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Buddies’ Cat Pal Attacks Animal Control Panel Chair; Maps of Feral Cat Colonies in Cecil County Proposed, as Carletti Protests

May 1, 2014
By Nancy Schwerzler

Cecil County should know the locations of feral (wild) cat colonies harbored by local cat “rescue” groups as a matter of public and animal health concerns, the chair of an animal oversight panel has suggested. But a cat activist member of the oversight panel– who is aligned with the Buddy for Life group that holds a 3-year animal control contract with the county– attacked the chairwoman in legally questionable terms that prompted a call for “regular business” from the county attorney.

At the Animal Care and Control Oversight Commission (ACCOC)’s quarterly meeting held 4/22/14, a member of the oversight panel, Ricky Lewis II—operator of the “Cat Crusaders” group that deals with feral cat colonies and other stray cats—attacked the panel’s chairwoman, Lyn Yelton, and began to claim inside information about the operations of the county’s Ethics Commission.

Complaints to the commission are confidential under county law and even those filing complaints are not allowed to discuss the matter publicly. However, sources have told Cecil Times that Mindy Carletti, a veterinarian who is listed on state records as the business agent for the Buddy for Life group, filed a complaint against Yelton because she owns a dog boarding kennel. No public findings of any result have been issued, but Lewis began to claim he had inside information on the deliberations.

“Return to regular business,” county attorney Jason Allison called out. After the meeting, he said he would have to research appropriate legal authority to determine if Lewis might be subject to sanctions and legal inquiries about his comments.

Lewis, who was cited for two violations of county animal law before being endorsed for the oversight panel by County Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4), has been a staunch defender of the Buddies on the panel and often speaks as though having inside information on the operations of the group, which is getting over $2.24 million in county funds for animal control services.

Lewis and the Buddies were particularly incensed at the recent ACCO meeting over a proposal by Yelton for greater information about feral cat colonies in the county. Lewis would have an apparent conflict of interest in that matter since he is involved in feral cat colonies.

At a recent meeting of the Cecil County Council and in subsequent emails to county officials, an Elkton woman, Anke Masters, shared her concerns about the public health threat posed by feral cat feces in public spaces such as parks and playgrounds. She cited scientific studies on the dangers of toxoplasmosis, which can be transmitted to humans who come in contact with cat feces and can be of particular danger to pregnant women and children. Masters said that as a matter of public health, county residents should be informed of where feral cat “colonies” are located and harbored by advocates of “trap, neuter, release” of wild cats.

One large colony of feral cats is located in the Perryville town park and Carletti is involved in that colony’s upkeep.

Yelton said at the ACCOC meeting that there were multiple reasons for developing a list of feral cat colony locations, including public health of humans as well as ensuring ongoing care of the cats if their regular “caretakers” became unable or unwilling to continue feeding them and providing medical care. “I’m talking about registering feral cat colonies,” Yelton said.

“I don’t see that happening,” Carletti said, glaring at Yelton and asking why she was raising that idea since the Buddies were not “made aware” that there is a “problem” with feral cat colonies.

“Why are you so opposed to it,” Yelton asked.

“Why do you want to know where they are,” Carletti retorted. (As at past meetings of the ACCOC, Carletti was accompanied by a lawyer, who previously wrote a letter threatening former Buddies’ volunteers with legal action if they spoke out about the Buddies’ operations.)

For several days after the ACCO meeting, Carletti ranted on her Facebook wall, claiming that mapping the locations of feral cat colonies amounted to government over-regulation, could lead to “cat leash laws” and would unfairly make feral cat caretakers liable for injuries caused by cats in their care. She also acknowledged that her conduct in responding to Yelton at the meeting was “unprofessional” but explained it was because, “I got angry.”

Under the current animal control ordinance—which was re-written by Carletti after a multi-citizen task force produced a far different proposal that went to public hearing with few objections in February, 2011—any person who feeds or “harbors” an animal for more than three days is considered the “owner” of the animal and is responsible for its actions and its care. However, since many feral cat colonies are hidden, the responsible person or persons are hidden as well. Carletti’s Facebook comments took particular umbrage that cat colonies might be covered by the “owned” animal provisions that are already on the law books.

Carletti also ranted that people should not be required to “report your animals to the county including if they are neutered (not the government’s business) vaccination history, number of animals, etc.” and suggested that amounted to “totalitarianism.” (Perhaps she should re-read the dog license provisions of the law she authored, which require that same information to obtain a legally-required annual license.)

Yelton was not proposing licensing of individual cats or even feral cat colonies; instead, she suggested a mapping or informational registration of the locations of such colonies.

