ANIMAL WELFARE TASK FORCE MEETING 12/13/12
Please note: as usual, these are my notes from the meeting, they are not the official minutes, and my comments are in parens and italics. For a complete list of who attended or exactly which person said what, see the official minutes. I apologize for any missed names, but tried to identify speakers as much as possible.
Also, this is an unusually long document, due to the number of public statements and e-mails that are attached.
TF members (may have missed some): Senators Blevins and Peterson / Rep. Jacques / Carling Ryan, Staff / Dr.Heather Hirst for Secretary Kee / Hetti Brown, HSUS / Mike Petit de Mange, KC / Hal Godwin, SC / NCC police lieutenant (missed her name) for Kristin Dwyer, NCC / Kevin Usilton, KCSPCA / Brian Whipple, KCSPCA/DEACC / Jane Pierantozzi, FF / Anne Gryczon, SH / Ann Cavanaugh, DESPCA / Patrick Carroll, DHA / Andy Lippstone, Gov’s Office / Dr. Caroline Hughes / Prof. Verne Smithe, Widener University / Dr. Morgan Dawkins, DVMA
For the first time, the public attending were asked to identify themselves: Marlene Oetzel / Donna Watson / Catherine Samardza / Sherene Lindo / Kathy Jackson, Animal Humane Sanctuary / Carol Furr / Lynn Lofthouse / Phyllis and Gary Frank / Doug Beatty / Sheri Warburton
There was discussion concerning the November minutes; there was a line stating that non-profit agencies were not incorporated. This is not true, and what was said was that business licenses were not required. The minutes were amended and adopted.
From there, Senator Blevins went right to animal control officer duties, asking (Major) Brian Whipple to speak as he was the “most knowledgable. He began by saying that the day begins with checking messages, noting that all calls are different – some could be Title 9 and some could be animal cruelty; they go hand in hand, but are different. Animal cruelty complaints have to be proven to cause suffering, and Title 9 covers day to day care. He said that the animal control officers deal with the same people the police do. He noted that animal control officers have a lot to do to get a case to court, and he felt that they don’t get prosecuted enough. He said that “we take this very seriously.” He reported that the new tethering law is hard to enforce, because there is no manpower to check this and that it differs depending on the size of the property (1 acre or 10 acres). He said the officers get “battered on both sides.” He also stated that a lot of Title 9 calls end up as cruelty cases. Major Whipple also stated that he has only met a couple of the DE SPCA officers and have never met any from Safe Haven He further said he hoped the Task Force would promote getting everyone together.
(note – DE SPCA later stated that they only have 4 officers, and SH has dog wardens, not animal control officers or constables – only the two SPCAs are authorized to investigate and enforce animal cruelty laws. Re the comment about getting everyone together - to meet? Under one agency? This was not clear. Also note – Brian Whipple’s rank is solely derived from the KCSPCA, it is not through any formal law enforcement agency program. In fact, he was a “captain” until he was promoted just before Murrey Goldthwaite left the KCSPCA in 2011. Although his rank changed, he is still the ranking officer/supervisor at DEACC.)
Senator Blevins interrupted here, to go back to the tether law. She said that he helped write the tether law to protect dogs from “living on tethers.” He responded that there is a problem with proof and it should be in Title 9, not Title 11. Senator Blevins answered that since he was part of the process (to write the law) and he knew all of this, she didn’t understand how he could sit and criticize it now. Mr. Lippstone said that he didn’t understand, if the officers can take video of an animal on a tether, how can there be a bar (to prosecution)? Brian Whipple said the problem is the exemption in the law, how can in be injurious to one but not another? Mr. Lippstone noted that there is no discretion needed, he didn’t understand the problem. Mr. Usilton then said “we have a dog” and talked about Phoenix (a dog at Faithful Friends), saying that the Attorney General’s Office won’t prosecute. Senator Blevins asked, “but you saved the dog?” and Mr. Usilton said no, Faithful Friends saved the dog, but people should be charged. Senator Peterson asked why they weren’t being charged; Mr. Usilton said the AG’s Office doesn’t think they have a case. He further said “we can do everything but what’s important to animal welfare is not judicial.” He also said that other states give the judicial branch training (in animal welfare issues.)
Ms. Gryczon asked if there could be a night ban on tethering, to make it easier to see if there was a problem; Senator Blevins said that she couldn’t get the General Assembly to agree to that, only to ban tethering for nursing mothers. She said the first year would be to educate people. Ms. Pierantozzi said it was a good first step; Ms. Gryczon asked if it would be cleaned up this year.
Mr. Lippstone asked what about the authority in Title 9 – because officers cannot go in without probably cause. Major Whipple agreed, said they could only go in if invited unless there were exigent circumstances. There was further discussion about training, to let officers know what they can and can’t do, probable cause and rules of evidence. Major Whipple said the more training, the better.
Ms. Cavanaugh said that with the Attorney General’s Office, even strong cases get dropped. She felt more search and seizure training was necessary, and better communication with the Attorney General’s Office.
