First State to end animal control contracts early

Director Kevin Usilton, seen with 12-week-old pit mix Penny, said First State Animal Center and SPCA will continue to offer animals for adoption, and also boarding and dog daycare. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

Director Kevin Usilton, seen with 12-week-old pit mix Penny, said First State Animal Center and SPCA will continue to offer animals for adoption, and also boarding and dog daycare. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

CAMDEN — Facing significant uncertainty with an upcoming transition to state-administered animal enforcement, the First State Animal Center and SPCA voted overwhelmingly Monday night to relinquish its responsibilities in 60 days by terminating current contracts.

FSAC-SPCA Executive Director Kevin Usilton said at least five employees decided to leave center since state legislature on July 1 transferred upcoming law enforcement duties to the Office of Animal Welfare.

More departures are expected.

Considering the 24-hour dispatch duties FSAC-SPCA was responsible for in enforcement coverage throughout Kent, New Castle and Sussex counties and the City of Wilmington, a continually diminishing staff made ongoing operations past Sept. 15 not feasible, Mr. Usilton said.

After discussion, the vote to terminate contracts was 14-1, Mr. Usilton said.

Sussex County had a contract in place until Dec. 15 of this year, New Castle County through Dec. 30, 2016, Wilmington in June 2017, and Kent County until June 30, 2017.

Mr. Usilton said letters noting FSAC-SPCA’s intentions were hand-delivered on Tuesday.

Including the voluntary departures, Mr. Usilton said the number of FSAC-SPCA employees would eventually drop from 66 to 16, with enforcement and dispatch officers, animal caregivers for strays, and adoption center members having no positions.

“It’s a very sad day when anyone has to be terminated, but when you have a great staff dedicated to great teamwork, it’s tough to move forward,” Mr. Usilton said. “There has to be a time to grieve …”

FSAC-SPCA will continue to offer animals for adoption, and low-cost spay and neuter predominately for cats, along with boarding and dog daycare availabilities, Mr. Usilton said.

The end of a mission is now just two months away from conclusion, Mr. Usilton said.

“This has been part of our identity to have provided law enforcement and investigations for a long, long time,” Mr. Usilton said. “Now that’s been taken away …”

Early Tuesday night, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services Office of Animal Welfare issued a statement indicating that meetings with the three counties and City of Wilmington will be held next week to find short-term interim solutions moving forward.

“The OAW is committed to working with these partners to ensure there is no service interruption,” according to the statement.

The OAW described the upcoming consolidation of services as “the culmination of 18 months of extensive research of various animal control models, stakeholder meetings including the engagement of county and city officials, law enforcement, and advocacy organizations, as well as significant public input.”

The OAW lauded Delaware legislators for initially granting a significant transition period as duties were shifted its way and said it was “surprised” by FSAC-SPCA’s early out.

“The legislation was written to ensure that the transition period offered an opportunity to reduce the impact on the FSAC-SPCA’s financial stability, as well as the impact to the organization’s employees,” according to the OAW’s statement.

“Although we are confident that the Office of Animal Welfare can meet the challenge presented by the decision of the Board of the Directors at First State Animal Center, we are surprised they rejected this approach.”

According to the OAW, the recent decisions confirmed the necessity of establishing a state-controlled program that required action in the General Assembly.

“This action underscores the need for the state to create its own animal control program and the wisdom of the General Assembly in taking that action,” the OAW said.

“While we are still evaluating the action taken by First State Animal Center’s board, we will work closely with the counties, the City of Wilmington, and other stakeholders to develop an updated transition plan that meets the need of the public and the animals.

“Working in partnership with our stakeholders, the development of Delaware Animal Services, a consolidated animal control enforcement function within the OAW, will ensure a comprehensive approach to protecting animals and the public.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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