Fayette SPCA closure causes void

| Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, 10:42 p.m.

The closure of the Fayette SPCA has left communities scrambling to find alternatives for dog control.

For now, a Westmoreland County kennel will fill part of the void left by the closure of the 100-year-old facility.

“Everybody's doing the same thing, scrambling to get somebody,” said Supervisor John Yantko of Menallen on Tuesday. “We have a couple of phone calls out there, waiting to hear back from some people.”

The Fayette SPCA in North Union closed last week because the state found sick dogs during an inspection, imposed a quarantine and then pulled the shelter's license.

A number of Fayette communities had paid the shelter monthly fees to respond to calls about stray dogs and cats, including Menallen, North and South Union townships and the cities of Connellsville and Uniontown.

Fayette 911 has advised municipalities that it will direct such calls to a state dog warden during business hours, spokeswoman Susan Griffith said.

As a temporary fix, Hoffman Kennels near Delmont will respond to weekend and after-hours calls, she said.

For the long term, municipalities have been advised to appoint animal control officers.

“Oftentimes, we knew which animal-control service the municipalities had, so we would just call them,” Griffith said. “But we don't have that option now.”

Fayette 911 will continue to dispatch police for calls involving aggressive animals, she said.

Otherwise, for communities that fail to appoint animal control officers, dispatchers will contact elected officials directly.

Rob Tupta, North Union supervisor, and Rick Vernon, South Union supervisor, said they are trying to arrange a meeting with other communities and Hoffman to explore options.

“We're going have a problem, eventually,” Vernon said. “I don't think the SPCA can come back in.”

Tupta said supervisors might ask the county for help.

“Something will need to be done,” Tupta said. “You don't have to provide it (animal control), but it will be a nightmare without it.”

Dog wardens have not had an increase in calls for stray dogs since the Fayette SPCA's closure, according to Logan D. Hall of the state Department of Agriculture.

Jamie Speelman, a humane officer with the Dunbar-based nonprofit Angels of Mercy, said her agency has had a noticeable uptick in calls. She said she responded to nine calls last week, when she previously averaged about four a month.

“We are receiving numerous calls for intakes of cats and unwanted pets,” Speelman said.

Speelman said Angels of Mercy has scheduled a “community-oriented” meeting on Sept. 12 at Franklin Memorial United Methodist Church in Dunbar to discuss options for a new shelter.

Some communities are considering long-term contracts with Hoffman, which already provides dog control services in some municipalities, including South Connellsville.

Mayor Pete Casini said South Connellsville is satisfied with Hoffman's work, even though it is 31 miles outside the borough.

“When I call them, they're here,” Casini said. “They're a good company. I haven't received any complaints.”

Casini said Hoffman handles a limited number of calls for cats, charging residents directly for that service.

Elected officials in neighboring Connellsville are considering hiring Hoffman, police Chief James Capitos said.

“In the meantime, we are in limbo,” Capitos said. “We may call Hoffman if we have an emergency, or Angels of Mercy, or just call around, depending on the situation. We are just pulling straws right now until we get a contract drawn up.”

Gary Hoffman, owner of Hoffman Kennels, said he has sent out contracts to various Fayette municipalities and is awaiting responses.

He said he has spent the past several weeks driving throughout Fayette County to familiarize himself with its communities. He said its rural roads are ideal dumping places for unwanted dogs.

“They think it's Disney World out there, in the country towns,” Hoffman said. “They drive in from the city and dump their dog off and think he's on a happy farm, living a happy life. Meanwhile, he's standing on the road, hungry, wondering what happened to him, and then I come along.”

Hoffman said his kennel recently was expanded to include an on-site veterinarian to evaluate arrivals and medical facilities for spaying and neutering services.

“I get them shots, spayed and neutered and into shelters where they can get them into homes where they are taken care of,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said the goal is to find permanent homes for the dogs.

“It's not about how many dogs you can keep,” Hoffman said. “It's the turnover of dogs to good organizations. So you have feelers out there, for shelters that have people looking for, say, a bird dog, or a watch dog. You need to be in a network with people who are ensuring the dogs are getting into good homes.”

State records show Hoffman Kennels has two kennel licenses, both of which list the same address on Cloverleaf Drive in Salem. One license is for a facility that can house 26 or more dogs at a time, according to a June 26 state inspection report. The other is for a kennel that can house between 250 and 500 dogs annually, according to a Feb. 11 inspection report.

No deficiencies were noted during either inspection, with dog wardens finding nine dogs on site in June and seven in February, according to the reports.

Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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