An anonymous attempt to demean the SPCA’s operation of the county animal shelter apparently backfired last Wednesday, and Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford took a none-too-subtle shot across the bow of the “anonymous animal lover citizen” during a meeting of the County Commission Monday night.
The anonymous email caused the Cleveland Police Department to send an investigative team to the SPCA county animal shelter Wednesday afternoon.
The result of the investigation cleared the SPCA of any wrongdoing, but it clearly got Alford’s back up concerning continued anonymous emails and Facebook postings with accusations about the SPCA since the county awarded its contract to run the animal facility.
Alford reported on the results of the investigation and what he felt was a lack of protocol as well a lack of follow-up regarding the continued calls to the 1420 Candies Creek Road residence where a puppy mill with more than 240 dogs were rescued two weeks ago.
“We have investigated the complaint quite heavily,” Alford said.
The email read in part, “Animals are being stacked on top of each other [at the shelter facility], not getting the socialization they need. Aggressive dogs are being padlocked in their kennels. There is not enough room there for 100-plus animals, yet they keep on taking them in.”
According to Alford, the email went to almost every official within the city and the county, and he read the communications from that afternoon.
“My understanding is there were three [city] animal control folks sent out there to our facility and one unmarked car from the city,” Alford said. “Usually, an unmarked car is a detective or a captain.”
He then read the response to “the person who wanted the facility to be checked by three animal control people and officers.”
The report was addressed to Capt. Dennis Maddux with copies to other police department officers, and sent at 5:06 p.m.:
“I, Gene Smith, and two of my animal control officers, David Creasman [and] Hugh Thigpen, went and did a welfare check at the SPCA shelter around 2 p.m. today [June 18].
“Upon our arrival, I spoke with Bobbi Anderson, the [SPCA] director and explained why we were there.
“Bobbi was very cooperative, she told us to go ahead and look everything over.
“Both officers took pictures of inside and outside of the facility, and also of the animals.
“All cages were clean, no feces or urine were in any of the cages at the time.
“All animals had fresh water in their cages. All the animals appeared healthy and were being fed properly.
“There also were between 10 to 15 volunteers walking the dogs, cleaning cages/kennels, washing the bedding for the animals, etc.
“At this present time, we didn’t see any violations, so no citations were issued.”
A reply to the anonymous email was sent from Maddux at 7:27 p.m. and read as follows:
“Your concerns for the animals have been investigated by experienced animal control officials. No violations were found. The day-to-day operation of the county shelter is not governed by the City of Cleveland. Therefore, only your complaint of inhumane treatment of the animals was inspected.”
Alford said he does not normally answer emails that do not have a name because “if they don’t have enough courage to put their name on it, I won’t answer it.”
He said when he had finished with that communication “it tweaked my interest even more.”
Alford said he recalled news reports stating animal control officers had been called to the Candies Creek Road residence several times in the past.
“I got an Open Records permit and got the CAD (computer-aided dispatch) reports from 1420 Candies Creek Road,” Alford said. “They go back to May 25, 2010.”
The report on that day read at 1:51 p.m.: “Puppy farm/breeder, not being taken care of and some have really bad cherry eye and cannot see ...”
3:58 p.m: “Going to take care of tomorrow.
Alford next read the entry from Jan. 18, 2011, at 1:55 p.m.: “Caller advised that her daughter witnessed the animals being neglected, not given water. Caller advised that [animal control] was out there earlier today and she’s wanting to speak to an [animal control] officer about adding this info to their report.”
2:34 p.m.: “Handled by phone ... 10-98 non neglect ... is an environmental issue and subject will follow up with health department/codes enforcement/etc [in reference] to this.”
The next entry is May 16, 2012, at 1:58 p.m.: “Says there are numerous cats and dogs at this location. Thinks they have kennel cough running thru the kennel. None of the animals are happy and don’t get any attention. There are also horses there that appear too skinny.
3:43 p.m: “K9s look healthy but conditions need upgrade ... will follow up later.”
The next animal entry was May 22, 2012, at 7:53 p.m.: “Welfare check on [14-year-old male], said he is not being cared for properly. 56 dogs living here. House is full of mold, monkey lives in the home. [Male] sleeps on cot.”
Nothing else is reported until June 14 when the SPCA was escorted to the residence to follow up on a call from June 11.
Alford noted the number of dogs had increased from 56 to 240 before any action was taken.
“I just want folks to know when you look at the initial report where five officers went through the SPCA [county animal shelter], they didn’t find anything wrong,” Alford said. “I think they’re doing a good job.”
First District Commissioner Terry Caywood read between the lines of what the chairman was saying in reading the reports.
“The point you’re trying to make is those who attack SPCA, they’re not handling it correctly,” Caywood said. “This problem [at Candies Creek Road] was an ongoing problem long before they came on board. I think they did an admirable job.”
First District Commissioner Ed Elkins questioned whether the city had the legal authority to go through the shelter.
Alford responded the shelter was in the city and CPD had the right, “but I don’t think they followed protocol.”
“If the city gets a call to a Bradley County property, they would call the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office to go with them,” Alford said.
BCSO Chief Deputy “Buck” Campbell said during nonemergency calls the city would normally notify the county office.
He said BCSO was not informed of the investigation, “but I did receive the email.”
Campbell added if the CPD had a complaint with the possibility of a crime “they don’t need anyone’s permission” to enter the grounds for the purpose of an investigation.
Fourth District Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones, who is also an SPCA board member, said the organization is a “work in progress.”
“It is like any startup business. You have to give it time to work. The SPCA is open to new protocols and procedures, just like anybody else is,” Peak-Jones said. “I’m not saying we’re perfect yet. Nobody is. But, the animals are cared for and the CPD and animal control verified that last week.”
Elkins said the information provided by Alford showed there had been a “continuing problem that had not been addressed by animal control.”
“It seems like people are jumping on the SPCA, but it appears that [SPCA] are the ones that are trying to do something about it and get it taken care of in a short period of time,” Elkins said.