The state animal welfare task force has unanimously recommended a new state Office of Animal Welfare to oversee animal licensing, animal cruelty cases and vaccinations.
Task force chairwoman Sen. Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, said the new office would fall under the Department of Health and Social Services.
The goals of the office are to streamline the dog license process, educate the public on the importance of licensing and make the licenses easier to obtain. The office would also work to increase revenue streams through licensing, grants and license plates, and review animal cruelty issues. Officials would oversee trap-neuter-return efforts in the state, increase public awareness of spay and neuter programs and oversee animal-control officers.
“The task force recommended assigning a deputy attorney general to animal cruelty cases,” Blevins said in the draft recommendations released online April 22.
Task force members want the new office to create and manage a database to reunite lost pets with owners and track public health information.
Also proposed is a database to include information on rabies vaccines, spay/neuter, licensing, cruelty records and microchipping that could be accessed by shelters to make sure an animal is not being adopted by a person who was guilty of a cruelty charge.
In addition, the new office would examine the Shelter Standards Law, which has come under fire over the past year.
The office would:
• Determine penalties for shelters that violate the 2010 Shelter Standards Law, which aims to reduce euthanasia
• Have the power to investigate and enforce animal-control laws
• Examine the need for euthanasia at shelters where shelter space is available but reserved for animal cruelty or hoarding cases
• Investigate the value of testing an animal's temperament as a way to evaluate the animal's adoptability
• Assume responsibility for the panel that rules on dangerous dogs
• Develop and implement a statewide training and certification process for animal-control officers.
KCSPCA affronted by proposal
Not all shelter officials are happy with the recommendations. Kent County SPCA Board Chairman Alex Moore said the draft proposal outlines items that KCSPCA is already doing and others that are not necessary and will be too expensive.
“The report says there is no one doing kennel inspections or pet store investigations, but KCSPCA does that for all of our contracts,” Moore said. “We have officers trained to inspect. If we get a complaint of a dog-raiser or pet shop, we go and inspect, and we inspect regularly.”
Moore said the recommendations will cost more money to do a job that KCSPCA has been doing for years.
“We do it cheaper than this office is going to do,” Moore said. “They are trying to fix something that isn't broken, so that no animal in the state is euthanized.”
Moore said one of the biggest problems he sees with the state's recommendations is the question of temperament testing.
“It's people who never assess dogs who are telling us we don't know how to assess them,” Moore said. “In cases of a violent dog, we often bring in the Humane Society of the United States – they certainly know how to assess dogs.”
Moore said KCSPCA won't allow a violent or dangerous dog to be adopted out, while other shelters will try to rehabilitate and adopt out the dog. He said there have been several cases in Maryland where a family adopted a dog and then had problems with the dog biting or becoming violent.
“If we deem a dog to be violent, we will give it to an organization that is set up to handle violent dogs,” Moore said. “We are in the chain of ownership of that dog, and we could be liable if the dog gets adopted to a family and something happened.”
Moore said the task force wants Delaware to be a no-kill state, but he said even the KCSPCA could be considered no-kill for the past year because it euthanized fewer than 10 percent of the dogs under its care, a standard used to designate a no-kill shelter.
“I went to the first task force meeting, and it seemed they had already made up their mind the direction they were going,” he said.
Dog control concerns
The task force discussed whether to recommend the return of dog control to the state, but Blevins said no decision was made on that issue.
In 2010, dog-control responsibility was handed to the counties by Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
The task force states, "The Office of Animal Control is charged with analyzing the capacity and costs issues surrounding dog control, and after careful analysis of such information, will issue recommendations."
New Castle, Kent and Sussex County individually provide or contract for dog control services, which includes picking up dogs running at large, managing dog licenses and enforcing housing and sheltering requirements.
The job of dog control comes with a hefty price tag. This year, Sussex County paid $668,00 for a dog control contract with Kent County SPCA. Meanwhile Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in Georgetown is paid $827,592 for the Kent County contract.
Hal Godwin, deputy Sussex County administrator and a member of the task force, said the county wants the state to take back both dog control and licensing, calling county dog control an unfunded mandate. Godwin said Sussex County is responsible for the costs to administer dog control, yet the county is not allowed to set standards for dog control.
The task force recommends trap-neuter-return or TNR as the preferred method of cat management. In its recommendations, the group says TNR should be accompanied by strong adoption programs and low-cost spay/neuter vouchers for caretakers and rescue groups.
The task force wants to provide an exemption for rabies vaccinations for cats and dogs whose health will not permit them to receive the vaccine, as certified by a veterinarian.
The Animal Welfare Office would require an executive director, deputy director, animal control officer and administrative position. A permanent advisory board would provide oversight. A veterinary position would also be included either in the office or through a contract.
The task force has held monthly meetings every month since August 2011 and held a public hearing in December.
The task force was scheduled to report to the General Assembly in March, but received an extension to April 30. The last meeting was held April 15; draft recommendations were released April 22.
For more information on the members of the task force or to see minutes from its meetings, go to http://tinyurl.com/cl85v2w