The Buddies are required by their county contract—which gives them $60,000 a month, plus two semi-free vehicles for which the group pays $2 a year– to provide quarterly financial and animal care reports to the oversight panel. The latest reports—covering the first quarter of calendar year 2014—showed a continuation of past accountings that list extraordinarily high per day/ per animal costs of animal care charged to taxpayers.

The county pays the costs of care for eight days for stray animals taken into custody but after that time period the Buddies non-profit ‘charitable’ organization is supposed to assume full fiscal responsibility for the animals. Under questioning by Yelton, a Buddies official conceded that animals were being housed, at taxpayer expense, at the rented facility after the eight-day period.

Cecil Times obtained copies of the latest financial reports, which show the Buddies are continuing to pay $15,000 a month, plus extra utility costs, to the Rainwood Kennels owned by retired Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Dexter Thompson and his wife. The full rental fee and utility costs are charged to taxpayers, the reports show.

Under questioning by Yelton, Jenn Callahan, co-director of the Buddies, said at the ACCOC meeting that at the end of the fiscal quarter there were eight dogs under county-paid care under a required eight-day holding period for strays. But, she acknowledged, there were 89 dogs being housed at the group’s rented shelter.

So the non-profit ‘rescue’ operations of the Buddies are “using those kennels free of charge,” Yelton observed. (Under their contract with the county government, the Buddies rescue operations and those costs are barred from being supported by county taxpayer funds.) In response to Yelton’s observation, Callahan nodded her head, yes.

According to the reports to the county, the Buddies claimed that in January, a total of 56 dogs were taken in under animal control. Six dogs were at the shelter for a day or less before being reclaimed by owners, but the county was charged $1,297 for their care, or more than $216 per day per dog. There were 33 dogs in custody for eight days, at a total cost of $26,721 or nearly $810 per dog for their stay. All told, the 56 dogs in county care cost taxpayers $35,115, or an average of $627 per dog, the reports stated.

Even accounting for vaccinations of incoming dogs—including shots that owners reclaiming their dogs have to pay the Buddies extra for—the per diem and per dog rates are vastly higher than private non-government boarding facilities.

Yelton questioned the high per day costs of care claimed by the Buddies in their fiscal reports, noting that private boarding kennels in the area generally charge $20 to $25 a day and have comparable feeding and exercising responsibilities for boarded animals.

“I just don’t understand why it has to be so high,” Yelton said.

(The Buddies’ reports list separately the costs of payroll, rent, fuel, utilities, and even the costs of “administering” their contract with the county, all of which are charged to the county government.)

Edie Crick, who handles the financial reports to the county for the Buddies, replied that county government officials “were satisfied with those numbers” claiming costs per day charged for strays during the holding period.

(When necessary, our own diva dogs stay at a private Delaware kennel with onsite veterinary care, in soundproof VIP suites with raised doggie beds with fluffy mattresses, and get playtimes and outdoor exercise time plus a bath—all for $39 a day. Oh, and if we want a 24-7 webcam availability, that’s an extra $10 a day. All that luxury for a pittance compared to what the Buddies are charging county taxpayers for their canine “guests,” some of whom end up housed in portable wire crates.)

Depending on who is visiting or inspecting, the Buddies house many animals in an upstairs room, without plumbing, in portable wire crates. Some pre-announced inspections have found no dogs upstairs while unannounced or former volunteer accounts cite multiple dogs held in wire crates in the upstairs area.

Dr. Kerianne Hanlin, a veterinarian who is also a member of the ACCO panel, voiced concerns at the recent meeting about the lack of water supplies in the upstairs area, which also houses cats and isolated cats suffering from illnesses. She said it was important, for both the animals and caretakers, to provide ready access to water for sanitation purposes.

Under questioning from the ACCOC, Callahan stated for the first time that the Buddies have about 10 foster homes to care for animals awaiting adoption at the end of their county-taxpayer funded holding period. Given the excess of animals in the Buddies’ control, and the limitations of their taxpayer-funded shelter, those foster homes could account for double-digit populations of animals at each site. Callahan did not provide the locations of foster homes, the numbers of animals in such sites nor information about their zoning.

The new reports state that the Buddies took in 167 dogs in the first quarter and 102 were transferred to “rescue” status with the group. (During the same period there were a total of 50 adoptions, including dogs held by the ‘rescue’ since the previous year.)

As previously reported by Cecil Times, past accountings by the Buddies left in doubt the status or locations of more than 200 dogs taken into their care but not adopted or returned to their owners.

Finally, Yelton was re-elected as chair of the ACCOC panel—despite a failed bid by Lewis to nominate anyone else to replace her—for the current year. And Lewis retains his position as secretary of the panel, responsible for writing the minutes of meetings. At the recent session, the ACCOC approved minutes of multiple meetings last year that Lewis was belated in submitting to the panel.