Professor Smith noted that in Pennsylvania they work with the AG’s office, because animal cruelty has been linked to pathological behavior towards humans. There is currently a voluntary pilot program for judges. Senator Blevins asked if there was a curriculum (there is) and if it could be made Delaware specific.
Senator Peterson asked about the authority for investigations for animal cruelty cases – how far it goes, to police powers of arrest and subpoena? Majory Whipple said yes, through Title 3 and 9, and they ask for local police agencies to support them.
Senator Peterson then recounted her experience with someone who “drop kicked” a dog into the car. She got the license, there were witnesses, but when the officer questioned the person they identified, he was told “it wasn’t me” and it was not investigated further. She asked, “is that it?” Major Whipple said no, not if they can prove the dog is injured, but there is no time, no people, to get it done. Senator Peterson said she make repeated calls. Senator Blevins asked if she called the police; Senator Peterson said the police told her to call the SPCA. She further stated that she has called in a dog locked in a hot car, and she had to break into the car before the police would respond. She asked if animal control officers were authorized to break into cars like that; Major Whipple said only in exigent circumstances, they would call the police. Senator Peterson said, “they won’t come.” Major Whipple said “they will for us.”
Senator Peterson said there was a lack of enforcement; it was cursory, in her personal experience, and the Attorney General’s office is not interested in pursuing the cases. Major Whipple said not all of the deputy AG’s were uninterested; some would follow through. Senator Peterson asked if a dedicated deputy was needed (as in, specializing in these cases); Major Whipple said it would help. Discussion concerning whether or not there was enough work for a DAG, or would it be part-time? Senatore Peterson said maybe a funding stream to fund a full-time DAG, somebody whose focus would be on animal cruelty cases.
Ms.Cavanaugh noted that it is hard to get veterianrians to court to testify. Professor Smith said it was a national struggle. Ms. Cavanaugh said that was who the courts wanted in these cases. One of the veterinarians said he had been subpoenaed for court, changed his schedule to be there, and got to court to find out the case had been rescheduled without notice. He said it was frustrating, especially to those veterinarians who will participate.
Senator Blevins asked about police jurisdiction and why they would not respond if called; The NCC police lieutenant said that their officers are not trained for animals-at-large; Senator Blevins said she was talking about animal cruelty cases. The lieutenant said that NCC has a contract with them (KCSPCA) to handle the animal calls – they refer everything to the KCSPCA unless there is immediate danger. Senator Peterson said she called about a near-dead dog, and had to smash a window to get a response.
Mr. Usilton said that the KCSPCA has contracts with New Castle and Sussex counties. He said they only have 5 officers for the entire county, and get 5-6,000 calls per year. Mr. Usilton stated that they don’t have the resources, manpower or funding. The contracts are for dog control, not animal control or animal cruelty.
Senator Blevins said the police agencies misunderstand then – there is no contract for animal cruelty. Major Whipple said some agencies will respond – the DE State Police for one – to enforce Title 11.
Ms. Pierantozzi said if there is no funding, that is a problem with the State. Major Whipple said they put time into a case from start to finish, and follow all the way through.
(my notes do not indicate whether or not the fact that the SPCAs that handle an animal cruelty case collect any fines assessed and paid after conviction. Mr. Usilton has said in the KCSPCA board meetings that they rarely if ever get any money, and are out the funds for caring for animals that are “evidence” in cruelty cases.)
Senator Blevins asked about training. Major Whipple said that there is no training in Delaware that officers can attend on a regular basis. He said “some officers have been through…” and proceeded to name programs with National Animal Control Association (NACA), ASPCA, HSUS, DE State Pol.ice, New Castle County Police, the AG’s Office, and the State DelJIS and LEIA systems. Pepper spray and baton training is done in house; they have an officer certified to teach. They get some judo, ethics and court writing training as well.
He was asked about how long the training takes. He said it is a 3-month process; there are 2-3 weeks classroom training for animal handling, and 2 months of ride-alongs. Senator Blevins asked about the turnover/loss rate; Major Whipple said they have not had much turnover this year.
(wait, hasn’t the KCSPCA board and Mr. Usilton said they had to fire 13 staff including ACOs when they lost the KC contract? And hasn’t Mr. Usilton said they only have one officer in KC for animal cruelty cases? Maybe not at the AWTF, but in the news media and at the board meetings.)
Ms. Brown stated, to clarify, that the training is provided by the organization, not the State. Major Whipple said yes, it is depending on funding.
(No one asked about Major Whipple’s first few words “some of our officers.” No one followed up to ask if they all get this training, or if some get some training, others get something else. In April Commissioner Sweeney was told that there had been no training since 2009; we were also told that by an ACO. In addition, in March Mr. Usilton said that his officers were trained by NACA. However, NACA requires Levels I & II for certification, and we were told that the KCSPCA officers that attended their program were mostly Level I.)
Mr. Petit de Mange asked who, then, responds to cruelty calls? Because Kent County has seen a “bouncing around” of complaints? Mr. Lippstone asked if Title 11 is elective on the part of the SPCAs or mandated. It was said that the law says “may respond.” Mr. Petit de Mange said that last week there was a call about a dog tethered in a building, and the caller was told by the KCSPCA to call Levy Court. So is this dog control, or animal cruelty?
