State Vet Board Considers Action Against Buddy Group; Cecil County Animal Contractor Runs $ Surplus, Silent on Attack by Foster Dog
The state Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners is slated to consider this week possible action against A Buddy for Life, which operates animal control under contract with the Cecil County government, for failing to obtain a required state license for nearly a year, state officials said.
In addition, the Buddy group has continued to show a surplus of money in its county-paid operations and its most recent reports to the county government fail to document a vicious, fatal attack on a dog and biting of a woman who served as a foster parent for a Buddy-owned dog.
The Buddy group, which receives $60,000 a month in taxpayer-supplied funds from the county, finally obtained a veterinary hospital license on 12/26/13. And the Buddies’ latest financial report shows they charged the county for the $215 cost of obtaining the license, despite the fact that the county’s ‘request for proposal’ and contract with the group required them to have all necessary licenses before bidding on or receiving the contract.
Laura Downes, executive director of the state vet board, told Cecil Times that the full board will meet this week and is expected to consider, in a closed session, possible action against the Buddy group. The options include filing charges against the “owner” which could lead to a formal hearing and charging process and potential fines and/or license actions; a letter of discipline or “advice,” which would not be subject to public disclosure; or no action.
Downes said that Crystal Litteral was listed as the “owner” of the Buddy for Life veterinary hospital on the license application with no other names listed. Litteral is also the only legally liable party on all of the group’s written documents with the county, including a three-year county contract worth more than $2.2 million.
Although Litteral is on the legal hook, she plays a minor role in the group’s contacts with the county or the oversight commission that is supposed to monitor the Buddy’s operations. Moreover, any legal action against her might have little chance of recovery since she has had difficulties with her personal finances, according to several court filings in her home state of Delaware. The only assets of the Buddy group itself have been purchased with county funds and its two pickup trucks are actually owned by county government and leased to the group for $1 a year each.
The most vocal representatives of the group at public meetings have been Jenn Callahan, listed as a “co-director” of the group, and her former employer, Mindy Carletti, a veterinarian who re-wrote most of the county’s animal law and is the “resident agent” for the Buddy group on its Maryland business license.
The veterinary hospital license is required because the group has kept medicines and drugs at its rented shelter in Elkton and administered them to animals on the premises. Downes said the vet board decided the group would not also need an Animal Control Facility license from the state because the Buddies promised that euthanasia chemicals would not be stored there and euthanasia would be handled elsewhere by a licensed veterinarian.
[SEE previous Cecil Times report on the lack of required state licensing here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/11/state-vet-board-to-investigate-buddy-animal-shelter-on-license-inspection-issues-family-says-buddy-foster-dog-killed-their-pet-attacked-woman/ ]
Quarterly financial accountings to the county government required by the Buddy’s contract show the group has spent many thousands of county-supplied dollars to purchase veterinary supplies from out-of-state online vendors whose websites prominently warn that they sell products only to “licensed veterinarians.” At the time of those purchases, the Buddy group was not licensed as a veterinary hospital and it is unclear if a veterinarian’s license information was appropriated to acquire the supplies for the unlicensed Buddy shelter in Elkton.
In the most recent fourth quarter 2013 report submitted to the county and obtained from the county executive’s office by Cecil Times, the Buddy group shows it is still running a fiscal surplus each month between the costs of providing services and the money given by the county. The gain for October was $5,119; for November, the surplus was $3,312; and for December, $1,752.
The second largest expense paid by the Buddy group with county funds is rental payments, now averaging over $15,200 a month paid to the Rainwood Kennels owned by former Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Dexter Thompson and his wife. The reports to the county listed rent as amounting to 29.4 percent of expenses, with payroll—not including certain insurance costs such as workers’ compensation—accounting for 54.2 percent.
The county is only supposed to pay the costs of sheltering stray animals for eight days, but Buddy leaders have defiantly told the Animal Care and Control Oversight Commission (ACCO) that the shelter rental payments also covered housing of unadopted animals transferred to their “rescue” operation after the county-subsidized “holding period.”
County Executive Tari Moore, who insisted while a county Commissioner that the costs of operating the Buddy “rescue” not be charged to the taxpayers, told Cecil Times in a late November interview that the Buddies would be required to account for their finances and expenses for handling county-aided strays versus animals transferred to the ‘rescue’ operation.
However, the most recent quarterly filings provide no such distinction. In particular, the fiscal reports do not indicate any distinction between employees whose duties are exclusively related to animal control—the two animal control officers—versus the costs of administrative employees such as Litteral, Callahan, and others who serve both the rescue and the animal control operation.
Meanwhile, the reports to the County Executive list “incident reports” by month, showing the requests from citizens for service and the handling and disposition of the matter by the Buddy group. Notably absent from the October report to the county is any account of the horrendous and fatal attack on a small dog by a Buddy “foster dog” and the vicious bites on a woman, Kasie Bolton, who had taken a Rottweiler mix dog, “Brittany,” into her home temporarily as a “foster” to try to help out the Buddy group.
State law requires filing of a “dangerous dog” declaration in cases where a dog has killed another animal and/or attacked a human with serious physical harm. But the reports to the county for October show no information on the Buddy’s response to the Bolton home for the attack. [See Cecil Times report on Bolton's attempt to get oversight panel to review Buddy actions here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/11/animal-control-oversight-panel-eases-some-kennel-regs-declines-to-hear-protests-from-bite-victim-buddy-critics/ ]
Sources have told Cecil Times that an animal bite report, required by state law, was filed by a medical facility that treated Ms. Bolton with the county Health Department that then monitored the situation for a required 10-day quarantine period. However, sources said, the Buddy group subsequently transported the vicious dog across state lines to Delaware and it is unknown whether it might be offered for foster care or adoption to another family without disclosure of its violent history.
The silence of the most recent quarterly reports to the county of a violent incident raises questions about how forthright the group is being in its accountings to the county of its operations and the dispatch of animal control officers if an incident might reflect negatively upon the group. Bolton has said publicly that an animal control officer and Litteral came to her home after the attack and took the vicious dog into their custody.
Meanwhile, the Buddy reports to the county also leave open questions about where the many dogs that they take into custody go, since their shelter has kennels for about 30 dogs and some excess dogs are confined to wire crates in an upstairs room.
For the months of October, November and December, the group listed animal control taking in 171 dogs, with 65 dogs returned to owners and 42 adoptions—including many dogs that had been held for many months before. A review of the previous three quarters of the year reports by the Buddies found more than 200 unadopted dogs whose location could not be determined.
The county’s Animal Care and Control Oversight Commission is scheduled to meet on Tuesday evening, 1/21/14 at 7 pm in the county administration building, for its quarterly oversight meeting with the Buddy group. The meeting is open to the public.
[UPDATE-- Due to the snowstorm forecast, the Animal Control Oversight Commission meeting has been cancelled, according to a posting on the county government's website.]