LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Delaware animal shelter shifting blame for troubles

We are three of the activists who attend First State Animal center board meetings. The 9/21 article [“First State Animal Center faces uncertain future in Dover”] is the first time FSAC leadership has called us “activists.”

We have been called a lot of different things in the board meetings, news media and social media (where they named pigs after some of us). We have been threatened with criminal and civil action for criticizing FSAC. And now, we are accused of “gawking and staring” at them during board meetings. We are there to observe. As to comments, we know we can be removed if we create a disturbance, so, we comment on the meetings afterwards via social media.

THAT is covered under freedom of speech.

FSAC and DESPCA [Delaware Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a separate organization] were granted legislative authority to investigate and enforce animal-cruelty laws on a voluntary basis. Through Title 9, Chapter 9, the counties are given authority to contract for dog control, giving any organization they contract with enforcement authority.

FSAC refused to allow the public to attend board meetings until a group of us appealed to [state] Senator [Patricia M.] Blevins [D-7 (Elsmere)], who contacted the Attorney General’s Office for a FOIA determination. That determination stated that FSAC WAS required to hold open public meetings due to its investigative and enforcement authority. FSAC appealed the determination, and lost.

In 2013, Mr. Usilton banned three of us from the property, thinking that would keep us from attending the board meetings. So, we again invoked FOIA; the new determination stated that they could ban us from the property EXCEPT for the public meetings. Again, FSAC appealed and lost. One of the reasons for banning us? We “intimidated” the board members simply by our presence.

FSAC has discussed dropping enforcement activities since 2012 for two reasons. First, so they can close their board meetings again (and THAT should really alarm donors); and second, as a tool to extort more money from the state and counties. The most recent case in point: FSAC terminated all contracts, and then, presented an outrageous proposal to continue the very services they were terminating.

As to the financial aspect, in 2012, we were told that “the shelter is subsidizing dog control.” The IRS FY13 990 document tells a different story — $2,349,246 in contractual fees, $234,127 in donations and grants. Eventually, the board president said at one meeting that they were trying to separate the contract money from shelter money so they could figure out how much it cost to run the shelter. Another time, it was admitted that they had not been keeping up with fundraising. At the August 2015 meeting, Mr. Usilton told the board that the shelter could not be sustained without the dog-control contracts.

But let’s find someone else to blame for FSAC’s troubles — it can’t be poor management, neglected fundraising, bad customer service or over-reaching enforcement authority at fault. Those activists who look at them are to blame.

Catherine Samardza
Hartly
Carol Furr
Smyrna
Doug Beatty
Magnolia

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