 dogs went, even after the accountings for adoptions and transfer to other rescues.
In other details of the most recent quarterly report, the Buddies reported a huge increase in fines imposed on local animal operations in the past month by assessing $3,000 fines against two dog kennels, totaling $6,000, while a county oversight commission was debating possible revision of the mandates and regulatory forms required for commercial dog kennels. The kennels were cited for lack of required kennel licenses. [By law, the fines are paid directly to the county government, not the Buddies, so they are not counted in the group's revenues. Even if fines are assessed, they are often not paid by violators who challenge them in court.]
[In the second quarter expense report, the Buddies charged the county government more than $17,000 for purchase and installation of "fencing" on the Thompson-owned property that the Buddies are renting, thus enhancing the value of the Thompson property at taxpayer expense.]
The most recent report also lists $1,729 as an expense against the county payments for animal control officer training, apparently for Heather Buckley, employed by the Buddies as an animal control officer despite no previous experience in such a position. The other animal control officer employed by the group, Gerald Hawkins, received similar training and a certification that was paid for by the previous animal control contractor, Cecil County SPCA, out of its donated funds, not county resources. The report also listed $1,108 spent by the Buddies for purchase of a computer.
The Animal Care and Control Commission will meet on Tuesday, 10/22/13, from 6- 8 p.m., at the county administration building in Elkton to review the latest filings by the Buddies and discuss overall operations. The meeting is open to the public.
[For the first article in this series, on legal actions by the Buddies against a volunteer and attacks on the chairwoman of the oversight commission by Buddy allies, see previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/10/buddy-group-with-2-2-million-cecil-county-animal-control-deal-and-allies-push-legal-steps-against-critics-oversight-panel/ ]
(For a previous report on the Buddies first quarter filings with the county, see this Cecil Times report here: