Moore Names New Cecil Co Animal Shelter Head, has Several Months as Baltimore CO Shelter Manager, Hawaii Rescue Role

May 1, 2016

Cecil County Executive Tari Moore has selected Abigail Lightning Bingham as the Director of Animal Services that will operate the county’s recently purchased animal shelter as part of Moore’s plan to handle animal care and control with government employees, instead of non-profit humane organization contractors as in the past.

Moore praised her choice as having a “wealth of knowledge and experience [that] will make her a key player in the development of our Animal Care and Control Division, and we are excited for this opportunity to positively influence policy and outcomes for Cecil County’s pet population. We recognize the important role animal care and safety plays in the lives of Cecil’s citizens, and look forward to providing transparency, accountability, and positive prevention and intervention programs in new and creative ways.” Moore is in the last seven months of her term as County Executive.

Bingham will begin her new job here on May 9 and the government-operated animal care and control operations begin on July 1. Last week, the county closed on the sale of the former Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. shelter in Chesapeake City. The county paid just $395,000 for the 12-acre property and its three buildings, just a fraction of the more than $800,000 state Department of Assessments and Taxation’s valuation of the property.

Bingham’s appointment was announced in a statement issued by Moore on Friday 4/29/16, the same day that her departure from the government-operated Baltimore County shelter was announced by that agency via social media.

According to Baltimore County government payroll records, Bingham was hired late in July, 2015 as an hourly-paid “animal shelter attendant.” It was not until last November 6 that Baltimore County Animal Services announced that she had become the “new shelter supervisor.” In Baltimore County, animal services fall under the county Health Department, with several officials above the shelter supervisor.

Baltimore County’s government-owned shelter came under heavy fire from some animal rights activists, who sued the county over conditions at the facility more than a year ago. But County Executive Kevin Kamenetz refuted the claims and pointed out that he had already initiated a $6.6 million project to build a new state of the art animal shelter. Kamenetz also expanded staffing at the old facility. The new facility, which has already opened, more than doubled the capacity of the old shelter.

Prior to her brief tenure in Baltimore County, Bingham owned and operated a pet walking and pet sitting business, “Walking on Sunshine,” in Hawaii which she created in late 2013.

Previously, she worked as Executive Director, from April 2011 until December 2013, of the Oahu SPCA in Kapolei, Hawaii. Earlier, she worked for a year as the organization’s shelter manager. The Oahu SPCA is a private non-profit group that functioned without government contracts for animal control or requirements to take all animals showing up on its doorstep. Baltimore County and Cecil County animal operations require an “open admission” policy, mandating the shelter to take all animals found or surrendered by county residents.

Bingham’s other experience with animals includes working for about four years as an animal control officer and shelter supervisor for the municipality of College Park, MD. She also worked as an assistant in a Dundalk, MD veterinary hospital.

Moore’s announcement quoted Bingham as saying she was “elated to join Cecil County’s dynamic team as we embark on developing a progressive animal shelter operation.” Bingham’s social media posts feature pictures of her dogs and a cat with a face that rivals the Internet sensation, “Grumpy Cat.” She received a degree in criminal justice from the University of Missouri.

Bingham’s tenure in Oahu drew mixed reviews, from social media comments and ratings sites, with some writers describing dirty conditions, poor record-keeping and gruff staff at the shelter while others said the shelter was doing the best it could with limited funds and a converted warehouse location.

In Baltimore County, there was a recent controversy—similar to an incident involving the current Cecil County animal control contractor, A Buddy for Life, Inc.—when a pitbull mix, “Brooklyn,” was advertised for adoption without full disclosure of its history: the dog was turned in to the county shelter after it attacked and killed a small Bichon, “Princess.” The owner of Princess said she had filed reports on the incident and criticized the shelter for putting Brooklyn up for adoption with just a posted comment that it should be “the only dog in the home.”

Avid supporters of the Baltimore County shelter criticized the dead dog’s owner for saying she thought Brooklyn should be euthanized or at least the dog’s “kill” history should be publicly disclosed.

Similarly, the Buddies posted for adoption a dog, “Brittany,” without public disclosure that it had killed a small dog and viciously attacked a woman serving as a “foster mom” to help out the Buddies when their rented Elkton shelter was overcrowded. The Buddies also did not include the animal bite and attack, as required by law and its contract with the county, in reports to a county oversight panel. However, the incident was disclosed by a CECIL TIMES Special Report.

Meanwhile, at a recent County Council worksession on Moore’s proposed Fiscal 2017 budget, the county’s facilities and building maintenance budget was detailed, including costs of operating the newly purchased Sheriff’s Dept. building on Chesapeake Blvd., as well as costs associated with operating the county administration building and the Courthouse. But nowhere in the inventory or expense accounting of all county-owned facilities was the animal shelter accounted for.

One county Finance Department official observed that “we haven’t gotten any utility bills yet so how are we supposed to know” what utility costs will be. Nor does Moore’s budget account for the costs of interest on borrowed bond funds she is using to pay for the property purchase costs and an estimated $100,000 to equip the facility.

Moore has plugged in a broad $720,000 figure—the same annual amount she paid the Buddies for their private contact—into her operating budget for county employee salaries, government benefits, animal food, supplies, and the costs of a “consulting veterinarian.”

Moore won’t be in the county administration if and when higher bills come due, and it will be up to the next county executive to pick up the fiscal pieces, through budget amendments to cover potential extra costs or scaling back on Moore’s government takeover plan.

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