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10 Responses to Buddies’ Cat Pal Attacks Animal Control Panel Chair; Maps of Feral Cat Colonies in Cecil County Proposed, as Carletti Protests

  1. Bob Laird on May 1, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    OK – color me “confused”. If these folks with Buddies 4 Life are not following through with their signed contract, why is the county paying them Dime One over what they contracted? This is not how the real world works. If I offer to do work for you and estimate it will cost $500, I don’t get to come back to you and say “Oops. It’s really $750!”. Especially, not on a repeated basis.

    Do the job for the amount that you have signed-on for – OR – cancel the contract with proper notice and let us get a new team in here.

    Why is this so difficult?

  2. Politics for Dummies on May 2, 2014 at 11:53 am

    So refreshing to see the ACCOC finally doing the real job of overseeing Animal Control and not advocating for them. I had been very disappointed in previous meetings and did not understand why an oversight committee was even in place other than to cheer for and promote the animal control contractor. I wondered why the financial reportings and breaches of contract had never been challenged .

    So now Ricky Lewis exposes the reason: Mindy Carletti filed a complaint against the Chairwoman as being allegedly “unethical”– in a similar fashion as she threatened a volunteer with a lawsuit/imprisonment for exposing what really happens behind closed doors at the B4L shelter, in an attempt to silence them.

    Now that the Oversight Committee is trying to do the right thing, it would be nice to see our elected officials follow suit. Wake up and smell the doggone coffee. I’m glad someone is finally taking things serious ly and looking at the very things that have been repeatedly pointed out to our local government — that the Buddies do not adhere to the rules written (conveniently by their veterinarian) for the taxpayers and they are not held accountable for the multitude of breaches in contract. As more citizens come forward, they are going to want answers as to how their hard earned tax dollars are being used to benefit an out-of-State “rescue” when we have serious issues here in our county that could use the funding– including a local Cecil County animal control organization that has full state approval.

    Another very self-serving rule of citizens being required to report problems directly to Animal Control prior to filing any formal government complaint is a violation of citizen’s rights granted in the Constitution. Is this veterinarian ready to re-write that as well? There should always be non-threatening avenues of support provided for individuals to report abuse and neglect. No one should have to go through the person/group first with their complaints when they involve abuse, neglect or health and safety concerns… That is the only way to get to the TRUTH. This is just one example of how the law was manipulated and written to protect those in charge while allowing them to impose sanctions that they themselves do not adhere to and have no intention of honoring.

    There should now be enough documentation on record to support a formal investigation by Maryland State officials not only into Animal Control but our locally elected officials who are running the show. I think taxpayers need to band together and file a lawsuit to retrieve misappropriated tax dollars to the tune of $2.24 million and any “extras” provided an organization that was supposed to have everything “in place” to be able to accommodate the contract. There should be steep consequences for such poor decision making in Cecil County!

  3. cats on May 3, 2014 at 7:01 am

    If more people do not contact the council members and county executive, and also show up at citizens corner, we will get nowhere. The Buddies and their vet have all their cronies there and without more people speaking up, they will keep doing as they please– and spending the county’s money and your tax dollars as they please. If you care about the county and how your tax dollars are spent, PLEASE start speaking up.

  4. Too Much Government on May 5, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Some of us have tried to contact county government about problems with the Buddy for Life group, but the secretaries are very well trained and no one is ever available to speak to us. Some of us have also been complaining to the County Council to no avail.

    The sanctimonious attitude of Tari Moore, County Administrator Al Wein and Mindy Carletti and her cronies is totally unacceptable to me as a taxpayer. As much as this Carletti group complained about the SPCA, the Cecil County SPCA provided a lot more service than this new and inexperienced group, the Buddy for Life organization, provides.

    Everytime we went to the SPCA with an unwanted cat or dog, we were never turned down. They had answers, loaned out cat traps for feral cats on our property, and they had a full time veterinarian right there on the site. Now everyone should finally realize that the SPCA was NOT getting the money that Buddy’s For Life is getting from us taxpayers. The SPCA only got a limited amount for five days of care for the strays but now taxpayers are giving the Buddies money for EIGHT days at taxpayer expense!

    How can one expect this Buddy group to have a positive effect on our community when its leaders, Carletti and Callahan, treat the oversight commission with such disrespect and arrogance? Just attend the meetings and hear and see for yourselves. It’s disgusting to listen to the lies and excuses.

    When is county government going to fire this group and rehire the SPCA?

