Buddies’ Cat Pal Attacks Animal Control Panel Chair; Maps of Feral Cat Colonies in Cecil County Proposed, as Carletti Protests
Cecil County should know the locations of feral (wild) cat colonies harbored by local cat ârescueâ 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 âregular businessâ from the county attorney.
At the Animal Care and Control Oversight Commission (ACCOC)âs quarterly meeting held 4/22/14, a member of the oversight panel, Ricky Lewis IIâoperator of the âCat Crusadersâ group that deals with feral cat colonies and other stray catsâattacked the panelâs chairwoman, Lyn Yelton, and began to claim inside information about the operations of the countyâs 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.
âReturn to regular business,â 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 âcoloniesâ are located and harbored by advocates of âtrap, neuter, releaseâ of wild cats.
One large colony of feral cats is located in the Perryville town park and Carletti is involved in that colonyâs 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 âcaretakersâ became unable or unwilling to continue feeding them and providing medical care. âIâm talking about registering feral cat colonies,â Yelton said.
âI donât see that happening,â Carletti said, glaring at Yelton and asking why she was raising that idea since the Buddies were not âmade awareâ that there is a âproblemâ with feral cat colonies.
âWhy are you so opposed to it,â Yelton asked.
âWhy do you want to know where they are,â 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 Buddiesâ 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 âcat leash lawsâ 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 âunprofessionalâ but explained it was because, âI got angry.â
Under the current animal control ordinanceâwhich 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, 2011âany person who feeds or âharborsâ an animal for more than three days is considered the âownerâ 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. Carlettiâs Facebook comments took particular umbrage that cat colonies might be covered by the âownedâ animal provisions that are already on the law books.
Carletti also ranted that people should not be required to âreport your animals to the county including if they are neutered (not the governmentâs business) vaccination history, number of animals, etc.â and suggested that amounted to âtotalitarianism.â (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 contractâwhich 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 reportsâcovering the first quarter of calendar year 2014âshowed 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 âcharitableâ 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 groupâs rented shelter.
So the non-profit ârescueâ operations of the Buddies are âusing those kennels free of charge,â 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 Yeltonâs 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 dogsâincluding shots that owners reclaiming their dogs have to pay the Buddies extra forâthe 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.
âI just donât understand why it has to be so high,â Yelton said.
(The Buddiesâ reports list separately the costs of payroll, rent, fuel, utilities, and even the costs of âadministeringâ 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 âwere satisfied with those numbersâ 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 bathâall for $39 a day. Oh, and if we want a 24-7 webcam availability, thatâs an extra $10 a day. All that luxury for a pittance compared to what the Buddies are charging county taxpayers for their canine âguests,â 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 Buddiesâ 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 ârescueâ status with the group. (During the same period there were a total of 50 adoptions, including dogs held by the ârescueâ 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 panelâdespite a failed bid by Lewis to nominate anyone else to replace herâfor 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.