Major Whipple said that Title 9, Dog Control, and Title 11, cruelty, overlap. Title 9 is husbandry, Title 11 is injury. Mr. Lippstone said, so unless you hit the 18 hour mark, it’s not cruelty.
There was discussion concerning Title 9 and the question of addressing commercial kennels and individual pet owners; further discussion concerning the incident this summer when the KCSPCA refused to respond to what was thought to be an animal cruelty case and the KCSPCA said it was Title 9. The KCSPCA did eventually respond; Mr. Usilton said they respond in New Castle and Sussex counties, but the summer was confusing, and they only have one officer for Kent County, so how can they respond?
There was further discussion concerning Title 9, which specifies humane housing and food and water. Discussion concerning the words “shall” in the law – as “the police shall support.” Someone stated that they could see why there was confusion – the powers to enforce (Title 9 – counties; Title 11, KCSPCA and DESPCA) are listed, and the police agency shall assist. But who has to respond?
Ms. Cavanaugh said that the police always refer animal cases to the SPCA. Mr.Lippstone said this is in the criminal code, why don’t the police have jurisdiction? The NCC police lieutenant said it wasn’t the jurisdiction, NCC refers animal cases to the SPCA because they are the experts.
Ms. Brown said that was standard in other states, that animal cases are left to animal control. Ms. Cavanaugh said they don’t have the resources to respond to all the calls.
Ms. Cavanaugh reported that the DESPCA has one cruelty officer in Sussex, one in New Castle County, and 2 in Wilmington (where they have the dog control contract). She said with such limited manpower, they prioritize by severity and importance, and they don’t always have the quickest response. In Sussex County they get police support whenever they need it. There is sometimes a problem because they have a fixed shift, and the police have rotating shifts.
She was asked how many complaints they get; she said 30-40 a month. Mr. Usilton said there were 111 in 2012 in Sussex County; 159 in Kent County and 180 in NCC.
Senator Peterson asked what about the 5-6,000 per year per county mentioned before, was that cruelty, neglect and Title 9?
Mr. Usilton said it was Title 9 only, no cruelty or bites.
Senator Peterson asked Ms. Cavanaugh about training; Ms. Cavanaugh said there were not many resources. She referenced NACA, and said they use many of the same agencies for training that Major Whipple mentioned. She said it is “ad hoc” and some officers have police backgrounds. She said it would be great to have standardized and court training.
Gary (didn't get his last name) from Safe Haven said there were 5 dog wardens, including himself as supervisor. A national expert on dog control came to SH to train them. They respond to calls for stray, at-large and dangerous dogs. He said they are struggling with when a Title 9 issue becomes aimal cruelty? At one point?
Senator Blevins asked, regarding Title 9 and housing, when do officers take a dog?
Ms. Gryczon said that SH had consulted with both their attorney and the KC attorney, and referred the question of how far their authority goes on Title 9 (commercial kennels v. private homes) to the Attorney General’s Office. SH is waiting for a response.
Mr. Petit de Mange noted that cruelty cases are Title 11, and the counties are responsible for Title 9. He said this was confusing, and thought that all the laws regarding this should be in one place, with a definition of who enforces them. Senator Blevins said she didn’t know that the laws could be collected like that. She asked how Safe Haven is handling the Title 9 issues; Gary said they try to educate the owner. She asked if there were any other remedies; it was stated that SH did not know what else they were empowered to do. Senator Blevins noted that SH had not “cruelty powers.”
Mr. Usilton said that his officers are DelJIS certified to cite for those issues. Ms. Gryczon said again that she was waiting to hear from the Attorney General’s Office. Ms. Cavanaugh said she did not understand why Title 9 is confusing, it was never confusing before.
There was some discussion concerning Title 9 as “husbandry” and that SH was authorized to enforce those laws. Mr. Usilton asserted that if Title 9 is not enforced in private homes, it escalates to cruelty. Senator Blevins asked if that has happened, and what do they do?
It was stated that State law is enforceable; Mr. Petit de Mange asked, by whom?
Someone stated that Title 9 was being enforced in private homes by the KCSPCA in Kent County, but not by Safe Haven; why not? Ms. Gryczon said that SH is willing to do this, and she understood that the KCSPCA has been doing it, but the Attorney General’s Office told her to wait.
(The difficulty and confusion seems to be, where is the line between Title 9 and Title 11. Despite Major Whipples description of “husbandry” and “injury” – the AG’s Office is obviously having the same problems. Only the SPCAs can enforce Title 11, so the line has to be very clear where that line between them is.)
Ms. Cavanaugh noted that all cruelty cases are SPCA.
Ms. Pierantozzi suggested that Senator Blevins “push” the AG’s office along for a decision.
Mr. Petit de Mange said that the County attorney felt that the mandate to enforce Title 9 shelter standards (actually referred to as humane treatment) is there, but the law does not confer authority.
Senator Blevins pointed out that Title 9 is not shelter standards, it is housing.