  5. Michael R on May 5, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    Is this county so rich that it can afford all the time, effort and MONEY spent on subsidizing the Buddy for Life group to give them a profit making business on the citizens dollars?

    It is very clear that they have violated the terms of their contract– which said they were not allowed to operate their private animal rescue programs at taxpayer expense. So why does this continue? What does Carletti have over the county executive and the County Council that most of them are afraid to replace her and her organization?

    The county is well within its legal right to do so. What is more appalling is that the county taxpayers are being robbed by the county government by paying for a Delaware group to house and care for its animals in a building that is being paid for 100 percent by Cecil County taxpayers .

    It also looks very strange to me that the voice recording of that particular meeting was on the county website one minute and then it mysteriously disappeared. Does the county have something to hide?

  6. Jeannette H on May 6, 2014 at 10:32 am

    I wonder what is going on with animal control, and if one takes into consideration how much labor costs this group has incurred the taxpayers, the amount would far exceed the contract price of over $2.2 million. Apparently the county government is either hiding something with its lack of transparency or they really don’t care how the taxpayers, who pay their salary, feel.

    You only hear from the small minority (a lot of Delaware people) who of course are all friends of Mindy Carletti and stack the deck against the “real” residents of Cecil County. By their own comments and own actions, this group has shown a lack of respect for our county government in many ways. When the ACCOC asks questions about how they are using taxpayer money to pay the costs for housing their “rescue” animals, they smirk and imply ‘so what?”

    I ask you directly, County executive Moore, to justify your keeping this organization as the “animal control authority” in this county. Actually at this point I am demanding a public answer…

    Honestly I am sick of this and if anyone wants to join me, we will file a lawsuit against the county and retrieve these misappropriated funds which Callahan admitted to. Can’t wait for elections because I and many others will be out beating the bushes to replace you all and replace animal control.

    • Politics for Dummies on May 6, 2014 at 10:58 pm

      I would LOVE to join you in filing a lawsuit and am currently preparing fundraising ideas to get monies needed to retain counsel. I believe there are other lawsuits in the works as was stated by Ricky Lewis himself when he thought he was no longer being recorded at a public meeting (you can hear him, faintly, at the end of the meeting stating he’s aware of a lawsuit that has been filed against animal control). I am also prepared to “beat the bushes” and have everyone involved in this fiasco removed from office (included but not limited to Diana Broomell, Mike Dunn and Tari Moore). It does absolutely no good trying to contact Tari Moore or Al Wein at this point. Their secretary is very well versed and they are never available for discussion.

      I would suggest getting on the “record” at a Citizens Corner meeting (held the 1st and 3rd Tuesday each month at 6:00 p.m.). That way others with a similar viewpoint will be able to combine efforts. There is a growing number of individuals already joining forces and about to embark on the next steps to getting answers and accountability for ALL of the injustices – neglect, abuse, misappropriation of tax dollars… etc. Would prefer to do things in a more professional manner than those marching to Mindy Carletti’s freak show. Each time I see that group of individuals from BFL I am dumbfounded as to how our local government ever got involved with them. It makes absolutely no sense!

  7. Rick O'Shea on May 6, 2014 at 11:33 am

    Feral cat colonies are a public health hazard. Establishment and maintenance of these sites are illegal under the Animal Control law– Just imagine a sanctioned Wild Dog Pack!

  8. Roger on May 7, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Feral cat colonies should be eliminated. House cats are domesticated but when abandoned, some people think they should survive outdoors. This is a cruel way for a house cat to spend its last days. Go to a colony on the coldest days and see for yourself the punishment this policy inflicts on cats.

    Since when should dogs be put on leashes so cats can run free in public parks? Why should our shore birds be denied habitat when animal control is too soft to do the right thing? I know it’s not something I want but more feral cat colonies are another set of health problems for taxpayers and detrimental to Cecil’s indigenous species of wildlife. When I go to the park I’m not going there to look at cats with nine miserable lives.

  9. The Dog House on May 12, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    It is well about time that cats get controlled. Cats are everywhere. They get run over by cars and trucks on busy highways and small country roads. They have to fend for food, they kill birds, they leave excrement everywhere. Cats are a health issue since most of them do not have rabies shots and just run amok.

    It is so interesting to see these cat people so judgmental of those that have multiple dogs, but think nothing of the 10′s upon 10′s of cats they have roaming around their houses and neighborhoods… Cats and cat rescues should be handled the same as multiple dogs and dog rescues. This is pure discrimination. People who have multiple dogs in their homes aren’t endangering the public health the way these wild cat “colonies” do.

    Carletti and her pals’ goal is to do away with breeding dogs, then the same should apply to cats. Let’s get rid of those nasty ill kept cat colonies.

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