Lawmakers to get paws on animal abuse legislation

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How to provide animal control services across Oneida County is being debated by county legislators.

The Board of Legislators’ Public Safety Committee in June approved a new one-year contract with Central New York SPCA, sending it to the full board.

The contract calls for the SPCA to commit at least two investigators to Oneida County to enforce the state law against animal abuse, neglect and cruelty, and to house involved animals as needed. It is to use a particular records management system provided by the county to make records of investigations. It has the county paying the SPCA $105,951.

The contract covers calendar 2020. It was to take effect at the start of the year but its getting to legislators was delayed by communication breakdowns while the organization had an interim director, county legal staff told the committee. Legislators’ questions led to the contract ratification being tabled in committee in April and again in May.

Public Safety Committee Chairman Richard Flisnik, R-Dist. 8 of Marcy, Floyd and Whitestown, urged waiting in light of the county expecting severe revenue shortfalls because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. He also had questions about record keeping procedures of the SPCA.

A previous executive director and a veterinary technician pleaded guilty to embezzling from the organization in 2016, and the organization fell on hard financial times.

SPCA Chief Investigator William Pulaski told the committee at its June meeting the SPCA has a new board and has put in place more checks in its financial procedures, including an annual audit by an outside accounting firm annually, had had a special forensic audit performed.

The SPCA also has a veterinarian on site who examines animals and gives any needed medical care and vaccinations. In many cases, it seeks to have owners surrender the animals but if they refuse, the SPCA may keep the animals until a court makes a determination, Fitzpatrick told the committee.

The CNY SPCA also provides similar services for Maidson and Oswego County and several towns in Onondaga County.

Flisnik explained to the committee that before 2005, Oneida County contracted with humane societies, then had the responsibility go to police agencies until 2014, when the county contracted with the CNY SPCA for five years to provide animal control services. After the embezzlement case, the county pursued a one-year contract.

Animal abuse and neglect has come before legislators regularly in the past year. In October, the county adopted a law establishing a registry of people convicted of animal abuse. The county has also discussed how to regulate dog rescue operations after an ad-hoc facility was found in Utica last summer taking dogs from other parts of New York.

In May, legislators approved grants on animal-abuse prevention with Stevens-Swan and the Rome Humane Society, of $90,000 and $60,000, respectively.

As for the new SPCA contract, County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. said the one-year contract was to allow the county to evaluate the SPCA’s performance. “I think that you have to give them that opportunity and to date, I’ve been pleased with what they’ve been doing,” Picente told the Sentinel.

But getting the contract in place for the rest of the year is important to make sure the service is provided, Picente said.

“I’m not aware of anybody else that can do that. We’ve explored this in the past and for the sheriff’s to do that it would require a great deal of more manpower and equipment and vehicles. And then the big question is where do you put these animals when you do rescue them and put them, and that’s where the SPCA has that built-in system that it’s hard to replicate anywhere else, and very costly.”

Sheriff Rob Maciol said he’s open to exploring other options but doesn’t believe it’s cost effective for the Sheriff’s Office to take back animal control; and then there’s how to house and care for animals the county would have to take into custody.

“If I were responsible to do it all we’re in excess of a quarter million dollars a year excluding housing costs for these animals,” Maciol said. “Financially, it would make no sense at all. I would have to add staff would have to get a unique vehicle to seize animals and transport animals which we don’t have.

“Clearly it’s very expensive. That’s why at $105,000 a year, and granted that’s a lot of money; I get that, I understand that, but it certainly looks more economical to do that then have to add a quarter million dollars a year to the Sheriff’s Office budget.”

Flisnik told the Daily Sentinel he is developing a plan that would cost substantially less money. He did not provide details but said he plans to discuss it with Picente and his staff.

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