Cecil County Animal Control Group Admits Secrecy on Fatal Attack, Claims Big Taxpayer Costs for Day of Care; State Probe Continues
A Cecil Times Special Report
Cecil Countyâs animal control contractor, A Buddy for Life, Inc., has admitted it omitted details of a fatal attack by one of its âfosterâ dogs in a required report to county officials, while a state inquiry into the group continues and new financial data indicates taxpayers are paying caviar costs for Wal-Mart food and care.
A state investigation is continuing into the operation of the Buddy shelter for nearly a full year without a required state license. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture, which includes the Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners under its umbrella, told Cecil Times that the vet board met in late January and âthis matter is being investigatedâ and âuntil they have a final documentâ no further comment can be made at this time. The Buddy group did not obtain its required state license until 12/26/13 but began taxpayer-financed operations on 1/1/13.
[SEE previous Cecil Times report on the Buddy groupâs lack of 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/ ]
As the Buddy group enters the second year of its three-year, more than $2.25 million contract with Cecil County government, the Animal Care and Control Oversight Commission (ACCOC) — which under the countyâs animal ordinance is supposed to oversee how the Buddy group carries out its contract with the county– met on the evening of 1/28/14 with representatives of the group.
The oversight panelâs chairwoman, Lyn Yelton, asked for a breakdown of the number of dogs housed at the Buddiesâ rented Elkton shelter that were under the county-paid eight-day holding period for strays, and where other dogs were housed at the end of that period, when the Buddies are supposed to assume full financial, housing and care responsibilities for unadopted strays.
Jenn Callahan, co-director of the group, said that on an âaverage dayâ there were 9 dogs âthere for Cecil County.â She said that after the hold period when strays become the Buddiesâ responsibility, âtheyâre at the facility.â
The Buddies receive $60,000 a month from Cecil County and the groupâs fiscal reports show that about $15,200 a month of that amount is being charged against the county funds for rent and utilities the group pays to occupy space at Rainwood Kennels, owned by former county Circuit Court Judge Dexter Thompson and his wife.
While the Buddy-owned dogs continue to be housed at the facility paid for by county taxpayers, there was a bit more mystery about one particular dog: âBrittany,â a Buddy-owned dog that killed a small dog and viciously attacked a woman who had volunteered to âfosterâ a stray to try to help out the Buddies.
Yelton asked why the required 4th Quarter report to the county omitted any reference to that dog bite case and its disposition in the Buddyâs âincident reportsâ to the county. Callahan declared that the omission was âan oversight on our partâ and âit should have been in there.â
[SEE previous Cecil Times report on 4th Quarter financial reports and the failure of the Buddies to include required information on the Brittany incident in its filings with the county here: http://ceciltimes.com/2014/01/state-vet-board-considers-action-against-buddy-group-cecil-county-animal-contractor-runs-surplus-silent-on-attack-by-foster-dog/ ]
During a public comment period at the end of the meeting, several citizens inquired about the handling of that incident and where the attacking dog is now, questioned the legality of how the matter was handled, and inquired whether Brittany was declared a âdangerous dogâ as specified in state law.
The Buddies did not volunteer any information. Yelton responded that it appeared that the dog had been âplaced outside Cecil Countyâs control.â (Sources have told Cecil Times the dog was moved by the Buddies across state lines to Delaware after the attack.)
During the meeting with the ACCOC, the Buddy group described how it has recruited an âoverflowâ of volunteers by getting the countyâs Social Services department to place welfare recipients and others receiving government assistance to work as unpaid âvolunteersâ at their shelter. (Such programs generally include a work or job-training component to continue to receive government subsidies.) The Buddy group said the low-income people were being treated as âinternsâ and could claim their unpaid labors as meeting their work requirements and would receive a ârecommendation.â
Several months ago, several independent volunteers who were not placed at the shelter by government welfare agencies complained to the County Executive about what they said were unsanitary conditions and other problems at the Buddyâs facility. One of the volunteers who was outspoken in her concerns was threatened with legal action by a lawyer for the Buddies for talking to county officials.