There was further discussion concerning authority, contracts and jurisdiction. Mr. Petit de Mange said that Kent County understands the obligations, but their attorney feels that where Title 11 kicks in needs to be clarified.
There was discussion concerning commercial kennel inspections. KCSPCA does this within their contracts for dog control.
It was asked where cats fell in cruelty jurisdiction. Mr. Usilton said the contracts were for dog control – this would be a move to animal control. It was asked, if a cat is hit by a car, is that cruelty? Mr. Usilton said the KCSPCA responds to cruelty calls. Ms. Cavanaugh said that the DESPCA does most of the cat cruelty cases.
(Then what are those hoarding cases that the KCSPCA has been handling And how many cat-cruelty cases are there in Delaware?)
Senator Peterson asked who Ms. Gryczon was dealing with in the Attorney General’s Office, so they could push that along.
Ms. Pierantozzi asked about cruelty cases – if there is no prosectuion, is there a fine? Major Whipple explained that misdemeanors go to JP court, and dog-at-lage cases, in general, “get done.” In NCC Code the fines are greater than what is listed in the State Code (used by Sussex and KC) - $250.00 as opposed to $25.00
It was explained that cruelty prosecutions could take 6-8 months, and there is no restitution from the court system.
He asked if the TF could recommend stiffer penalties and higher fines; Senator Blevins said “yes.” Ms. Brown asked if that would be helpful; Major Whipple said yes, but in the court system, people can choose to fight the charge rather than pay fines.
(Given that we know of at least 2 people who challenged that their dogs were loose, and one was never cited with the violations before an arrest warrant was obtained, we can see why people would choose to fight – even with the lesser fines in the State Code.)
Dr. Hughes said that the husbandry/curuelty intersection appeared to be enough work to fund a specific DAG; animals deserve better than this, it is a need.
Major Whipple and Mr. Usilton went on to discuss access to DelJIS – saying that without access to the criminal records, animal control officers would not be able to see what someone has been charged with in the past. Mr. Usilton said it gives you a history to understand what’s been going on in a household.
(Please remember, despite the fact that some of these officers may have a “police background” they are NOT police officers, their training is neither standardized nor comprehensive by their own admission, they are not answerable to anyone except their immediate, non-profit employers, and yet they have complete access to our criminal records. Even the Capitol Police are only given supervised access Personally, I don’t think they need to know about/have access to anything except animal-related offenses.)
It was stated that microchipping is not done on a lot of dogs in Sussex County.
KCSPCA reported that the new contract with Sussex County has a reduction in hours for animal control officers. The NCC countract is 6 AM – 11 PM.
Safe Haven dog wardens are working 7 AM – 7 PM and on call the rest of the time from home, for 24/7 coverage.
Senator Blevins said she believed this was going to be afunding problem and cost money.
Mr. Usilton said there should be a centralized animal control agency, with a centralized dispatch.
Senator Blevins asked Ms. Brown about the NJ model, was this how it was done. Ms. Brown said yes, and that it is not the only state using that model – although it was a good representative of the example (PA, MA, TX and DC also use this model).
Key themes of this model: state oversight of animal control officers and animal cruelty cases; a mix of officers, mostly state, overseen by public health and social services; consistency in who oversees the officers, and standardized training funded by the state. For law enforcement – animal control or cruelty, officers must be certified before they are out on the street. There are clearly defined duties and responsibilities, and strong partnerships with law enforcements. In NJ, the sheriff’s department tracks cruelty cases, and are very engaged.
Ms. Pierantozzi asked about the health officers – what the credentials are; Ms. Brown said she was not sure, whether is was the Dept. of Health or Social Services.
Ms. Gryczon asked about funding, if cruelty cases were more closely linked to police agencies.
Senator Peterson said it would be more uniform, easier to track. She felt the NJ model was a great model, could Delaware “plug in” a veterinarian piece.
Ms. Gryczon asked about including cats for full animal cruelty coverage.
Ms. Brown said that she would find out about how the veterinarians would fit in. Senator Peterson said since the courts wanted a vet to be the one treating animals in cruelty cases, that piece had to be included.
Ms. Pierantozzi compared this to how child welfare works; Dr. Dawkins reiterated that for a solo practice vet, it was hard to set aside time to go to court and get it cancelled. The legal system could make this better. Senator Blevins asked, which court; JP court and Court of Common Pleas are the usual venues; Superior Court not so much.
There was some discussion concerning Dep. AG’s that would plea bargain a case, and notification would not go out to witnesses.
Mr. Usilton stated that the non-profit board of directors that hire the animal control officers are the ones who should oversee them.
Mr. Petit de Mange said that someone needs to be sure that whatever standard is set – complaints should not stop at a non-profit board.
Senator Blevins said that with state certification, there would be a professional board (to bring complaints to); it is done now, with nurses, nail technicians…..she went on to say that she was sure that would be one of the recommendations.
Ms. Pierantozzi said that the NJ model addresses some of this.
Senator Blevins said that at the February meeting there would be discussion of a centralized agency rather than piece-meal, although a lot of that was brought up today.
