Friday, December 7, 2012

Just because you keep saying it doesn't make it true..

WARNING!!! This is a long blog.....

I do not always read FB page posts or Newszap comments about the animal control/dog control/shelter wars going on, despite my involvement.  Yesterday, I bit the bullet and went on line to read FB and Newszap posts and get myself up-to-date.

First, about our group:  Some members of our group have been working on this since 2009.   We are not crazy cat ladies.  Two are men, another two don’t even have a cat.  Four are former KCSPCA board members, two are licensed vet techs and one of those is the original KCSPCA animal control officer – prior to Murrey Goldthwaite and DEACC.  I don’t have a dog.   Several work with rescue; others do not.  Between us we have cats, dogs, horses, and chickens. 

In January 2012 we asked all Delaware elected officials, in writing, for an unbiased, unaffiliated panel to oversee and monitor all the shelters and animal control officers.

Second, I attended all but one of the meetings I have posted notes on.   Third, when I reference complaints or reports – I have either read the complaint written by the person it happened to, or actually interviewed them.  Fourth, while most of those complaints are about the KCSPCA, we have documented or referred complaints concerning other shelters.

Social media plays a big part in this effort.  The KCSPCA FB page posts their accomplishments and events, comments by supporters, and allows bashing of anyone who disagrees with them. They remove posts that question or disagree with them.  The page also posts links to sites that are derogatory to Safe Haven and Delaware’s shelter standards law (CAPA).  Their website posts anti-CAPA statements and links to anti-CAPA blogs. The KCSPCA position is that CAPA is not only an unfunded mandate, but part of a no-kill conspiracy to force Delaware to be a no-kill state.   The website also posts statements that are provably lies if you reference the recordings of the meetings mentioned, or talk to those who were actually there.

Kevin Usilton, the director, stalks, harasses and threatens people via FaceBook.   He also takes it upon himself to telll other shelter directors stating they are in violation of the laws.   KCSPCA is not in charge of the other shelters.  As my 86-year old mother would say, who died and made him boss?

In addition to the Kent County SPCA sites, there are two others that support that shelter – No-Kill Delaware Blocked Elite and Citizen Watchdogs for the Animals of Delaware. 

Citizen Watchdogs began as Citizens to Save Safe Haven and were primarily anti-SH.  Now they support KCSPCA as well, because Safe Haven has the dog control contract for Kent County.  Citizens also began as a community page; they just announced that they are going private soon, so that only those that agree with them can post or have discussions. 

No-Kill Delaware Blocked Elite began to argue points that the No-Kill Delaware page would not allow.  But it has changed, and is now basically anti-CAPA and pro-KCSPCA.  One of the original founders and administrators is now blocked from the page, because he has a more moderate view. 

The No-Kill Delaware page is primarily a no-kill advocate; as such they are vehemently anti-KCSPCA as a kill-shelter.  They will post about problems with any of the shelters, no-kill or otherwise (4 of the 5 DE shelters are no-kill).  The No-Kill Delaware website is where many complaints about the shelters and animal control officers end up – because no one else will listen.  That alone is a very important service, regardless of whether or not you agree with them. 

Our page, Kent County Dog Control – Pro/Con – was started before Kent County Levy Court awarded a year-long contract to Safe Haven.  We began the page to solicit ideas for dog control in Kent County.  We opened it up to solicit ideas for the homeless cat population, and post information we find relevant.  Very often that leads to arguments from the supporters of the KCSPCA.  I, personally, am always up for a good argument – if you lead with facts, not fiction.  We don’t delete posts and have only banned 2 people from the page for violating our “no personal attacks” rule.  One of those got no warning (he followed someone to our page from Newszap, and I don’t like stalkers, cyber or otherwise); everyone else does.  If you don’t like the page, don’t read it, don’t post on it.  But don’t expect us to roll over and agree with you when you post something we don’t believe.  Won’t happen.  Calling us liars won’t help, but will get you blocked.

There is also Newszap on line, which now has over 70 pages of comments under “KCSPCA spat.”

A number of people who post on any or all of these sites do so using fake names. Makes you wonder about a lot of things – how serious they are about their cause, and their honesty, for example.  Come on – put your money where your mouth is!  I do.  The members of our group aren’t hiding.  Our names are out there all the time. 

But back to the posts themselves.  Some of the posters (Kevin Usilton and “Jake” in particular) seem to think that if they post the same lie often enough, it will become truth.  In no particular order:

Lie #1:  Kent County refused to negotiate with the KCSPCA and Commissioner Jody Sweeney gave Safe Haven the KCSPCA dog control contract.

Truth:  The contract actually “belongs” to Kent County Levy Court.  It takes a majority vote of 7 commissioners to approve a contract.  This vote was unanimous; the contract approved on an emergency basis for one year when KCSPCA leadership walked out of negotiations and withdrew their offers. There was nothing left to negotiate. (June 6 KCLC meeting recording, and June KCSPCA board minutes – and I was at both meetings.) 

