County animal control switch coming Friday
Shelters coordinate, seek last-minute adoptions
— It’s been a frenetic few months for the staff of A Buddy For Life, the contracted animal care and control authority for Cecil County.
When Cecil County Executive Tari Moore announced March 14 that she
would be bringing those services under country control at the start of the July 1 fiscal year, the staff at A Buddy For Life wasn’t sure how they were going to find placements for the dozens of animals in their care.
Jenn Callahan, co-director for A Buddy For Life, said Friday that those worries have slowly been alleviated by an outpouring of support from the regional community.
“When the change was announced in March, we had 80 dogs in our care,” she said. “By the beginning of June, we had only 12. That’s a huge testament to the rescue groups and no-kill shelters who came to our aid to place dogs, but also the community who stepped up to find the right animal for their family.”
As of Friday afternoon, A Buddy For Life had six dogs and five cats available for adoption. Of those, two dogs were brought in to the shelter in the last few days, while the oldest ones had
been in the shelter for many months.
“We still have rescues who are calling about them and we are reaching out to other groups we know about possible placements,” Callahan noted.
Meanwhile, Callahan said she has been meeting weekly with Abigail Lightning-Bingham, who was recently hired to lead the county’s new animal services division. Among their topics of discussion was what would happen to any of the nearly dozen animals left in A Buddy For Life’s care after June 30.
“We feel comfortable that if there are animals still here that they will be moved to the county facility,” Callahan said. “Both of us strongly want to see them adopted or placed before that happens though. We don’t want to see an animal shuffled between shelters when they would be better served in a home or a rescue.”
Looking back, Callahan is relieved that so many families came to her shelter to adopt an animal and reduce the overall number still left.
“It would have broken our hearts to have to euthanize any animal,” she said.
When asked if she thought the threat of euthanasia helped spur adoptions, Callahan said it probably increased A Buddy For Life’s visibility but didn’t necessarily affect who adopted the animals.
“The majority of the people who came down to save an animal from euthanasia weren’t necessarily the Twitch, a special needs cat, is one of the few still available for adoption before the closure of A Buddy For Life’s shelter.
ones who ended up being those who adopted,” she said. “We were looking for the right fit and not just anyone to take an animal.”
Callahan noted that people came from all over the region, including Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware, to apply to adopt a rescued animal after word spread of the shelter’s closure.
Meanwhile, she said that A Buddy For Life has moved most of its equipment, furniture and supplies out of the Hutton Road facility that they’ve leased for most of the past three years. While they offered those items to the county for its facility, Callahan said most has been donated to other rescues and shelters after the county declined.
Callahan said that A Buddy For Life will remain true to its roots and return to being an active rescue group,
which will take in animals who are in need of a new home. She said that they will once again become more active in Delaware, where the group of volunteers began in 2006, but will also remain committed to help Cecil County. To prove that, Callahan’s organization has applied for a spay-neuter grant from the Maryland Department of Agriculture in order to help defray those costs to pet owners.
“We have several groups doing that work for feral cat populations, but we also know that there are a lot of people who want to do what’s right for their pets but simply cannot afford the often costly procedures,” she said.
Some of A Buddy For Life’s staff will continue full-time in the rescue efforts, while others have found new jobs or plan to
go back to school, Callahan said. She added that of the organization’s staff and volunteers have expressed interest in staying involved with A Buddy For Life’s rescue efforts.
“Our volunteers have been encouraged to help animals in general, whether it’s with us or the new shelter, or both,” she noted.
A Buddy For Life’s involvement with Cecil County was born out of the 2012 rewriting of the county’s animal control ordinance following controversy over the county’s former contracted operator, the SPCA of Cecil County.
A Buddy For Life took over the county’s animal care and control operations on Jan. 1, 2013, after a controversial 3-2 vote on the last day of service for the then-Cecil County Board of Commissioners, which gave the organization a three-year contract. The SPCA filed for a restraining order in the case, but a judge ruled against them. The only dissenting votes on their contract were Robert Hodge, who has served as president of the Cecil County Council during A Buddy For Life’s full tenure, and Moore, who became county executive.
Over the past three years, their service to the county has been met with some criticism from watchdogs and supporters of the former SPCA. Meanwhile, Moore chose to disband the Animal Care and Control Oversight Committee in May 2015 after further scandal involving Girl Scouts erupted following a meeting. At the same time, A Buddy For Life has been able to directly place 843 dogs and 360 cats in adopted homes while transferring 478 dogs and 327 cats to other rescues.
When A Buddy For Life’s contract expired in December, Moore chose to renew it for six months as she reviewed bids from other contractors. Ultimately, how- ever, she decided the best course of action for greater oversight was to make the operation county-controlled. Since then, the nonprofit has been preparing for the service switchover and reflecting on its legacy.
“I think it was very memorable. I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Callahan said. “It was rewarding and heartbreaking, but there are so many animals that we know we served and were able to give wonderful homes too.”
“It’s bittersweet right now, but we’re proud of our work here,” she added. “We’ve had our share of critics, but the majority of our community stepped up to help us with donations, volunteering and adoptions. We’ll be forever grateful to them.”
When asked if she or A Buddy For Life would ever consider running another shelter operation, Callahan said it wasn’t something she was seeking, but wouldn’t rule it out.
“We learned a lot from this journey, but ultimately it would depend on the circumstances,” she said.
Cecilton resident Nick Hanifee sprints through the finish line.
Dalton is one of the few dogs still available for adoption before the closure of A Buddy For Life’s shelter.