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Cecil County Animal Control Group Admits Secrecy on Fatal Attack, Claims Big Taxpayer Costs for Day of Care; State Probe Continues

February 6, 2014
By Nancy Schwerzler

A Cecil Times Special Report

Cecil County’s animal control contractor, A Buddy for Life, Inc., has admitted it omitted details of a fatal attack by one of its ‘foster’ 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 “this matter is being investigated” and “until they have a final document” 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 group’s 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 county’s 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 panel’s chairwoman, Lyn Yelton, asked for a breakdown of the number of dogs housed at the Buddies’ 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 “average day” there were 9 dogs “there for Cecil County.” She said that after the hold period when strays become the Buddies’ responsibility, “they’re at the facility.”

The Buddies receive $60,000 a month from Cecil County and the group’s 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: “Brittany,” a Buddy-owned dog that killed a small dog and viciously attacked a woman who had volunteered to “foster” 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 Buddy’s “incident reports” to the county. Callahan declared that the omission was “an oversight on our part” and “it should have been in there.”

[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 “dangerous dog” as specified in state law.

The Buddies did not volunteer any information. Yelton responded that it appeared that the dog had been “placed outside Cecil County’s control.” (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 “overflow” of volunteers by getting the county’s Social Services department to place welfare recipients and others receiving government assistance to work as unpaid “volunteers” 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 “interns” and could claim their unpaid labors as meeting their work requirements and would receive a “recommendation.”

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 Buddy’s 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 “resident agent” 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 county’s 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 group’s operation of an animal “rescue” 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 “animal care costs” 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. That’s $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 $29,287—for 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 budget—just $877 for a three month period, and much of it comes from Wal-Mart.

That was less than the Buddies listed for their “audit fund”– $1,752 for a three-month period. The group’s 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 county’s funds for the expense.

The new document also claimed a “monthly cost” of $7,776 for “contract administrative requirements cost.”

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 county’s 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 kennels—including so-called ‘hobby kennels’ 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 contract—contrary to half that duration specified under the bidding documents for the animal control contract—in the final hours of the old County Commissioners form of government in late 2012.

Meanwhile, under their contract with the county, the Buddy’s 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 “retired” vet from Villanova, PA. Cecil Times obtained a copy of the report from the county government.

Farhy’s report counted 40 dogs in “kennels” at the site and did not mention wire crates that past visitors have found housing as many as 30 dogs in an upstairs room. Farhy’s 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 ‘isolation’ area for sick cats.

Farhy’s report noted that there was no shelter from rain or snow for outside dog runs but added that some “8 day holding runs are attached so there is shelter” 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 county’s building division, carried the notation that “non-profit dogs kept upstairs.” Conway’s report noted the presence of “some feces” on floors but added that they appeared to be “new.”

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9 Responses to Cecil County Animal Control Group Admits Secrecy on Fatal Attack, Claims Big Taxpayer Costs for Day of Care; State Probe Continues

  1. David on February 6, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! Can we please terminate the contract with “A Buddy for Life”?

    • Mary Ann W on February 6, 2014 at 10:26 pm

      And then what?

      • Jeannette H on February 7, 2014 at 9:47 am

        Mary Ann W, you need to ask and then what? Surely you don’t think that Buddy for Life should be allowed to continue with the animal control contract? Then what should the county do– pretty simple answer for anyone not in bed with Buddy’s. Is keeping animals in crates and closets acceptable to you; sending a dog to foster with such problems that it attacks and kills with no warning; operating and dispensing drugs without a license– is all that acceptable to you? If it is, you are just as much a problem as the Buddy’s.

        • Mary Ann W on February 7, 2014 at 10:54 pm

          Yes, I am asking – and it’s a legitimate question. Remember there was only one other organization that submitted a proposal for the job – the former SPCA – who then withdrew their proposal before the contract was awarded.

          • Jeannette H on February 10, 2014 at 3:21 pm

            If you remember, the SPCA pulled their RFP because of the backdoor deals that were going on with the 3 amigos and Wein. I have to give the SPCA credit, they have kept their doors open even without the county contract but I bet given the opportunity, with an even playing field, they would reconsider. Contrary to the Buddy cronies complaints, the SPCA was well equipped and did a really good job and they have a nice facility.

