Schenectady County

SPCA sues to have sheriff care for animals

The Schenectady County SPCA has filed a lawsuit aimed at compelling the county Sheriff’s Department

The Schenectady County SPCA has filed a lawsuit aimed at compelling the county Sheriff’s Department to take custody of nearly four dozen cats it seized from a Rotterdam woman’s home Wednesday.

The lawsuit filed in Schenectady County Supreme Court on Friday cites a section of state Agriculture and Markets Law that designates the sheriff’s department as the agency charged with taking custody of and ensuring care for an animal belonging to someone arrested by an officer of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Specifically, the lawsuit indicates the Sheriff’s Department should immediately take custody or find shelter for the dog and 44 cats the SPCA seized from the Suffolk Avenue home of Michelle Regel on Wednesday.

SPCA Chief Matthew Tulley said his organization is drained of funding and has no resources to shelter the animals taken from Regel’s residence. He said 17 of the animals are being cared for in temporary foster care because the shelters in surrounding communities couldn’t accommodate a big influx of cats.

“We’ve been discussing this exact situation with the county for three years,” he said. “Either they ignored my phone calls or refused to do anything about it.”

The SPCA came to Regel’s home after a local law enforcement officer tipped them off about its condition.

They seized the animals and charged Regel with one count of animal abuse, though they did indicate she was fully cooperative during the visit.

The misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. Regel could also lose the right to own animals for up to three years.

Tulley said SPCA officers are considered peace officers and the animals they seize after an arrest can be used as evidence. But once off-site, he said the officers have no authority to maintain the evidence, which is where the Sheriff’s Department comes in.

“A police agency has to maintain evidence in a criminal case,” he said.

Tulley said caring for a cat can cost upward of $20 a day, which is money the SPCA simply does not have. Most other counties in the Capital Region either have agreements in place with shelters or have an SPCA with its own facility; Schenectady County has neither.

“What we’re asking for is money for this case and all cases moving forward,” he said. “The law is the law, the facts are the facts.”

County Attorney Chris Gardner said he’s already started “amicable settlement discussions” with the SPCA and hopes to reach a solution in short order. He anticipated an agreement being reached by next month that would offer a creative solution to the county’s animal control woes.

“We think this is going to bring in a new era in animal management to Schenectady County,” he said, though he declined to elaborate.

Tulley was equally eager to work out a solution. Without one and with the SPCA depleted of funding, he said his organization will face significant difficulties in the very near future.

“If we had a [municipal] shelter, this wouldn’t be an issue,” he said.

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