Cecil County Animal Shelter Opens Quietly; Renovations Cut Number of Kennels from 51 to 40

July 5, 2016


Cecil County’s newly-purchased animal shelter welcomed its first four-legged residents on Friday, with well-wishers dropping off treats and toys even as renovation work continued, including reducing the number of dog kennels available to house strays and limiting the size of a formerly open room for cats to interact with visitors.

Milo, a Shepherd mix with personality plus, poised his nose against the mesh of his kennel to nuzzle against a visitor’s hand and later enjoyed a walk outdoors with some potential adopters visiting the shelter. (PHOTO: Milo hangs out with new shelter director Abigail Bingham)

The county purchased the animal shelter formerly owned and operated for many years by the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA) on Route 213 in Chesapeake City, south of the C&D Canal bridge. For the past 3 ½ years, the county paid a private “rescue” group, A Buddy for Life, Inc., a total of over $2.5 million to operate animal control services at a rented kennel in Elkton.

The county purchased the CCSPCA facility for $395,000 several month ago and obtained County Council approval to spend another $100,000 for renovations and equipment purchases for what will now be a fully government owned and operated animal services program, with county government employees staffing the operations. The Council also approved an operating budget of $720,000 in the new Fiscal 2017 budget— apparently not counting expenses such as utilities, vehicle maintenance and related ongoing costs.

In addition, the Council is currently considering an administration request to approve a “supplemental appropriations” bill to provide $10,000 to purchase “starter” equipment such as dog collars and leashes that would in turn be sold to people who adopt animals from the shelter. Revenues from sales are expected to offset those expenses in the future.

The county had a quiet opening of the shelter—-not formally announcing in advance or posting operating hours or a telephone number to call for services until the night before the official opening. A cluster of silver and blue balloons outside the shelter building were the only signs of the newly opened shelter.

Inside, nine dogs that had been turned over Thursday night by the Buddies settled into their new home. Most of the dogs were still on the county-supported “stray hold” period of five business days that applied to the former contractor. Under the new set-up, strays will still be on a “hold” to give owners time to find and reclaim lost pets before they are made available for adoption. But the county is now assuming long-term responsibility for strays and will in effect be operating a government-run “rescue” program that cares for animals until they are adopted or transferred to other animal groups.

Abigail Lightning Bingham, the new animal shelter director, said one other dog was turned in by a couple who found a stray dog wandering on a road near Elkton, bringing the first day tally to 10 dogs. No cats were turned over by the Buddies.

“Everyone has been so supportive—we’re really going to do great things,” said Bingham. She was excited by the opening day which ran smoothly despite the presence of multiple county employees working on continuing renovations at the facility. The interior walls have been repainted an aquamarine shade, the formerly open cat room has been reduced in size and some dog kennels have been enlarged, with the result that fewer dogs could be housed in individual kennels.

Bingham said the CCSPCA’s dog kennel count had been reduced from 51 to 40 in the renovation project.

The formerly open cat room, in which socialized cats wandered freely and played with toys and visitors, has been reduced in size and Bingham wants to further reduce open areas by building kitty apartments within the room that will also have enclosed outdoor access to “catios”—patios for cats—in the near future. Changes already made walled off a “stray hold” cage area for newly arrived cats. (The facility already had a separate “quarantine” room to house ill cats, and that separate room will also remain.) Access to the open cat area is now through the cage room via a narrow doorway with a steep step to enter the catroom. (A disabled human visitor would be unlikely to be able to access the area.)

One familiar face from past animal control operations is on board the new program. Gerald (Jerry) Hawkins will remain as the senior animal control officer, a post he held with the Buddies. He also served as an animal control officer with the CCSPCA, through which he obtained training and certification in animal control services. A second animal control officer, Karylyn Baines, previously worked in non-animal control positions at the Baltimore County animal shelter, where Bingham served as the shelter director for about six months before coming to Cecil County.

Dr. Kerry Milliken has been contracted to provide regular veterinarian services at the Cecil shelter, Bingham said. Milliken is the veterinarian for the Baltimore County animal shelter and has been licensed to practice in Maryland since 2015, after previously practicing in California after graduation from the distinguished UC-Davis veterinary medical school. Closer to home, co-operating agreements have been arranged for emergency veterinary services on a discounted fee-for-services basis with the Middletown (DE) veterinary hospital and the Harford animal emergency center.

The Cecil County shelter has obtained a state license as an animal control facility, Bingham said. That designation will allow the performance of euthanasia on site and secure storage of related medications, under state law. However, the goal of the new facility is to have a “no-kill philosophy” under which only severely ill or injured animals would be euthanized.

The CCSPCA facility had a fully-equipped and supplied surgical suite, where spay/neuter operations were performed on-site by the organization’s own veterinarian. The county acquired most of the medical equipment when it purchased the CCSPCA facility. But such services require a full animal hospital license, and Bingham said she was not sure if such a designation would be sought or obtained by the new county government program. She said state veterinary inspectors would visit the facility soon and further licensing issues would be discussed at that time.

If a “limited animal hospital” license is sought instead, some additional medications could be stored on site but not provision of surgical services. Under state law, rabies shots must be administered by a licensed veterinarian, not staff of an animal control facility.

Since the main veterinarian being contracted by the county operation works at another government shelter, it is uncertain where spay/neuter surgeries would be performed– if the Cecil County facility does not obtain a full veterinary hospital license.

David Trolio, director of the county’s Department of Community Services under which the new animal services programs will operate, said in an email to Cecil Times that the shelter has tentatively established hours of operation on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 8: 30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, with adoptions and public viewing of the animals only between the hours of noon and 5:30 p.m. On Wednesdays, the shelter will be open from 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m., with adoptions and animal viewing from noon to 7 p.m. On Saturdays, the shelter will open at 8:30 a.m., with adoption and visiting hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the shelter will close for the day.

The shelter will be closed on Sundays and Mondays, Trolio said, but in the future it is hoped that some Sunday hours will be scheduled “for special events and adoptions.”

Trolio also said that a formal “grand opening” of the facility will be scheduled sometime in August.

County residents looking for a lost pet, seeking to report suspected animal abuse or neglect cases, or interested in adopting a cat or dog from the shelter, can call the shelter staff at its new phone number, 410- 441-2040.

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