          • Politics for Dummies on February 11, 2014 at 10:44 am

            I think BFL (*Bullies* For Life) ought to be deemed inherently dangerous to Cecil County taxpayers. Remove several key players from that group and you will see the walls crash down all around them.

            The SPCA was totally justified in withdrawing their proposal based on the Three Stooges behind closed doors, eleventh hour deals. Allowing someone with a personal agenda to re-write animal laws but not making her adhere to the same is not only unethical …but unlawful.

            Having toured both facilities, the SPCA trumps the current Buddy group, and their rented place, for professionalism, cleanliness, adherence to (and understanding of) animal laws/rights and the ability to manage animal control. CCACC/ABFL are way out of their league. They need to stick to rescue and leave Animal Control to the professionals!

            It would be money better spent to turn Animal Contro law enforcement over to the Sheriff’s Office at this point. And turn the care of the animals, and adoption and foster procedures, over to the animal care professionals at the SPCA.

            I believe this contract is going to repeatedly rear its ugly head and “bite” some politicians during the next elections.

  2. Politics for Dummies on February 6, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    It seems this group is costing tax payers more and more money and, even while showing profit, are still billing the County for things that should have been in place prior to obtaining the contract (e.g. License, Inspections, etc)! They are spending very little for food and medications but charging Cecil County through the nose for animal control.

    Also, since cats are not part of Animal Control, who pays the salary for 2 feline attendants and an events coordinator? Why are the cats housed in a building being paid with tax dollars? How much does A Buddy for Life contribute to the operating expenses (including salaries for workers to clean and walk their own BFL dogs – ones no longer under 8 day hold)? How much more money is being wasted, in the name of “Animal Control”?

    How does this group justify its refusal of applications for volunteer services or applications to adopt submitted by respectable people wanting to give a caged animal a loving home? Nothing should surprise anyone insofar as this inept group is concerned going forward. They are laughing at the officials and the taxpayers to the tune of over 2.2 million dollars.

    I’d also like to know what happened to them looking for their own building? It seems they’ve pretty much taken over Rainwood Kennel but taxpayers are shelling out a lot of money on rent….

    At this point, the County Executive and staff should hang their heads in shame for allowing this to continue. We, the taxpayers footing this bill, deserve answers. Not fluff or numbers pulled out of the air, but real, factual, honest-to-God answers!

  3. cats on February 7, 2014 at 8:50 am

    You’ll never get answers. Someone at the county is so afraid if ABFL goes they won’t have animal control, but I’m sure the contract would be picked up… ABFL is just spending the tax payers money any way they want and rubbing it under the citizens and the councilmen’s noses. They don’t care if you know what they are doing with the money, they know the county will do nothing about it….

  4. Politics for Dummies on February 7, 2014 at 9:45 am

    I always like to sit back and watch the Facebook dynamics play out after an article is released involving Animal Control/Buddy for Life. I’m guessing the latest has got them realizing Cecil County residents are far from stupid, which is how we’ve been treated through this ordeal. CCACC/AB4L are once again soliciting volunteers after just recently rejecting a volunteer application from someone who was willing to dedicate their time and could have possibly cleared them of former volunteer allegations. That speaks VOLUMES.

    I’d also like to know how the County trades volunteer services for food stamps. I am fairly certain that individuals relying on being fed are not going to report any negative conditions. I also imagine the volunteers are now needed to cover the expenses that AB4L are going to be asked to justify which should include care for “their” cats and dogs located on County paid property.

    Each time material is presented that doesn’t include the breakdowns requested by the County, citizens need to express concern and attend the meetings to voice those concerns. Silence is acceptance and this situation reeks of unacceptability. They can gather a hundred to protest (as is also being solicited), but it takes only one voice of reason to make a statement that eliminates the noise.

    The answer to end this circus is as plain as the nose on a person’s face. I’m trusting that the capable overseers who have allowed this to happen in the first place, can correct it in a way that everybody wins. Something has to be done and soon!

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