Ms. Cavanaugh mentioned officer safety – she said that many people don’t like police officers, and when someone shows up with a badge they are assumed to be police. The police are not willing to accompany her officers on investigations.
Ms. Pierantozzi said that when she worked in child welfare, there were 3 police officers trained to escort social workers.
The NCC representative said that they do not refuse to go to KCSPCA calls.
Senator Blevins said that the January agenda would be to discuss cats. Someone suggested that DNREC be invited to talk to the TF about feral cats; Senator Blevins asked, why? The answer was that DNREC could speak to the effect of feral cats on wildlife. It was then suggested that both sides of that argument should be heard, and someone from Alley Cat Allies or another national advocacy group should be invited as well. Ms. Pierantozzi noted that DNREC staff were not experts on TNR or feral cats; Ms. Gryczon noted that pesticides are more commonly held to be responsible for bird decline. Senator Blevins said that if DNREC adovcates killing cats, the TF would not put animal welfare in their hands. She said that Secretary O’Mara would be contacted.
Sherene Lindo and Phyllis Frank bothmade statements regarding their experiences with animal control officers (KCSPCA and DESPCA). Statements are attached.
When Carol Furr began her statement concerning the harrassment she has been receiving from Kevin Usilton, Senator Petersen objected, as a point of order. She said they were not there to hear complaints and the statement should be e-mailed to the members of the Task Force. Carol said that the TF should know that the number of complaints against Safe Haven at the Public Hearing were coordinated with Mr. Usilton’s knowledge.
My statement included some comments about Mr. Usilton, so I “sanitized” it, leaving out names. Both statements were sent to the TF members on 12/14/12. Both statements are attached.
Marlene Oetzel stood to ask if the Task Force was investigating Safe Haven the way KCSPCA was being investigated. When asked what she meant, she began talking about the problems in Kentucky, where Ms. Gryczon once worked and said she would repeat that here in Delawsare, and have dogs in wire crates.
(Senator Blevins leaned over and asked her aide if she knew what Marlene was talking about; I e-mailed her the next day and asked the same question. None of us know of any investigation into the KCSPCA that would be applicable to SH – because the KCSPCA has been audited regarding euthanasia.)
Donna Watson (the missing dachshund Rudy) stood up to thank the TF for their work and spoke in support of the KCSPCA. She then became very animated, asking why Kent County Levy Court would contract with anyone but Kent County SPCA. She went on at length about the fact that Safe Haven didn’t have jurisdiction (over cruelty cases) and she didn’t understand why they got the contract. She then went on to criticize Ms. Frank, saying it wasn’t fair to “bash” an animal control officer who wasn’t there to defend himself, and in her experience, ACO McMillan was very helpful.
Mr. Gary Frank then stood up and said he wanted to be clear about this – there was no “bashing” involved. The statement made by his wife was fact, documented and witnessed, and the complaint had already been sent out to those who should see it. He reiterated that there was no bashing, only fact.
Ms. Lynn Lofthouse made remarks referring to now-inactive animal welfare conferences that were initiated by former Attorney General Jane Brady. She said that Jane Brady had been an adovcate for animals, noting that animal abuse was connected to abuse of humans. She further stated that this connection was supported by research. She offered to send information about this group to Senator Blevins and the other TF members.
Sheri Warburton, a former animal control officer made a statement regarding animal control officers, asking forconsistency in training and one agency to oversee them. She said the officers were dedicated and doing a dangerous job, and thanked the TF for their work.
Doug Beatty made a statement in support of state trainng for the officers, and cautioned about the problem of working under color of law when representing the shelters rather than the State or counties. He noted his background in law enforcement, and said the animal control officers need the proper training, equipment and oversight. He stated that there are problems with accountability, and the animal control officers should be separated from the non-profits and given the training they deserve.
Carol Furr’s statement:
My name is Carol Furr and I live in Kent County. This is a little longer than my usual statements, so I ask you to please bear with me.
After my impromptu statement at the November 15th TF meeting, Kevin Usilton posted the following statement on the No Kill Elite Blocked Club Facebook page on Nov. 16th: "One member of the public must have had a liquid lunch and had a major meltdown at the end of the meeting. It was really quite sad to experience, but did show how personal missions distract from the real animal welfare issue." This was obviously a reference to me.
After my husband, Frank, made a comment at the TF public hearing, Mr. Usilton posted the following statement on Newszap, making references to Jody Sweeney, my husband, and Safe Haven:
"There were three really sad moments last night at the Public Task Force meeting.
1. Watching a Kent County Levy Commissioner laugh, chatter, and be disruptive during the entire hearing.
2. Listening to a gentlemen express that he lost his wife two years ago so she could make a difference for animals, and her efforts have been in vain.
3. Hearing how one agency is violating laws and not living up to current shelter standards.
This publuic forum was a great opportunity, and I was impressed that our residents had the courage to speak up for our animal residents."
On Tuesday, December 4th, Frank was at his business, Furr's Tire Service. He always takes his beloved German Shepherd, Duchess, to work with him. When Duchess wanted to go out to do her business, Frank opened the door to let her out. She did as she has been trained, and walked several feet and turned around for Frank's command to go. Frank watched her from the door, and Duchess was in his sight on the property the whole time. They both returned to the office when she was finished. While standing at the door Frank noticed a KCSPCA Animal Control truck go by, but didn't give it a second thought.