And here I have to note that Kent County is smaller than Sussex both physically and in population.  KCSPCA wanted $1.3M for the Kent County contract (a 61% increase), yet only asked for $675K from Sussex, and accepted $669K  (obviously less than the 61% increase wanted from KC).  Seems to me that the Kent County commissioners were right in having questions....

 Lie #2:  CAPA and the shelter standards law are part of a no-kill conspiracy.

Delaware CAPA laws do not prohibit euthanasia – even of healthy animals.  It DOES require documentation and justification for the decision.

Lie #3:  That the complaints we have collated must not amount to much because nothing has been done about them.

Nothing has been done about the complaints because, based on the way the laws were written, there is no oversight, monitoring, control or penalties for violations of the laws.  Senator Blevins trusted the shelter directors when they all told her they were all doing what the laws require.  And for the section that does have penalties, the Department of Agriculture has stated that their Deputy Attorney General says they don’t have the authority to enforce it.

Lie #4:  that “all these investigations” are costing the KCSPCA or the taxpayers money.

Most of the complaints have NOT been investigated.  What inquiries there were have been done by agencies charged with that task.  There is an ongoing investigation in the Attorney General’s office (and we had nothing to do with that one).  It has to do with money and euthanasia.  If the KCSPCA had kept the records they were supposed to, in the manner they were supposed to, providing the information requested by the AG’s office would not have been onerous.  These records are REQUIRED, as is providing them to the agencies authorized to request them.  So the investigations aren’t costing taxpayers any extra money because the agencies involved are supposed to look into this stuff.

Lie #5:  That Safe Haven is violating shelter standards and the KCSPCA is a model of compliance.  Well, no…..

a)      At the recent AWTF Public Hearing, Safe Haven was accused of boarding dogs in for-profit kennels as well as in the shelter.  They are.  They never said otherwise.  But guess what?  So does the KCSPCA.  Not naming the kennels here, they are innocent parties in this battle.

b)      Safe Haven dogs in kennels are only walked once a day.   One of our group has spoken to the owner of one of the kennels, who tells us she also allows the SH dogs in her doggie play groups.  On the other side, the KCSPCA kennel tech supervisor stated at the November board meeting that the dogs in one building do not have outside access and are only taken to the outdoor kennels every other day.  Regular walks were never mentioned; she has since posted that anyone on a cigarette break must take a dog out too.  So how many KCSPCA dogs actually get walked?  Especially those in that building that has no outside kennels?

c)      Safe Haven adopts out/fosters animals that have not been spay/neutered.  The law says s/n must be done prior to adoption.  Fostering out without s/n is not illegal.  And we have reports from former KCSPCA employees that this has also been the practice at KCSPCA.  The law also says that if an animal is too young or sick to be s/n prior to adoption, there is supposed to be a $75 deposit to ensure the new pet owner does so.  Does SH violate this?  It has been reported.  But then, we have reports of supposedly spayed cats from the KCSPCA delivering kittens after they were brought to their new homes, and documentation concerning a dog whose paperwork said she was spayed, but she wasn’t. 

There are other issues, but you get the idea.  If the law applies to one shelter, it should apply to all, don’t you think?

Lie #6A:  That CAPA is an unfunded mandate.

Kevin Usilton and “Jake” say this a lot.   But all the shelters were involved when the shelter standards law was written.  All of them said it wouldn’t cost them any money.  (Remember, shelter standards are separate from Dog Control – I’ll get to that a little further on.)   Senator Blevins stated in the November AWTF meeting that shelter standards are “the cost of doing business as a shelter in Delaware.”  She went on to say that there are a number of businesses that are regulated by law; none of them are paid to comply with the regulations either.

Lie #6B:  That the State should pay to fund the KCSPCA.

When Sussex County awarded the dog control contract for 2013 to the KCSPCA, Kevin Usilton made the following comment to the media (Dec. 5 DE Online):

 “We’re hoping for some significant changes in animal control,” Usilton said. “It’s not fair a nonprofit has to subsidize animal-control functions for the state.”

Perhaps I'm missing something, but, as also mentioned at the last TF meeting, no one forces anyone to form a private, non-profit agency for animal welfare.  In fact, that status seems to be one of the arguments for why these agencies are not answerable to any State authority.  Most non-profits take it for granted that they will be funding their mission themselves, through donations and grants.

But let’s look at the animal control functions Mr. Usilton is talking about (which are actually separate from animal welfare issues, the KCSPCA’s original mission). 

Dog Control:  All 3 counties and the City of Wilmington provide dog control as required by the state, through outside vendors (KCSPCA, SH, and DESPCA for the City of Wilmington).  The vendors are compensated for this service.  That compensation includes costs for travel, daily care and medical care/vaccinations for the dogs, salaries, administrative costs, etc.  Add to that compensation the fact that if/when a dog is reclaimed by the owner, the shelter is allowed to charge kennel fees, as well.  If they keep the dog and put it up for adoption, they collect the adoption fee.  So how is the KCSPCA subsidizing dog control for the State?

Other animal control:  There are no State cat control laws as such, although a county or municipality may have nuisance animal laws that include cats.  And yes, something needs to be done about the homeless cat population.  But if a shelter is formed for the welfare of animals as a private non-profit, knowing the State has no laws for cat control, it seems a little short-sighted to complain about it now.  It sounds more like KCSPCA wants the State to subsidize their original mission, animal welfare.

