Suspect Spca May Be Rehired

No Other Sites For Animal-control Duties Have Surfaced In Cecil Co.

April 16, 2009|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

The Eastern Shore shelter being investigated by state officials for alleged animal abuse could be given a new contract to provide animal-control services to Cecil County effective July 1, according to a county commissioner.

A task force created to explore the rural community's options after allegations surfaced last fall against the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals near Chesapeake City has received no applications from other agencies interested in taking over the animal-control duties, Commissioner Robert Hodge said. The organization's $674,000 contract with the county expires June 30.

"We were hoping for more [interest]" from other organizations, Hodge said. The deadline for applications was March 26.

The 12-member task force, which has met privately once a week since early March, has scheduled its first public hearing April 29 and will invite members of the public to share their concerns. "Their input will be a key part of this process," he said.

The Maryland State Police and the state veterinary medical examiner's board are continuing to conduct separate investigations into the allegations, officials said.

Hodge said the county could rehire the shelter on a month-to-month basis if it decides to continue its search for a replacement agency. The county also could take over animal control on its own, he said, but that would take time because it doesn't now employ anyone qualified to supply the service.

Former workers at the shelter, an independent nonprofit organization, came forward in November to accuse staff members of botching routine surgeries, committing acts of violence against unruly animals, lying to the public and operating unreported businesses at county expense.

More than two dozen people, some of them nonemployees, signed affidavits alleging abuse, said Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., a Republican lawmaker who has been gathering complaints about the facility. His district includes Cecil County.

The shelter's board president, Nancy O. Schwerzler, has denied the allegations, and said Smigiel has been using his Web site to "stir up people's emotions."

In January, Smigiel began a Web log on his official Web site that chronicled the allegations and developments in the controversy. The site has drawn more than 25,000 unique visitors since, he said.

Dozens of people, many in tears, told of alleged animal abuse during three meetings of the Cecil County commissioners in January and February. Others picketed the shelter.

Schwerzler said workers at the shelter, which remains open, have received death threats. She called Smigiel's campaign "digital McCarthyism."

"I don't know why he wouldn't just go through official channels," she said. "As an attorney, he should know better."

Smigiel said he mistrusted those channels in a small community where so many public officials know one another. An attorney in Cecil County State's Attorney Christopher Eastridge's office serves on the shelter's board of directors, which prompted Eastridge to ask the state police in December to conduct an inquiry to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

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