Delaware takes on animal control duties [video]

     (Brandywine Valley SPCA Facebook photo)

    (Brandywine Valley SPCA Facebook photo)

    Delaware’s Office of Animal Welfare is now in charge of picking up strays or dangerous dogs and investigating animal cruelty cases.

    The new statewide duties became effective on Jan. 1, 2016.

    “If someone calls us with a concern about animal cruelty or animal control, we send an officer out to enforce the law, to educate the public or provide resources. We also pick up animals sometimes that are stray or lost, or we rescue animals that have been neglected or abused,” said Director of the Office of Animal Welfare Hetti Brown.

    State lawmakers established the OAW in 2013 to consolidate pet programs and services under a statewide umbrella. The state now manages things like a low-cost spay and neuter program and most recently animal control.

    “Delaware Animal Services is our enforcement unit, so Delaware Animal Services not only provides oversight to shelter standards programs, for example, but also provides animal control and cruelty enforcement in the state,” said Brown, whose budget is about $4 million.

    Brown is also looking to bring in new revenue through education and enforcement of Delaware’s dog licensing laws. “I do think that just by consolidating services and taking advantage of economy to scale we can look for cost savings,”

    In Delaware, it is required that any dog older than six months of age be licensed and receive a rabies vaccination. However, fewer than 10 percent of Delawareans pay the $10-$15 annual licensing fee. “Not only is that problematic because this is how we return pets home if they get lost, but it’s also a revenue source for us,” said Brown, who wants to use that money to then offset costs to the public.

    New kid in town

    Brandywine Valley SPCA is the OAW’s new shelter partner. Formerly Chester County SPCA, the West Chester, PA-based nonprofit is preparing to open a new Delaware shelter in New Castle where animals will be cared for and rehabilitated. BVSPCA’s grand opening will kick off officially with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

    “We are taking in animals from the Office of Animal Welfare, the animals that have no homes and owners, and we are attempting to find their owners,” said BVSPCA’s Director of Programs June Iv. “If the owner is not reclaiming the animal, we would attempt to place it out for adoption.”

    The New Castle location is BVSPCA’s main shelter, but the nonprofit also has satellite sites in Kent and Sussex Counties so animals can remain in the counties where they are picked up.

    BVSPCA outbid Delaware SPCA, winning the state’s 3-year, $6 million sheltering contract. Brown said cost did play into her decision; there was about a $3 million difference between the two bids.

    “I think it’s kind of sad that our Office of Animal Welfare did not lobby the shelters in Delaware to each take a piece of the pie,” said Kevin Usilton, executive director of First State Animal Center and SPCA in Kent County. “Now, we have a fifth nonprofit coming into our state asking for funds to help the animals.”

    For about a decade, Usilton’s shelter handled animal control and sheltering statewide. And during that time, he was the biggest proponent of a state takeover. Yet when the state solicited RFPs from shelters, Usilton didn’t even bid.

    “We were somewhat surprised that they didn’t bid,” Brown said. “But of course it’s an open bid process and each organization has to decide if providing those services are right for that organization.”

    It’s no secret, especially in the world of animal welfare, that Usilton’s relationship with Brown and her supporters is “tumultuous.” Usilton believes his organization is often demonized because it’s the only non-no kill shelter in the state.

    “Our experience with the leadership of the Office of Animal Welfare has been that there’s a lack of integrity,” Usilton said. “They were demoralizing our organization to members of the community and to elected officials and so we just decided that it’s best to leave them alone.”

    Brown denied bad-mouthing Usilton and his organization, and said she would be happy to work with Usilton and First State, should he change his mind. 

    New beginnings

    After 10 years, First State Animal Center and SPCA is hanging up its animal control hat and getting into doggy daycare and boarding for cats and dogs.

    “Our organization will help people take better care of their animals by offering wellness clinics for rabies, distemper, testing them for heartworms, selling them heartworm medicine, trimming the animals’ nails,” Usilton said. “Along those lines, if you adopt a pet from us, you can come back and do doggy daycare with our employees who’ll know your animal, we’ll do boarding for dogs and cats.”

    Usilton said First State is also still offering sheltering to unwanted, owner-surrendered animals, who need a good home.

    Need to know

    If you have concerns about strays or dangerous dogs, animal cruelty concerns or think you may have been exposed to rabies, call the Office of Animal Welfare’s 24-hours hotline at 302-255-4646.
    THE OAW launched a statewide lost and found pet registry where you can search for your missing pet at animalservices.delaware.gov.
    The site is expanding later this month to provide more educational resources for pet owners as well as online dog licensing services. Until then, pets can be licensed online at petdata.com.
    Brandywine Valley SPCA is located at 600 South Street in New Castle. Their number is: 302-516-1000.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.