Crisis meeting set to discuss Delaware animal control

DOVER — A Monday meeting will address statewide animal control issues following First State Animal Center-SPCA’s vote this week to terminate contract obligations in 60 days.

The gathering at Kent County Levy Court will include representatives from all three counties, the city of Wilmington and the state government.

The participants will discuss plans for a new timetable for transferring operations to the state on Sept. 15.

The meeting, however, is not open to the public, officials said.

Michael Petit de Mange

Michael Petit de Mange

Kent County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange described Camden-based FSAC-SPCA’s decision as “disconcerting.” But, he also said a termination provision in the contracts made it not completely unexpected.

He believes the General Assembly’s decision to transition animal control back to state government hastened the move.

“I had a feeling this could happen based on (FSAC-SPCA’s) concerns expressed when the issue was in front of the General Assembly,” he said.

Contingency plans had been assembled in case the transition timetable was shortened, said Hettie Brown, executive director of the Office of Animal Welfare.

Monday’s meeting is designed to gather input from all related parties. Ms. Brown said her office has communicated regularly with New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties and Wilmington officials about animal-control issues since the Office of Animal Welfare was created in November 2013.

The plan now includes expediting the hiring and training of animal-control officers, Ms. Brown said. The 23 new positions include enforcement officers and support staff in the Delaware Animal Services division.

The OAW’s fiscal year budget will remain at $3.5 million, officials said.

Ms. Brown learned of the contract termination Tuesday via the Division of Public Health’s rabies control section from which FSAC-SPCA will be stepping away.

“We are committed to making sure that no gap in services will occur,” Ms. Brown said. “ … We are very confident in the plan we’re going to implement and we are now going to expedite it.”

‘Outpouring’ of support

Within the first 24 hours of public notice, Ms. Brown said an “outpouring” of transition support offers arrived from local shelters, local and national animal welfare organizations, non-profits, and governments.

“It goes to show that when something sudden happens within the animal welfare community we pull together to make sure animals … receive the support they need,” she said.

According to FSAC-SPCA, the center responded to 7,081 calls from January to June, including 1,116 bite incidents,

Hettie Brown

Hettie Brown

3,209 rabies checks, and 1,362 dogs to shelter.

FSAC-SPCA had ongoing annual contracts with Sussex County ($682,616), Kent County ($895,041.12), New Castle County ($1,035,000), Wilmington ($600,000), city of Dover ($40,000), Department of Public Health for rabies ($275,520) and Cruelty Reimburse ($106,000).

Initially, contracts ran through:
• Sussex County, Dec. 30, 2015
• Kent County, June 30, 2017
• New Castle County, Dec. 30, 2016
• City of Wilmington, June 30, 2016
• City of Dover, ongoing
• Department of Health, rabies, June 30, 2016
• Cruelty Reimburse, June 30, 2016.

Sussex County’s contract is the first to be terminated. Deputy County Administrator Hal Godwin said its legal department is reviewing whether the termination may lead to possible liability and exploring its options.

“We’re very concerned and it’s very important to know word for word where the law stands on this,” he said.

‘As soon as possible’

Sussex County spokesman Chip Guy offered the following statement:

Hal Godwin

Hal Godwin

“Obviously, animal control is an important issue the county wants to see resolved as soon as possible, as it is one of the many government services that promote the health, safety and general welfare of our community,” he said.

“The county is eager for all parties involved to come together and work out an appropriate response that ensures animal control services continue for the public we serve.”

Mr. Petit de Mange said, “This is a public safety issue first and also an animal-welfare issue. It’s an important public offering.”

State-run animal control, albeit sooner than expected, is a positive step and allows citizens the ability to hold government directly accountable for its actions, Mr. Petit de Mange said.

“It’s important that any public service has a high standard of stability and reliability, and costs are understood and applied rationally up and down the state,” he said.

Animal control has been a county responsibility since 2010.

In the first six months of 2015, FSAC-SPCA also sheltered four raccoons, five foxes, 12 bats, 17 monitor lizards, three snakes, five pigs, two opossums, three rabbits, two goats and three birds.

Also held was a Tarantula spider, fish, groundhog and chinchila.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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