Dog control service deal eases ‘stressful situation’ in Kent County

At a swearing in ceremony at the Kent County Complex Tuesday, Levy Court President P. Brooks Banta, fifth from left, officially welcomed four new Animal Control Officers, gray shirts, from left, Michael Ackenbrack, Brandon Jarobe, Sandra Galloway, and Connie Laird, along with three new Code Enforcement Constables, right of Banta, James Burk, Christian Brauer, and Bruce Slody. County Administrator Mike Petit de Mange is pictured at the far right. (Submitted photo by Kent County Levy Court)

At a swearing in ceremony at the Kent County Complex Tuesday, Levy Court President P. Brooks Banta, fifth from left, officially welcomed four new Animal Control Officers, gray shirts, from left, Michael Ackenbrack, Brandon Jarobe, Sandra Galloway, and Connie Laird, along with three new Code Enforcement Constables, right of Banta, James Burk, Christian Brauer, and Bruce Slody. County Administrator Mike Petit de Mange is pictured at the far right. (Submitted photo by Kent County Levy Court)

CAMDEN — Months of tumult associated with overseeing statewide dog control services seems to be settling, evidenced by recent agreements to transition management to the state at the end of the year.

On Wednesday, First State Animal Center-SPCA Executive Director Kevin Usilton said the nonprofit was “at peace” after Kent County dog control responsibilities were turned over to Chester County (Pa.) SPCA of West Chester just 12 hours earlier, at midnight, in the interim.

Hettie Brown

Hettie Brown

On Tuesday night, Kent County Levy Court announced that Chester County SPCA would take over the service through Dec. 31, followed by state control.

“What began as a somewhat stressful situation has turned into a delightful experience because of the positive, friendly, ‘can-do’ spirit of the CCSPCA staff,” Levy Court Administrator Mike Petit de Mange said.

Levy Court will pay Chester County SPCA the same rate as before — $75,000 monthly. Chester County SPCA began its contract on Sept. 1 in preparation for putting uniformed dog wardens on the street beginning Wednesday. They were sworn in Tuesday night during a ceremony at the Kent County Complex.

As the afternoon arrived, Mr. Usilton said FSAC-SPCA was awaiting Chester County SPCA’s arrival to pick up stray dogs at its facility at 32 Shelter Circle Way. Also, any bite reports were transferred to the state’s Office of Animal Welfare, which assumes statewide animal control responsibilities on Jan. 1, 2016.

A local operation

In a news release, Chester County SPCA CEO Adam Lamb noted that all hired officers are Kent County residents, and all stray dogs will be sheltered locally.

“It is our objective to provide a smooth transition for this process,” Mr. Lamb said.

“Our goal is to ensure the health and safety of the community as well as all the stray animals we will be providing care for.”

FSAC-SPCA will continue to handle dog control issues in Sussex and New Castle counties until Dec. 31. The Office of Animal Welfare now is responding to rabies control, along with animal cruelty reports statewide.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2016, the state-run Delaware Animal Services program will oversee animal control duties and dog licensing statewide, with a city of Wilmington agreement with FSAC-SPCA running through June 30, 2016.

OAW Executive Director Hettie Brown said the state has contracted Chester County SPCA to assist short-term in its animal sheltering program.

“They’re a very experienced organization when it comes to animal cruelty and sheltering issues,” Ms. Brown said.

“They were one of the first ones to step up and offer assistance and we appreciate their support and commitment.”

Coming on the heels of the state’s decision to transition into animal control duties as contracts with FSAC-SPCA expired, the nonprofit announced intentions to terminate all of its current contracts after Sept. 15 due to projected staff attrition.

Mr. Usilton said FSAC-SPCA contracts with Sussex and New Castle counties will run until Dec. 31.

“Us having the contracts with New Castle and Sussex counties allows us to have a minor hand in the transition (to state oversight),” Mr. Usilton said. “It helps our employees in their quest for future employment, and hopefully they will be hired by the Office of Animal Welfare.

“This gives our community time to understand the transition and make sure our animals don’t get lost in that,” Mr. Usilton said.

Some contract issues

According to Mr. Usilton, FSAC-SPCA’s contract with Kent County allowed it to opt out after giving a 60-day notice.

He said the original contract would have ended on June 30, 2017.

At one point, FSAC-SPCA proposed to terminate all ongoing contracts on Sept. 15, citing the inability to properly operate moving forward due to dropping staff after the state’s decision to transition to control.

“We were pretty clear that the Dec. 31 date was established by the contract,“ Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings said.

“We knew they had staffing concerns … but our language was pretty clear.”

Mr. Petit de Mange said four former FSAC-SPCA officers were hired by Chester County SPCA to manage local operations while working out of fully equipped SUVs that include online access, printers and ability to search dog-related databases. The new hires were chosen after background checks and drug screens, officials said.

Kennels are now available at Animal Inn near Kenton and Rainbow Kennels in Newark.

For assistance with dog control between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., call (302) 300-8244. For after-hours assistance, call (302) 995-7313.

Mr. Usilton and Ms. Brown had opposing views on how state control after this year will affect the welfare of animals and owners in Delaware.

Citizens looking for a lost pet in Kent County can go to the Facebook page lostpetsof Delaware.

Said Mr. Usilton, “What I hope is that the state realizes that their desire to shut this place down has created a convoluted cluster of services. That creates an arena for neglect because people will get frustrated because when you call you want an immediate answer. The response time will be longer.”

Ms. Brown referenced what she described as the benefits of state control, saying, “We are now able to consolidate under one state entity all animal-related enforcement services.

“That will allow for a more consistent policy for response and streamline processes. With the root causes of homelessness and overpopulation (within the animal community) we will be able to not just provide services but have accesses to social services that can address (all the factors that create troubling situations),” Ms. Brown said.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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