Cecil County Admits Animal Services Failed to Inspect Kennels; Cecil Times Report Confirmed

February 10, 2019

A CECIL TIMES Special Report

Cecil County Animal Services failed to inspect multiple kennel businesses in 2018 and is only now scheduling inspections, according to the county attorney, after CECIL TIMES reported previously that many inspections were not conducted or licenses issued as required by county law.

“The County acknowledges it has been late in performing several kennel inspections in 2018,” Jason Allison, the county attorney, wrote in a letter to CECIL TIMES that was sent via email late Friday (2/8/2019) afternoon. He further admitted that four commercial and/or boarding kennel businesses had applied for licenses but the county failed to inspect the facilities or issue licenses as required in 2018.

He said that the four premises would be inspected soon, and that the owners would not be fined or extra fees imposed for their 2018 licenses that were not issued previously. Kennel license applications must be submitted in April of each year, and county inspections of the premises are usually conducted in May, with licenses issued upon completion of the inspections.

Furthermore, in response to previous questions by CECIL TIMES, Allison acknowledged in a footnote to his letter that Eden Rehab and Rescue—which is currently under investigation for alleged animal neglect– had applied, as required, for a county license as a 501c3 non-profit animal rescue organization. (Such non-profit groups do not pay a fee for a license, but must submit an application and be inspected by CCAS.) He said the “application was denied prior to” the county’s seizure of 63 animals from two locations, in Elkton on 1/23/2019 and in Rising Sun on 1/30/2019, that were in the custody of the Eden rescue group.

But he did not disclose the date of Eden’s application, or the date of the denial, or whether CCAS had inspected Eden’s facilities in response to its own license application. In fact, the county’s initial statement of 2/1/2019 said that CCAS only began investigating Eden on 1/5/2019, after receiving a complaint, “alleging animals, in the care of the rescue, were not being fed or cared for properly.”

If Eden’s facilities had been inspected earlier, as part of a license application process, would animals have been spared suffering and taken to safety sooner?

The county’s previous statement on the 1/23 seizure in Elkton claimed that Eden’s animals were held in “deplorable conditions…including limited access to fresh water, unkept litter boxes, strong ammonia fumes, and kennels saturated in feces and urine. Many of the animals were found to be emaciated, possessed hair loss, and had open sores on their bodies.”

The county’s account of the Elkton raid did not specify the location at which animals were seized. But court documents indicate Eden was renting space from another kennel operation, the long-established Captain’s Quarters boarding facility on Deaver Road. A civil action filed in District Court on 1/25/2019 by Captain’s Quarters against Eden contends failure to pay rent. The docket notes preliminary steps, including a petition and landlord-tenant dispute documentation, filed as far back as 1/11/2019.

The owner/operator of Eden Rescue and Rehab is Crystal Romine, according to federal IRS records. She holds a registration as a 501c3 charity under federal tax law. So far, no charges have been filed by the county under state or county animal welfare laws against Romine, according to local court records.

Allison’s letter came after he abruptly canceled, with just 15 minutes notice, a previously arranged telephone conference call to discuss animal issues on 2/5/2019 with Cecil Times that was to have also included Abigail Bingham, the CCAS director, and her boss, David Trolio, head of the county’s Community Services and transit department. Allison then stated that he would only answer written questions, and he reiterated that demand in his recent letter, for any further questions or issues on CCAS.

But the letter’s admission that CCAS failed to conduct multiple inspections, as required, and issue licenses confirms the Cecil Times special report published last week that cited sources’ complaints about repeated delays and failures by the CCAS to comply with the law’s requirements even though agency officials knew of the deficiencies.

[SEE previous CECIL TIMES Special Report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2019/02/county-seizes-63-animals-citing-neglect-questions-on-animal-services-lack-of-kennel-inspections-county-oversight/

Most of Allison’s letter defended CCAS as performing an excellent job in caring for animals in the county and he said there had been “explosive growth in the number of animals being cared for by CCAS. Staff changes with animal control officers (ACO), specifically, the departure of one of two ACOs in July, 2018, left CCAS shorthanded and caused some interruption in the continuity and scheduling of kennel inspections.”

If one of the two animal control officers left in July, that should have still left time in May and June to conduct the inspections of the small number of kennels located in the county. According to sources, the inspections usually take an hour or so to conduct.

Allison described the failures to inspect kennels in 2018 as “a few outliers.” But revenue data, which had been sought by Cecil Times, shows that revenue from kennel license fees was down in 2018 in comparison with calendar year 2017. The county receives money from an inspection fee that must be paid at the time of a kennel license application in April, with the actual license fee paid after the inspection is completed and the kennel license issued.

Revenue from the kennel licensing process amounted to $950 for 2018 licenses as of the date of his 2/8/2019 letter, Allison said, down from the $1,250 recorded in 2017. Allison said the 2018 revenues will rise when the county completes the inspections and licensing of the four facilities it still has not reviewed, with fees paid now credited to the 2018 account.

Allison said licenses were issued for the 2018 licensing year to one pet shop, three boarding kennels and two commercial kennels. In addition, four non-profit dog rescues and one cat rescue received licenses, for which they do not have to pay fees to the county.

Allison said that “there may be other kennels or rescues in Cecil County” that are unlicensed because the current system depends on operators to file applications to CCAS to initiate the inspection and license process. So CCAS will look at possible “changes to the process in an effort to improve community awareness regarding the license application process and to promote greater efficiencies when conducting inspections,” he wrote.

Allison said that inspections had been put into a lower priority category in 2018 because it was deemed more important to provide care to animals currently housed at the county-owned animal shelter and to respond to complaints from the public, such as dogs running at large or abandoned strays.

According to quarterly reports filed by CCAS to the state, required by state law, the local shelter has quickly transferred a majority of the dogs it receives to outside rescue groups but the reports do not identify the groups taking dogs from the county facility. In 2017, in response to questions from Cecil Times, Bingham mentioned some non-local rescues to which local animals were transferred, including a facility in Vermont.

Meanwhile, Romine has filed a writ of replevins in Cecil County District Court, seeking return of the seized animals to her custody, with a show cause hearing scheduled on 2/26/2019.

Romine has also filed another civil action against Cecil County’s animal control operations, this time in Caroline County, seeking return of animals to her. That filing suggests she believes at least some of her animals have been transferred to a location in Caroline County.

CCAS has been soliciting donations, both monetary and supplies, for care of the seized animals at the county’s shelter in Chesapeake City.

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