A lawsuit has spurred a new approach to animal control in hopes of improving enforcement and providing funds to address the sheltering of animals.
Schenectady County and the county SPCA on Monday, Oct. 17, announced details of a forthcoming agreement to be approved by the County Legislature next month. Under the proposal, Schenectady County SPCA officers would become county appointed animal control officers for the purpose of enforcing licensing and control of dogs.
Revenue generated from fines would be split evenly between the Sheriff’s Office and SPCA. The 50 percent given to the SPCA would go towards further enforcement and the Sheriff’s Office’s half would go into an account to be used for housing animals.
Any tickets issued by the SPCA would now be under penal law instead of civil law, so the District Attorney’s Office would prosecute such cases moving forward. City or town attorneys previously handled the cases.
In addition to funding being available to the SPCA, the county will also provide basic vehicle maintenance and when possible donate surplus operating vehicles to the SPCA.
SPCA Chief Mathew Tully said the settlement is “99.9 percent” complete and he doesn’t foresee and major changes before it’s finalized.
“There is some minor tweaking … I don’t believe there is anything here that is going to impede a settlement,” Tully said. “That agreement is going to have to the County Legislature for appointment of the SPCA as animal control officers and then final execution by the county manager.”
The plan resulted from a lawsuit filed by the SPCA in the county Supreme Court on Oct. 7 against the county Sheriff’s Department, alleging a violation of the state Agricultural and Markets Law mandating the department must take custody of any animal belonging to someone arrested by the SPCA. The SPCA is dropping all claims in the lawsuit as part of the agreement.
The arrest of Michelle Regels, 39, of Suffolk Avenue, Rotterdam, for one count of animal neglect is what led to the lawsuit. After the Oct. 6 arrest, the SPCA had 44 cats and one dog needing either medical attention or a temporary home before adoption. According to the lawsuit, the Sheriff’s Office refused to take custody of the animals.
“This mutually beneficial agreement will add an extra layer of protection for our residents at no additional cost to the taxpayers,” County Legislator Robert Hoffman, D-Schenectady, said.
Hoffman also introduced legislation, “The Vicious Dog Control Act of 2012,” during the press conference, which establishes many of the dog control elements SPCA would undertake. The proposal allows SPCA to issue violations including failure to license and failure to confine dangerous dogs.
“Last month we were all disturbed by the brutal dog attack that occurred in the City of Schenectady,” County Legislator Robert Hoffman, D-Schenectady, said. “Recently, I was advised by our county attorney of a legal dispute between the Schenectady (County) SPCA and the county. I have been consulting with the county attorney and all parties working on a resolution that would not only resolve the legal dispute, but at the same time directly confront the problem of vicious dogs in the city and throughout Schenectady County.”
Tully commended Sheriff Dominic Dagostino for working with the SPCA to establish a new animal control plan.
“The sheriff has been the subject of the lawsuit, but the sheriff has gone out of his way to be receptive of the SPCA,” Tully said. “We’ve have worked very well with him in the past and look forward to continuing to work well with him in the future.”
Also, referencing the sheriff, before Tully gave his comments he referenced a song title by Bob Marley for a one-liner.
“I just want to be clear, I did sue the sheriff, but I did not sue the deputy,” Tully said.