A little while later, one of his mechanics came to ask him if he had seen the animal control officer. The officer that Frank had seen riding by, came back to the shop and told a mechanic that he was there "to pick up the stray German Shepherd I saw." The mechanic explained that she was not a stray and was up front with her owner. He suggested to the officer not to pursue this with Frank, and the officer left.
First of all, the business is inside the City of Dover limits; they have their own ACO during business hours. Second, I am pretty sure that by now all the KCSPCA employees know the name "Furr"--so I can only assume that this incident was harrassment. If not, it is even more frightening, because that would indicate that the KCSPCA is picking up dogs where they have no authority.
These recent actions are in addition to Kevin posting on the KCSPCA facebook page that, “Mrs. Furr is not a friend of animals and will not be a friend to us here.” This was posted after I asked why statistics reports were not posted on their website. I asked it three different times and each post was deleted. Then Kevin blocked me from the page. Kevin makes references to the media and at KCSPCA Board Meetings that our group is "a vocal minority with personal agendas," "fringe extremists of the no-kill movement", etc. He has also made personal attacks on Dr. Lynn Lofthouse, Patricia Foltz, and Jody Sweeney, just to name a few, at the Board Meetings.
I certainly did not realize when I got involved in this effort that I would become a "public" person and subject to these kinds of attacks. But it happened, and is still happening! The fact that the attacks are coming from supposedly professional individuals such as Board Members and the Executive Director - that is what I find so unforgivable. In order to deflect attention away from the serious issues and complaints about the shelter, they resort to attacking, belittling, and harrassing individuals.
Cathy Samardza and I have both made statements regarding the harrassment and threats Kevin Usilton posts on FB. We have informed you of the anti-CAPA comments and links he posts as well. Please tell me. When does this stop being about politics and legal loop holes and become about the animals, honesty, and ethics?
Catherine Samardza’s statement:
I attended the public hearing in Dover on November 29th with several other members of the group I work with. There were complaints that SH adopts and fosters out without doing spay/neuter first. Yet current and former employees of the KCSPCA have said that that the KCSPCA has also done this. There were complaints that SH boards dogs at kennels away from the shelter; yet the KCSPCA also does this. There were complaints that SH dogs at these kennels are only walked once a day; yet at a recent KCSPCA board meeting the kennel supervisor stated that dogs in one of their buildings have no outside access and only get outside every other day. If the laws apply to one shelter, they should apply to them all, don’t you think?
We have seen or documented complaints regarding customer service issues against the KCSPCA and the Georgetown DESPCA. The Georgetown DESPCA did not make any friends when they had a woman arrested for cruelty when she abandoned cats at the shelter when they refused to take them. Within the letter of the law? Yes, but……most people feel that another solution should have been found. Especially since we have a complaint regarding a DESPCA animal control officer refusing to investigate a cruelty case. And we have a lot of complaints regarding the KCSPCA animal control officers.
The DHA is having problems between their volunteers and management. The only shelter we haven’t heard anything negative about is Faithful Friends – but I am sure there is something, somewhere. My point? All of the shelters should be monitored and inspected, the laws enforced, and animal control officers should be trained and supervised. By an outside, statewide panel that will take it seriously, and investigate complaints when they are made. And for those who haven’t reviewed the public statements yet – this was mentioned more than once, and not by anyone working with me.
And this brings me to – credibility. Truthfulness, honesty. Mr. Usilton is the only director that has stated that CAPA costs his shelter money. He is the only director that criticizes CAPA, calling it an unfunded mandate – even after last month’s TF meeting. He is the only director that posts links to anti-CAPA sites and blogs. He works for a board whose members call for accountability and inspections of other shelters, yet refuses that same accountability for the KCSPCA. He is the only director, to my knowledge, that uses social media to harrass and threaten those who disagree with him. And he seems to believe he has the right to call out other shelter directors on their actions – even when they are within the law. As my 86-year old Bostonian mother would say, who died and made him boss?
He has demonstrated that the truth has no bearing in his arguments. People calling for accountability? Tell everyone that they have “personal agendas” and are part of the no-kill movement (I’ve said this before – we’re not). Don’t want to answer questions about a proposed contract? Walk out of the meeting, withdraw your offers, and then say Kent County wouldn’t negotiate. Tell your board that the shelter will be reimbursed for emergency services performed in Delaware and New Jersey, but tell the public that there is no funding for this humanitarian service and ask for donations to cover the costs. Last month he asked you to change the 72 hour hold time to 24 hours. He told you there was precedent, that in Philadelphia animal control works like this. Well, I don’t believe anything he says, so I contacted the Animal Care and Control Team in Philadelphia. I was told, in writing, that there is a 48-hour hold time for dogs in Philadelphia.
So I have to ask – if he can’t or won’t be truthful, why should we believe anything he says? And why is he wasting your time as a member of this Task Force?
