Thursday, June 7, 2012

Kent County - Get Your Checkbooks and Pepper Spray Ready

I've discussed Kent County previously because I've always suspected that this would be the first of the counties to fall where animal control is concerned.  Needless to say, between the recent article in the Delaware State News, and after watching the Kent County Levy Court meeting of 6/5, it seems that suspicion is even more likely now.

The reason I thought that Kent County would be the one is due to the posturing that has occurred over the last year, and the alliances that one of our council members appears to have with an interesting cast of characters - one who declared he was going to run for governor in an article on 3/16 and then on 3/25 drops out of the race with no reason, a disgruntled former board member of the Kent County SPCA who was removed from the board, a woman who was upset when child protective services was called by Kent County SPCA where that agency removed her children from a home for 7 days in a home 6 dogs and 18 cats (a county code violation) also resided, another one who accepted an agreement for probation as she was in the process of being prosecuted by a Deputy Attorney General for animals at large and now claims foul, and the list goes on.   I think we can all see the pattern here, so it's no surprise that the situation has escalated to this point.

While I don't know why the Kent County SPCA representatives chose to leave that meeting, I will say that I found it odd that a conference call under executive session was called in the middle of the discussion.  In most cases, commissions have enough respect for those taking their time to attend a meeting to either time executive sessions after the meeting, or at least between the different subjects, not mid discussion.  Whether it be city or council meetings I have watched or attended, this was an unprecedented move to break up mid discussion for 27 minutes, and then act dumbfounded when the representatives left.  Maybe levy court needs to start scheduling their meetings time specific like more professional commission if they can't be handled their meetings better than that.

Prior to their hiatus, there was discussion about the fact that CAPA was costing Kent County SPCA significantly, but the council stated that they are not subject to those requirements and that is KCSPCA's problem.  After they finally returned, there was a great deal of discussion about various options available to them for animal control going forward.  There was also discussion about why they are paying for anything other than picking up the animals, like housing the animals, feeding the animals, vetting the animals, etc.  Well that is what animal control does.  Did they think officers would pick up the animals and throw them into the ocean to save the county those costs?  Well the fact is, donors to Kent County SPCA has been subsidizing the counties for some time and the organization can no longer do that with the added costs under CAPA.

Whether it is the shelter subsidizing dog control for the counties, or rounding up alligators and bulls that they aren't paid for, it should be interesting to see who is going to do those duties that KCSPCA was doing as a free service in the past.  My bet is that state and county officials won't even consider anything outside of dog control until they are faced with some dangerous animal at large, and then they will scramble to come up with some kind of solution at that point.  Hopefully nobody is harmed while they scratch their heads and wonder who they should call when that happens.

What Happens Next

Kent County Levy Court has several options available to them regarding dog control.

1.  Come to an agreement with Kent County SPCA for a 6 month extension.  This option will buy the county time, but considering the commissioner and his alliances, and their constant attempts to impose themselves into the non-profits board meetings, I suspect we are probably past this point already.

Those of us that watch animal welfare issues across the country realize that the commission has escalated the matter much like what occurred in Fresno, CA.  In that community members of their council, including the council president, complained about their shelter's euthanasia rate and attempted the same intrusive tactics of trying to open the  Central California SPCA  board meetings to the public on behalf of no-kill advocates and rescues.  So the CCSPCA said they had enough.  Now residents of Fresno are waiting to see what this push for "no-kill" will eventually cost the taxpayers, whether the council can scramble and get something into place by the deadline, and how quickly those same rescues will be griping at the government run shelter if euthanasia rates don't drop.  Sounds so familiar to those of us who have been watching this play out in our own community.

2.  Hire County Animal Control Officers and contract with a shelter to house the animals.  This option is pretty much a non-starter as well.  Since the CAPA requirements are what increased costs with additional vaccinations, longer hold times that result in higher costs (food, shelter staff to care for more animals, more veterinary care, etc), then any shelter that houses the animals will still have this unfunded mandate on their organizations back, and the costs associated with it.  There was one suggestion to pay to house animals on a per animal basis, but one only needs to look at the same scramble to find alternatives taking place in Delaware County PA, where it has been costly, and they have yet to find a permanent solution a year later.

3.  Kent County hire ACO's and the staff to run their own shelter.  Unless some dramatic action is taken, this is probably the most likely scenario.  Since the officers and shelter staff will be under county salary and benefits, this option will be costly to taxpayers.  One discussion at the meeting brought up the fact that the county will most likely only handle unincorporated sections of Kent County, and letting cities like Harrington, Camden, Felton, and others fend for themselves.

While offloading responsibility on the cities will help offset some of the increase in salaries, the counties and cities in Kent County need to understand that CAPA (Title 3, Chapter 80) will apply to their own shelters that house the animals:
(1) "Animal shelter" means a public or private facility which includes a physical structure that provides temporary or permanent shelter to stray, abandoned, abused, or owner-surrendered animals and that is operated, owned, or maintained by a duly incorporated humane society, animal welfare society, or other nonprofit organization for the purpose of providing for and promoting the welfare, protection, and humane treatment of animals.
§ 8005. Proper facilities required.
Any municipality that does not have proper facilities and trained personnel shall transport in a humane manner any animals which are to be euthanized to the nearest private or public shelter or agency which has proper facilities and trained personnel or contract for euthanasia of such animals by a licensed veterinarian.
So all the provisions regarding vaccination in 8 hours, posting of stats quarterly, foster homes, transfers to rescues on a registry, and others, will apply to the counties and cities that have shelters.  The very law that is currently being used as a weapon of harassment against Kent County SPCA, will become a weapon to harass cities and counties, and their officials.  Again keep in mind that all the positions to do these tasks will also be higher cost county salaries and benefits.  So good luck with that commissioners.

The result will be that Kent County residents will have to go from town to town to county trying to find their missing pet. Sure doesn't sound like CAPA is saving animals to me!!  And most likely the cities will have limited hours making it even more difficult to find your pet.

I can also imagine how poor the response time to pick up stray dogs will be when the county and cities end up arguing about who has jurisdiction to pick up strays, so I'm sure glad I have pepper spray to protect my dog on walks.

So if this does happen and our taxes go up and the service is worse, we can all thank our county officials for their apathy when CAPA was proposed.  They didn't protect their county constituents, but later cried about an unfunded mandate, so they also bear part of the responsibility for the situation they are in.  And we can thank your state legislators and Governor that passed CAPA for the added taxes and difficulty finding our pet, and the possibly tragic result of that.

4. Have the state repeal CAPA, admit it was a mistake, and rebuild the bridges burned in it's wake.  While this option would be the most fiscally responsible, and best for the animals, I doubt that there's strong enough leadership in the state to make such an admission in an election year. Considering the arrogance, self congratulation, alliances among certain shelters and politicians, and PR photo ops by the leadership that brought us CAPA, it's doubtful that the sane and responsible choice will prevail.

Wait and See

Basically all we can do is wait and see what the outcome will be.  

This week, SB211 (the tether bill) passed the senate, despite concerns about how difficult it would be to enforce it, short of having ACO's or police officers doing 18+ hour stake outs at home to see if a dog is tethered more than 18 hours in a 24 hour period.  It also makes one wonder whether that will take police away from duties to prevent real crime like home invasions and assaults.  Now there is the added concern of whether police will also be picking up stray dogs if there is a period without any dog control.  

So if Assemblyman Magee in NY has any doubt that he made the right decision for his state, rest assured, this could have been the result in communities across NY if CAARA had passed.  The NY Assembly Agriculture Committee had much more wisdom than we've seen by any politician in our state, and NY citizens should be grateful.