The same attorney who threatened the independent volunteer attended the 1/28/14 meeting with the ACCOC and sat with Mindy Carletti, a veterinarian who is the business âresident agentâ for the Buddies on state legal documents and paid for a bidding bond that enabled the Buddies to obtain the county contract. Carletti also re-wrote the countyâs animal law virtually single-handedly after a broad-based task force recommended a vastly different ordinance in late 2010.
Meanwhile, the Buddy group had been directed by county officials to break down its costs for serving animals under the county-paid 8-day holding period, to differentiate those expenses from the groupâs operation of an animal ârescueâ that is supposed to assume full financial, housing and care responsibilities for unadopted animals at the end of the county-paid holding period.
A new document, handed to the ACCOC and county officials at the evening meeting and separate from a previously filed required fourth quarter 2013 report, shows the group calculated its overhead such as rent and salaries and then for the balance, divided the money by the number of animals it took in. As a result, the new document lists some intriguing figures for âanimal care costsâ borne by taxpayers.
For example, the document lists 11 stray dogs that were only on site for a day or less because they were reclaimed by their owners– but the county was charged $2,377 for their care. Thatâs $216 per dog even if they spent just a few hours at the shelter.
Overall, for the fourth quarter of 2013, the document listed 52 dogs that were held from one to eight days, and declared that their care cost taxpayers a total of $29,287âfor an average of $561 per dog.
For those figures, you might think the dogs were being fed prime rib and kitties were licking up caviar from their bowls during their 8-days or less county-subsidized stay. But other line items show animal food is a miniscule part of the Buddy budgetâjust $877 for a three month period, and much of it comes from Wal-Mart.
That was less than the Buddies listed for their âaudit fundâ– $1,752 for a three-month period. The groupâs contract with the county requires them to have an outside auditor review their finances yearly, and the Buddies have told the ACCOC they plan to charge the countyâs funds for the expense.
The new document also claimed a âmonthly costâ of $7,776 for âcontract administrative requirements cost.â
In a related matter, the Cecil County Council approved, by a vote of 3-2, on Tuesday evening (2/4/14) an amendment to the countyâs animal law that was requested by County Executive Tari Moore. She sought, and won approval for, the power to revise various forms that must be filed by owners of kennelsâincluding so-called âhobby kennelsâ for families that house ten dogs. Moore agreed to an amendment to her proposal that would require County Council approval of any change to licensing fees specified in the current law.
Voting for the change were Councilors Robert Hodge (R-5), Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) and Alan McCarthy (R-1.) Voting against were Councilors Diana Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3). Broomell and Dunn have been strong supporters of the Buddy group and voted to give them a last-minute extended three- year contractâcontrary to half that duration specified under the bidding documents for the animal control contractâin the final hours of the old County Commissioners form of government in late 2012.
Meanwhile, under their contract with the county, the Buddyâs shelter is supposed to be inspected quarterly and several county officials have conducted announced-in-advance inspections of their rented kennels. In late January, 2014, a Pennsylvania veterinarian, John Farhy, accompanied three county employees on a pre-arranged tour of the facility. A handwritten notation on the inspection report identified him as a âretiredâ vet from Villanova, PA. Cecil Times obtained a copy of the report from the county government.
Farhyâs report counted 40 dogs in âkennelsâ at the site and did not mention wire crates that past visitors have found housing as many as 30 dogs in an upstairs room. Farhyâs responses, to a pre-written check list of questions on the form, found the facility was clean and without objectionable odors and he saw no animal feces on floors. No numbers were listed for how many cats were housed in an open room while 8 cats were counted in cages in an âisolationâ area for sick cats.
Farhyâs report noted that there was no shelter from rain or snow for outside dog runs but added that some â8 day holding runs are attached so there is shelterâ for some kennels. The county government pays for an eight-day holding period for strays taken into custody by the Buddies. After that period, the group is supposed to assume full financial responsibility for the housing and care of unadopted strays.
A report filed by Pat Conway, director of the countyâs building division, carried the notation that ânon-profit dogs kept upstairs.â Conwayâs report noted the presence of âsome fecesâ on floors but added that they appeared to be ânew.â