Sherene Lindo’s statement:
My name is Sherene Lindo and I live in Kent County. For 5 years my neighbor harrassed me through my dogs, calling DE Animal Care and Control whenever I was not at home. When two of my dogs were killed in suspicious circumstances, it was the Wyoming Police who responded when DEACC refused to investigate. Although former Executive Director Murrey Goldthwaite admitted that they were aware that there was a problem with my neighbor, Animal Control continued to respond to my neighbor’s calls. In fact, they impounded one of my dogs on September 30, 2011. They did not find him loose. They took him from me, saying he was identified as a dog that had chased someone on a riding mower. His paperwork said he was being held for the Dog Control Panel, and I was told he would be found dangerous. I was never told that I had to request the panel. During that first week, I refused to sign papers stating my dog was dangerous, got in touch with my KC Levy Court commissioner and consulted a lawyer. That’s when I learned that I had to request the panel, and did so. Five days after that, I was told there was warrant out for my arrest – and a former house guest that the ACOs assumed was my husband - on dog-at-large charges that I was never cited for and for which my dogs were never found loose. I believe this was retaliation for my refusal to sign their paperwork and going to my Levy Court Commissioner for help.
The good news: I got my dog back. The bad news: between putting in security cameras and attorney’s fees, I spent over $3,000.00 to prove that I secure my dogs properly in my fenced yard. And the fact that makes it all even more suspicious? Since the cameras went up in 2011 and the KCSPCA lost Kent County dog control, there were NO visits from their animal control officers. And none from Safe Haven since THEY took over.
Two other women also complained of similar harrassment and threats to arrest them by the animal control officers. KCLC Commissioner Jody Sweeney is the only one who responded to help them – even though they were not his constituents.
I understand that Animal Control must respond to complaints; however, there must be checks and balances, and credible procedures. Taking a complainant’s word as true, despite never finding my dogs running loose, is not an investigation. Assuming a house guest must be my husband and having him arrested is not an investigation. The brief reports on the arrest warrant stated the animal control officers talked to me - even though I was not at home on some of those dates. Filing an arrest warrant for charges based on hearsay – with an affadavit sworn to by an officer who never responded to any of the complaints - leads to questions concerning the integrity of the KCSPCA officers. Failing to provide my attorney with complete reports or a list of witnesses left us at a loss for my defense. The Deputy Attorney General “forgot” to subpoena the mystery witnesses and on the day of trial said they were “on call.” My attorney’s request for dismissal was denied. Because there was another person involved, I bowed to pressure and took an agreement for Probation Before Judgement.
The Kent County SPCA and their animal control officers need to be properly trained and supervised – because they still have dog control contracts in other counties. Because this is about civil rights. The Dept. of Justice needs to take this sort of thing more seriously; would the Deputy Attorney General have forgotten to subpoena her witnesses in a burglary case? The DOJ should require the same due diligence for dog control as they would for any enforcement investigation and prosecution.
Phyllis Frank’s Statement:
The Mission of the Delaware SPCA is toprevent animal cruelty, homelessness and neglect and to promote the humanetreatment of animals in the State of Delaware. The Kent County SPCA workstirelessly to end animal cruelty in Delaware. Both quotes off websites 12/5/12
My name is Phyllis Frank and I live in Elsmere, New CastleCounty. I am here to speak for adog named Bobo. Between July 28and August 10 of this year, I, my husband and a neighbor made a total of 8calls concerning BoBo. He had notbeen allowed out of the house for over a month, and we were all concerned forhis welfare. During this timeperiod, the house was also deemed unfit for human habitation by the town. I did not realize then that the 2SPCAs are not the same organization. The first call went to the DESPCA; others went to the Kent CountySPCA. Officer Richardson of the DESPCA and Officer McMillan of the Kent County SPCA both came out to the house ondifferent days; both performed cursory inspections and refused to investigate further. Officer Richardson stated that he wasconcerned for his safety but never called for police assistance.
Officer McMillan only spoke to BoBo’s owner outside thehouse, never going in to look at the conditions we had described in our callsor to check on BoBo’s safety and well being. Both officers became rude andobstructive when further calls were made to them. Two more officers came out, both female; Officer Bartlettand then Jessica, both of whom actually did their jobs. On August 10, BoBo was finally rescued; Jessica told me she was going to giveBoBo's owner the option of surrendering him or being charged with cruelty – shebelieved that would most likelyget his owner to give him up and he would be out of the horrible situation hewas in much sooner than if a warrant had to be obtained. She was right; hisowner chose to surrender him to the KCSPCA rather than face crueltycharges.
BoBo spent 5 days at RainbowKennels in New Castle County. Iwas told that he would be evaluated and then be up for adoption if he passedthe evaluation testing. When Icalled on August 16th to find out what was going on, KCSPCA employeeAmanda, told me that BoBo would be euthanized that day because he had bitewounds of unknown origin. Theexplanation given was that since they didn’t know how he got the wounds, theassumption is that it is rabies. I was told these wounds/bites would not be investigated, and I do notbelieve BoBo’s body was tested for rabies.
