County Seizes 63 Animals, Citing “Neglect;” Questions on Animal Services Lack of Kennel Inspections, County Oversight

February 5, 2019

A CECIL TIMES Special Report

Cecil County’s government-operated Animal Services agency recently raided two locations, in Elkton and Rising Sun, and took into custody 63 animals as part of an investigation of alleged animal “neglect” by a non-profit animal rescue organization, according to county officials. But there are many unanswered questions about licensing and inspection of “rescues” and kennels by the county animal agency, including information provided to CECIL TIMES contending that many kennels were not inspected or licenses issued in 2018 as required by county law.

CECIL TIMES had arranged in advance a telephone conference call to discuss kennel license and inspection issues, including the “rescue” raided by the county, for Tuesday afternoon with key county officials, including Abigail Bingham, the animal services director, and her boss, David Trolio, the Community Services and transit head, and county attorney Jason Allison. But Allison abruptly cancelled the call via email 15 minutes before it was due to start, saying that no discussion would be allowed and only written questions would be considered for response at a future date. He stated that the “ongoing investigation” of the rescue group precluded any discussion of the matter. But in subsequent emails, he declined to allow a discussion of broader Animal Services issues, such as kennel inspections and license issuance practices.

Sources have alleged to CECIL TIMES that Animal Services was derelict in its duty to license and inspect kennels in 2018, with license applications ignored and routine inspections not conducted. Two facilities in the county were known to be inspected, sources said, but others were not and Animal Services officials knew of the failure to license and inspect kennels. Failure to inspect and license kennels raises questions that there could be other facilities where animals might be held in improper or unsanitary conditions.

County kennel license revenue data that could prove or disprove such concerns, which should be readily available since the costs of Animal Services are borne by taxpayers, are buried in a software system now controlled by Animal Services, other sources advised. A sudden decline in boarding and breeding kennel licensing fees, from 2017 to 2018, could indicate inattention to license and inspection duties regarding commercial and boarding kennels. And information on the total number of kennel licenses issued and their identities, including non-profit “rescues” who do not pay a fee but must obtain a license, could show whether there was appropriate oversight by the county agency.

Moreover, oversight and review of the Animal Services agency itself is supposed to be provided by quarterly meetings of an “Animal Care and Control Advisory Board,” but the panel has never held a meeting since the county took over animal services on 7/1/2016. One public member, appointed by the County Council, died last year and has not been replaced. Other members of the board consist of various county employees, under a system set up by former county executive Tari Moore.

The county government issued a press release last Friday afternoon (2/1/2019) stating that “a total of 34 cats, 26 dogs, two turtles and one raccoon found living in neglectful conditions from Eden Rehab and Rescue” at locations in Elkton and Rising Sun had been taken into protective custody under an operation jointly conducted by Animal Services and the county Sheriff’s Office.

The county statement said the investigation began on 1/5/2019, “after a report was received alleging animals, in the care of the rescue, were not being fed or cared for properly.” Animals were seized on 1/23/2019 from an unidentified Elkton location, at which the county alleged there were “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.”

On 1/30/2018, more animals were seized from a Rising Sun location where Eden Rehab and Rescue also housed animals, the county government said, adding that there was an ongoing investigation into possible “charges of animal neglect” against the founder of the rescue group.

While the name of the operator of the Eden rescue was not included in the county’s official statement on the seizure, other records identify the operator as Crystal Romine, according to the federal Internal Revenue Service. She applied for and received a 501c3 non-profit charity designation from the IRS in December, 2016.

The IRS application listed an address for Romine on New Bridge Road in Rising Sun. However, state property and court records show she did not own that property and the landlord filed a landlord-tenant action against her for non-payment of rent in early 2018. Another landlord filed multiple actions against her later in the same year, and she was evicted last December from another property in North East.

(Romine also has a court record of multiple traffic charges, tallying about seven pages in court filings, mostly for driving without a license and registration or while license and registration were suspended, with several failure to appear in court notations.)

Meanwhile, Romine has filed a writ of replevins in Cecil County District Court, in a civil process seeking to have the seized animals returned to her custody.

As of Tuesday afternoon, no charges under state or county animal laws had been filed against Romine, according to the courts database.

County law requires all kennels, including non-profit rescues using their own facilities or placing animals in private foster homes, to apply for a county license. There is no fee to federally-registered non-profit rescues (501c3 charities) but they still must file an annual license application and answer detailed questions, including the names and locations of “foster homes” used to house animals. Rescue kennels must also be inspected.

County officials declined to answer when asked by CECIL TIMES if the Eden group had applied for a non-profit “rescue” license under county law.

The Eden rescue group was in plain sight on social media, and its existence in Cecil County was apparently well-known in the local animal rescue community, according to various online comments in the aftermath of the animal seizures.

Until its Facebook page was apparently taken down over the weekend, after the county’s disclosure of the seizure of the animals late Friday afternoon, Eden promoted multiple fundraising events and raffles on the social network. Pictures of animals were posted, and in some comments from the rescue responding to questions, adoption “fees” were specified for certain pets. A Shepherd/Lab mix puppy was offered for a $275 adoption fee in January.

Also, on Eden’s website, the group specified high “surrender” fees, charged to owners who could no longer care for a pet and wished to place it for adoption. Surrender fees for cats or kittens were listed at $150 each. An escalating list of fees to surrender dogs ranged from $150 for a neutered/spayed dog with up to date vaccination up to $225 for a non-neutered/spayed dog.

According to Romine’s most recent filings with the IRS, she did not take in more than $50,000 a year from donations and so she only had to filed a short postcard that did not provide any further details on her operations.

However, according to the Maryland Secretary of State’s database, Eden was not registered under the Maryland Solicitations Act to legally conduct fundraisers and solicit monetary donations in the state.

The animals seized in the county government’s raid on the two sites have been taken to the county’s animal shelter on Route 213 in Chesapeake City, where they are receiving medical and other care. The county has been soliciting donations to help cover costs of care and feeding the animals.

The recent seizure is the second largest in recent county history. The former Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CCSPCA) conducted the “Santa Paws” rescue on Christmas Day about a decade ago, when 73 Pomeranian dogs were taken into custody from an overcrowded and dirty private kennel. All of those animals were adopted.

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