Animal Cruelty:  Only the two SPCAs are given authority for animal cruelty and rabies compliance investigations and enforcement in Delaware.  For whatever reason, State law says that the SPCAs will not be compensated for the animal cruelty investigations.  However, if there are penalties assessed if/when a case is won, those monies go to the SPCA handling the case.  The KCSPCA states that they rarely, if ever, see any money from this service.  And the SPCAs are required to house the animals – cats, dogs, pigs, or any other – until either the owner relinquishes them or the court case is over.  Even if the pet owner wins the case, they must pay kenneling costs – which, depending on when the case goes to court, can run into the thousands of dollars.  Many just relinquish the animals to the shelter, and the SPCA involved then must petition the Department of Justice if they wish to euthanize the animals before the trial date.  I am sure this made sense to someone at the time, but THIS is an issue that SHOULD be addressed – although it does not impact all Delaware shelters. 

Rabies compliance and animal-human bite investigations.  Rabies compliance is often an issue when an animal bites another or a human.  The KCSPCA is contracted by the Division of Public Health to investigate animal-human bites.  They are paid for this.  Some rabies compliance issues are a matter of course in dog control – which dog control vendors are being paid to do, remember?  So, once again, not subsidizing the State – being paid for services.

Do not expect anyone to show up if your dog or cat gets bitten by a raccoon.  Just make sure your pets are rabies vaccinated.

Wildlife, exotic animals, farm animals:  The KCSPCA has also complained that they are not compensated for wildlife, exotic animals or farm animals that they handle.  Well, maybe they should refer those calls to the appropriate agency.  DNREC is the agency for wildlife and exotics, the DE State Police or the Department of Agriculture for farm animals.  Now, these agencies MAY pass it off to a shelter.  In that case, perhaps this kind of service should be contracted for with those agencies.  (And don’t pat yourself on the back too much, KCSPCA - in at least one instance, a horse was left to suffer for hours before someone put her in a barn and called a vet – because the ACO who responded to the scene reportedly said “I don’t do horses.”  Yes, the horse had to be euthanized.)

I stand corrected  on part of this:  It is the DESPCA not Dept. of Ag.  Still NOT the KCSPCA.
Lie #7 (a combination of several different statements)  KCSPCA Animal Control Officers are well-trained, like police, and dedicated to helping animals.

First, you must understand that animal control officers are given authority to investigate and enforce dog control, animal cruelty and rabies laws by the State.  BUT THEY ARE NOT ANSWERABLE TO ANYONE EXCEPT THE SHELTER THEY WORK FOR.  Yes, I know I’m shouting.  THE LAWS DO NOT ALLOW OVERSIGHT OR MONITORING OF THE ANIMAL CONTROL OFFICERS.  When Kent County Levy Court even had questions about dog control activities, the KCSPCA leadership walked out of the meeting.

Members of the KCSPCA board admitted earlier this year that there had been no ACO training since 2009.  I personally checked with the organization that Kevin Usilton said his officers had trained with (at one of the KCLC meetings); less than half were on record as having been trained by the organization, and out of 4 levels of training (I&II needed for certification) they only had records of Level I being completed.  And yet, when questioned in a board meeting, Mr. Usilton asserted that “all our officers are very well-trained.

Many people have told me that they had to let the ACO in their home because “they’re like police officers.”  Delaware – you have got to watch more police procedure television!  No, they are NOT police officers.  Even a police officer cannot enter your home without a warrant.  But the ACOs are able to swear out a warrant for your arrest, and those working for KCSPCA and DESPCA have access to DELJIS – the criminal records system of the state.  Unlimited, unsupervised access.  (Which is a little surprising, because I have been told the Capital Police only have supervised access, and they are a trained law enforcement agency.)

And last, some of them may be dedicated to helping animals.  But we have heard from a couple who said they just do what they’re told – even if it means abusing the civil rights of pet owners.

Reports of illegal entry, intimidation, retaliation, shouting names at people through doors for refusing entry, refusal to investigate an animal cruelty report, swearing out affadavits for arrest based on hearsay evidence and even physical assault…..does that sound well-trained to you?

I have a lot more about the animal control officers, but this is already too long.  So think of them more like private security guards or “rent-a-cops.”  Only not as well-trained or supervised.


I know Senator Blevins and the other Task Force members have better things to do than read social and news media for things like this.  Quite frankly, I do, too.  But if Mr. Usilton, his board and his supporters are going to continue to criticize CAPA, other shelters and those who don’t agree with him, and push his vision of state-funded animal control under a non-profit agency (his, presumably) with the media and public, then sit at the TF table as if he is sincerely participating - I think the other TF members should know about it.  He seems to think that no one is aware of what he is doing, or that no one will speak up about it, or that it will have any consequences if they do.

No one in our group is willing to let the KCSPCA get away with all these lies.  We are not the ones muddying the waters the TF must navigate.  Let’s all get on the side of truth, clarity and accountability - for the animals AND the residents of Delaware.