There is so much wrong withthis incident. Two male officersfrom the two organizations authorized to investigate animal cruelty refused todo the job because one was afraid for his personal safety. The laws say thatany police agency may provide support for animal cruelty investigations, yetOfficer Richardson did not call for assistance. Why? Instead hetold us we had to look for suspicious behavior and call the police ourselves.
I don’t understand what Officer McMillan’s issues were. Hedid however make a point to call us at home at 6:45 in the morning on August 9th,to tell me if we kept calling, it would be considered harassment. I told Steve,the neighbor mentioned in these comments and my letter, about the call and hesaid Officer McMillan called him and told him the same thing. I have the numberhe called from written in my records.
Jessica chose to finesse thesituation to get BoBo out, which I appreciated at the time. But it didn’tsave him, and his owner has not been charged with animal cruelty. There is nothing to stop her from owning another animal. In fact, whenBoBo was being rescued, other neighbors were asking about the cat that was alsoin the home; we were told that the KCSPCA did not take cats. So, whosaves cats from cruelty and abuse? Yet another serious flaw in the system thatputs innocent animals at risk and in the hands of monsters.
BoBo was euthanized due tosuspicion of rabies. Why did ittake 5 days to get to that decision? If rabies was an issue, why wasn’t it a problem when he was first impounded? Could he have been quarantinedinstead?
I believe that OfficerRichardson, the first officer to respond, could have prevented this sad endingif he had done his job. He told mehe heard another dog in the house. This isn’t rocket science; given thecircumstances, this other dog probably bit BoBo. If BoBo was rabid, then so was this other dog. Is that dog running loose spreadingrabies now? Was this investigated?
BoBo’s story, and my complaint over how it was handled, has beensent to a number of people with minimal responses to my questions, concerns anddocumented events. If the animalcontrol officers are afraid to do this job, maybe it should be given to anotheragency with better training.
BoBo, an innocent and abused animal paid the ultimate price forwhat I consider blatant disregard on several levels by the very people who aresupposedly there to help and protect animals from the exact abuse BoBo wasenduring. He never got the chances he deserved, all of which are mandated bythe shelter standards law, for a better life and the love and care he deserved.
Why were the shelter standard law and most importantly BoBo’s rights ignored?
I also e-mailed several of the TF members the following questions:
Some questions that occurred to me at the Animal Welfare Task Force Meeting:
1. No one seemed to catch this, but when Brian Whipple started talking about training, he said "Some of our officers...." no one followed up on this. Did he mean that some officers are trained, and others trained by them? Some officers get some of the training he listed, but not all? And when has this training actually taken place? Comm. Sweeney was told by KCSPCA board members (in May, I believe) that there had been no training since 2009. This was also told to us by an ACO.
2. No one asked about complaints. As in, how many complaints have they had regarding the officers actions and behavior? (here I listed some of the more serious instances we are aware of) We have not listed Ms. Franks complaint here, but her story - and Senator Peterson's - of failure to investigate animal cruelty complaints - are not unique. We have others.
3. Ms. Baker's story brings up another issue. The animal control officers are operating under color of law. When they show up at your house on strictly shelter business, what is their legal standing? They are working for the State in animal cruelty and rabies investigations and the counties for Title 9 issues.
4. One of the complaints from the KCSPCA is that they are not paid for the work they do with loose livestock. This is listed as a task of the Delaware State Police, but, as with other police agencies, they refer it to the KCSPCA. Shouldn't this belong to the Dept. of Agriculture? And injured wildlife with DNREC? If either SPCA is called to do this, they should be trained and compensated for it. Because the KCSPCA does not always do it well; veterinarian Ruth Franczyk wrote a letter to the Delaware State News this year criticizing their handling of a seriously injured horse (that had to be euthanized).
5. While we understand Senator Peterson's position regarding statements criticizing Mr. Usilton and the KCSPCA, we did not understand why it was then acceptable for Donna Watson to criticize Kent County Levy Court and Ms. Franks, and Marlene Oetzel to criticize Safe Haven and Anne Gryczon. Could you explain the rationale behind that? Especially since Mr. Usilton has posted about the fact that we were not allowed to speak.
This was the only response we received, from Senator Peterson:
Regarding Item #5, I did not hear Donna Watson personally attack Ms. Franks -- nor did I hear Marlene Oetzel personally attack Anne Gryczon. If I had, I would have raised the same objection as in the case of Kevin Usilton.
I found this response strange; Gary Frank obviously felt his wife was being criticized by Ms.Watson, or he wouldn’t have stood up to defend her statement. Ms. Watson was obviously being critical of Kent County Levy Court – and she doesn’t even live in Kent County. Ms. Oetzel made a point of bringing up events in Kentucky, assigning blame to Ms. Gryczon, and stating that she was repeating that behavior in Delaware. Carol Furr was making a statement about action taken by Mr. Usilton and witnessed by a number of people. So why was Mr. Usilton “off-limits?” It wasn’t because he was a TF member – so are Mr. Petit de Mange/KCLC and Ms. Gryczon. And - Ms. Furr was making a statement about witnessed actions - not a personal attack.