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SPCA Shares
Its Story

By Jeanne Sager
ROCK HILL — May 2, 2006 – The new news at the SPCA is really old news.
The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department announced a week ago that a break had been made in the ongoing investigation into misdeeds at the county shelter.
An arrest was made of Dominick Dellegrazie – a former SPCA cruelty investigator – a peace officer who improperly applied for a pistol permit in 2002.
But SPCA officials produced letters proving they asked county and state officials to look into the peace officers who’d aligned themselves with the shelter twice before.
In July 1999, then SPCA President Ron Litchman sent a letter to Jerry Lockman who was in charge of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services’ Office of Public Safety – the state office that oversees peace officers.
The letter was carbon copied to District Attorney Stephen Lungen, then Sheriff Dan Hogue and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
Litchman told Lockman he was deleting a number of peace officers from the SPCA’s registry form – all people he alleged showed little affinity for animals but were using the shelter as an excuse to form a police-type “law enforcement division.”
“They put lights in their car, so many antennas it looks like a bug,” Litchman recalled.
The law enforcement division was made up of mostly downstate residents – who Litchman surmised were using a loophole in the law to earn a pistol permit in Sullivan County and carry the gun in the five boroughs of Manhattan.
“A meeting of the SPCA looked like a meeting of the Sopranos,” said current SPCA President Bonnie Swack (who was then vice president).
Swack complained again of the peace officers in a letter to the attorney general’s office on November 10, 2001.
“I hope you will quickly investigate this and help us save the SPCA from being exploited and destroyed by these individuals,” Swack said in her letter.
Swack said meetings with local law enforcement went nowhere at the time.
“They told us this was an internal problem we need to rectify,” she said.
So they did – Swack preferred charges against Joel Karp, who was then president and the man who’d started the law enforcement division, and Sam Milhstein, who was then treasurer.
Dellegrazie and others were also kicked out of the SPCA – and although paperwork in Albany listed him as a peace officer through May 2004, Swack’s records show March 20, 2002 as a termination date.
Litchman, a Liberty lawyer who is still a member of the SPCA, said he applauds last week’s arrest.
But, he hastened to add, it’s unfair to link this criminal with the current SPCA.
“Dellegrazie isn’t the last one who should be locked up,” he said. “But we didn’t even know . . . rather than be pilloried in public . . . give us a fair shake.”
“Now it makes the shelter look bad and hurts the shelter,” Swack added, “for something we’ve tried to and had successfully dealt with.”
The duo also challenged the charge that the SPCA cannot legally be accepting county monies.
The Sheriff’s Department announced at an April 12 meeting of the Sullivan County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee that the SPCA is delinquent with the NYS Attorney General’s Charities Bureau for not filing financial forms since 2003.
Delinquent charities cannot legally accept donations or even government grants.
To be fair, Undersheriff Eric Chaboty told the Democrat that he wasn’t sure how the SPCA’s delinquency affects the organization’s ability to collect its annual $15,000 allotment from the county government.
But Swack said that money is not a grant.
The SPCA has traditionally had a contract with the county – the value of which has changed over the years – to answer calls from county agencies such as the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department where animals are concerned.
If, for example, an arrest is made of a dog owner, and there is no one else to take care of that person’s pet when they are taken to jail, the SPCA will be called upon to care for the animal.
Similarly, if deputies are delivering an eviction notice and learn that the evictees cannot take their animals with them, the SPCA is asked to step in.
Just a few weeks ago, Swack said the Sheriff’s Department asked SPCA officials to go to North Branch during an eviction.
They arrived only to learn that a temporary home had been found.
“It still involved personnel who had to be paid,” Swack said.
Not to mention the cost of gas to drive the SPCA vehicle from Rock Hill to North Branch.
Currently, the SPCA is answering calls from the Sheriff’s Department and other county agencies without a contract.
Swack was at the April 12 meeting to deliver a quarterly bill to the county for carrying out those duties (even without the contract) when she said she was blindsided by the information that the SPCA isn’t up to date with the charities bureau.
It’s an issue Swack said is being dealt with, and paperwork is being filed.
“But even under the agency’s so-called delinquency doesn’t mean we cannot receive payment for services rendered,” she said.
“Even without a contract, we’ve been answering calls . . . we continue for the animals,” she added.
Litchman said even when a contract is in place, the county money that makes up a portion of the SPCA budget doesn’t make it a county agency.
“The public sort of thinks, ‘Oh, our taxpayer dollars,’ do the long division,” he said. “Say $15,000 over 75,000 residents.
“What is that, 10 cents each?” he asked.
Litchman said he’d like to see a county official step up and become a board member of the SPCA – any professional with some time to offer and some expertise is invited – but the county still has no authority over the organization.
“Are we willing to cooperate with the Legislature, with law enforcement, with regulations?” Litchman asked. “Absolutely.”
That said, Litchman said it’s time to rid the shelter and issues relating to the shelter of divisiveness.
“We can’t even think of getting out there and doing what we have to do because we’re so busy with this,” Swack said.
Instead of painting rooms that need a new coat of paint at the shelter, Swack said she’s been bogged down with paperwork and sitting by the phone trying to track down folks with the Sheriff’s Department.
Adoptions are still going on – in the last two months some 25 puppies have gone to good homes, along with 20 adult dogs and 15 cats.
The shelter needs work – they need a lot more space and, of course, money, Swack said.
But both officials are confident there’s something good in Rock Hill.
“I’m prepared to rethink my dire predictions back in 1999 that the SPCA is no longer viable,” Litchman said. “But that depends on rebuilding.
“We fully accept the challenge of keeping the public’s trust, but all we want is a fair deal.”

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