Cecil County Councilor/Vet Finds ‘Mess’ at Buddy Animal Shelter, Oversight Chair Questions ‘Overstaffing’ at Govt. Expense
A CECIL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT
Cecil County Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1), who is a licensed veterinarian, made a surprise visit to the Buddy for Life animal shelter in Elkton late last week and found unremoved feces, odors and many dogs with serious “mange” and other skin conditions. “It was a mess,” he said of the facility, which county taxpayers are supporting with payments of $60,000 per month for animal control services.
In addition, the chair of an independent oversight panel has questioned what she called overstaffing at the Buddy operation at taxpayer expense.
And the County Attorney– while suggesting minimal county concerns with recent state Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners’ sanctions against both the Buddies and its veterinarian, Mindy Carletti– said he and the County Executive would meet later this week with the Buddies to discuss the sanctions and other “contractual/performance issues.”
Top county officials were unaware of the state vet board sanctions until personally informed of them by Cecil Times. After publication of our exclusive Cecil Times Special report on 7/28/14 [SEE Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2014/07/state-vet-board-fines-buddies-for-no-license-at-animal-shelter-carletti-sanctioned-for-violations-on-controlled-dangerous-substances/ ] county officials got copies of the reports that had been obtained by Cecil Times under a state Public Information Act filing. And the Cecil Whig published a limited front-page article on the issue a few days ago but without the normal journalistic courtesy of acknowledging that the documents, sanctions and related matters were first reported exclusively by Cecil Times.
Meanwhile, McCarthy told Cecil Times that his unannounced visit to the Buddy shelter last Thursday was “very disappointing.”
“On a scale of 1 to 10,” with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best, McCarthy said, “I’d give it a 3.” He did not examine individual animals as he would if treating them as a vet, he said, but the problems were obvious just walking through the two-floor facility. About 100 dogs were on site, many held in portable crates, and there were at least 50 cats, he said. Animal feces were evident in dog areas and unscooped cat litter pans and several outdoor animal runs and exercise areas were “dirty,” while a stairway leading to the upstairs area that has no running water was “filthy,” the councilor/vet said.
There was “no separation” between county-subsidized stray dogs on an 8-day holding period and dogs whose care is supposed to be paid for by the Buddies’ private “rescue” operations, McCarthy added. Most of the dogs on site were pitbulls or pitbull mixes and when he examined tags on cages he saw that many of them had been held there for a year or more.
Since the Buddies began their $2.25 million, three-year contract with the county on 1/1/13, the Cecil County Executive’s administration has conducted several announced-in-advance inspections of the rented facility, including administration officials with no training in animal health or welfare. But they did not invite Councilor McCarthy on those visits despite his being a licensed veterinarian. (Recently, the county has conducted two announced-in-advance inspections that did include a retired Pennsylvania veterinarian who was deemed acceptable to the Buddies, and he found no significant problems.)
In a statement issued by Jason Allison, the County Attorney, he said the county was “in the early stages of fact finding” regarding the state veterinary board’s sanctions against the Buddies and Carletti. As reported by Cecil Times, the Buddies were fined $750 for operating for nearly a year without a required state license and Carletti was fined $3,000 and her license suspended for a week for violations of “state and federal law” dealing with “Controlled Dangerous Substances.” The state board stayed collection of $2,000 of her total fine and imposition of the license suspension while Carletti completes a six-month probation imposed by the state.
Allison mis-stated the nature of Carletti’s services, claiming that she only provided medical services to the Buddies in their private “rescue” capacity. However, as reported on the Buddies’ website, all stray dogs entering their shelter under the group’s animal control contract receive an immediate rabies shot—which by state law can only be administered by a licensed veterinarian. But Allison acknowledged there was an “attenuated nexus between Dr. Carletti’s provision of veterinary services for this vendor and the County contract with” the Buddies.
Meanwhile, at a meeting of the county’s Animal Care and Control Oversight Commission (ACCOC) on 7/30/14, Edie Crick, who prepares the Buddies’ required reports to the county, told the oversight panel that in the second quarter of the year the Buddies’ animal control officers picked up 54 stray dogs and “seized” 21 dogs. But, according to her data, private citizens took the initiative to transport and bring the majority of the dogs taken in to the group’s Hutton Road kennel site: 54 stray dogs were turned in by citizens who found them and brought them to the kennel, while another 41 dogs were surrendered to the shelter by owners who could no longer care for them.
Lyn Yelton, the oversight panel chair, pointed out that the group was still including “patrol checks” on its list of so-called “incident reports” – and claiming that driving randomly through a neighborhood looking for strays was equal in importance to responding to specific calls for service from the public. But Yelton has pointed out that despite clocking many miles on such “patrol checks,” only one stray was actually apprehended on such patrols.
In its most recent report to the county, the Buddies started claiming IRS mileage rates for usage of its two animal control trucks—which are actually owned by the county and leased to the Buddies for $1 a year each.
Yelton, who holds a Master’s degree in business and worked for years as a financial analyst, said her review of the Buddies’ reports showed a “tremendous increase in salary” expenses paid by the group— up 32 percent in just the first six months of this year—and costing $178,000, but the number of dogs covered by an eight-day county-paid holding period “hasn’t changed.”
Crystal Litteral, co-director and “owner” of the group according to state records, said there were 10 full-time and 4 part-time employees.
“I think you are overstaffed,” Yelton said, questioning whether that level of staffing was needed for the average 9 dogs per day under county-paid care — or whether the staff was actually spending most of its time on the group’s “rescue” animals that are supposed to be the Buddies’ own financial responsibility.
Litteral declared, “We are contracted to care for them until they are adopted.” The contract in fact specifies that no county funds are to be used for the “rescue” and adoption operations.
Sounding a bit like County Council worksession arguments over the minutes of past meetings, the ACCOC got into a spirited debate over minutes written by the oversight panel’s secretary, Ricky Lewis, a staunch ally of the Buddy contractor that the panel is supposed to oversee.
At several points, the panel’s chair, Lyn Yelton, said that Lewis was making “editorial statements” in the minutes that were “just not factual,” especially on the matter of a previous discussion of citizens’ concerns about locations of feral cat colonies. The panel voted 4-1 to strike out a controversial section of those minutes, with Lewis voting no. The approved minutes for several past ACCOC meetings had still not been posted on the county government’s website as of 8/4/14.