Politicians and activists team up to tighten animal shelter legislation

House Republican Leader State Rep. Themis Klarides just wanted to adopt a cat, but when she tried to adopt one from the SPCA of Connecticut in Monroe, she found ill kittens and “deplorable” conditions.

Local politicians and animal rights activists gathered together at Monroe’s Town Hall to speak out against animal abuse and their plans to strengthen laws protecting animals in shelters and rescues on Aug. 10.

Klarides began the press conference by talking about her experience with the Monroe shelter.

“I don’t know anything about the place, the people, anything, I just wanted to adopt a cat,” she said. “So we walk in and — I don’t expect these types of places to be Taj Mahals — but it didn’t seem to be very nice inside and when we asked to look at the kittens they explained to us that every single kitten had an upper respiratory infection that they were being treated for.”

Klarides learned about the shelter’s less than pristine reputation after she told the employee that she had called and emailed the shelter three times within a three day period to set up an appointment to look at their available cats but hadn’t received a response.

“She very matter of factly explained to me that’s because he [the owner] was in court and wouldn’t be able to be around,” Klarides said.

The employee also told her that people weren’t allowed to come in and look at the animals when the owner, Frederick Acker wasn’t there.

“Something didn’t seem right to me,” she said which led her to contact Monroe’s First Selectman Steve Vavrek and the town’s State Rep. J.P. Sredzinski. Klarides said she “heard an earful” about the shelter.

“What seemed to be happening was the person that owns this rescue had been convicted in December in Litchfield on numerous counts of animal cruelty and that the reason why he wasn’t responding to me was that he was in Milford court and was being convicted of numerous charges of animal cruelty,” she said.
Animal cruelty
Acker, the owner of SPCA of Connecticut, was convicted of 11 counts of animal cruelty in Ansonia-Milford Superior Court on July 26 and faces up to 11 years in prison at sentencing on Sept. 6.

According to the Republican American, Deputy Assistant State’s Attorney Matt Kalthoff said he hopes to close Acker’s rescue for good.

“He was convicted in 2015  and then went right back to business as usual,” Kalthoff said. “Hopefully we can do something to get him to stop working with animals,” the Republican American reported.

This isn’t the first time Acker’s been convicted of animal cruelty: He was also convicted of 15 counts of animal cruelty in Litchfield Superior Court in 2015 and he was sentenced to six months in prison. However, the charges were suspended and Acker was placed on a two year probation.

Acker has been on notice with local animal control since 2012 when local Animal Control officers noted that he had significantly more dogs than he was zoned for in his shelter.

Acker and his attorney, Igor Kuperman, did not respond to The Courier’s request for comment prior to publication.

Klarides said she spoke with Acker and that he claimed to be a victim of circumstance.

“When there’s this much evidence, when there’s this many charges and convictions in numerous jurisdictions...all I have to say is shame on you,” she said. “Don’t claim to [love] animals so much when you skirt the law time after time.
Closing loopholes
Klarides said that after learning about Acker’s multiple convictions she decided to look into the state’s regulations for animal shelters and rescues and intends to develop a plan to close the loopholes for the next legislative session in January.

“I think we all believe in second chances,” Kalides said. “But when you’re convicted twice in two separate courtrooms in a 12 month period on numerous counts of animal cruelty I think someone needs to take a second look.”

The fact that the Connecticut Department of Agriculture doesn’t require nonprofit animal shelters and rescues to have a license from the department is one of the loopholes.

She was quick to note that she didn’t think local authorities weren’t doing their due diligence when inspecting the shelter, instead that Acker was able to continue operating his shelter due to loopholes.

“Unfortunately this is one of those situations where the individual knows how to skirt right around the edges,” she said. “The good police and the good animal control officers - be it in this town or other towns that he (Acker) has had situations in — can’t really charge him with anything at that moment.”

Animal Control Officer Edward Risko provided the Courier with a copy of a complaint about dog’s being left in the heat and the sick kittens on July 26. The report states that when the officer arrived at the shelter there weren’t any dogs outside. Animal Control also did a follow-up the next day.

“The two officers inspected the facility and found no violations of existing state laws or municipal regulations. All of the animals were provided with water, food and shelter along with medical care as need. There was no over crowding. All of the cat rooms were air conditioned. The kittens were isolated (attempting to prevent spread of the illness) away from the other cats and under veterinary care,” the report said.

“We know our number one job is to make sure we protect the people that cannot protect themselves and even though pets are not people — they’re pretty darn close,” Klarides said. “At the very least they should be treated in a humane way.”

She then pledged to work with animal advocacy groups, legislators and local authorities to locate the loopholes and protect animals.

“We need to change our laws and our regulations to make sure that not only they are strict enough, but to make sure our judicial system is enforcing them,” she said. “We don’t want to stop anybody who is a good and caring person from taking care of animals, we want to make sure people who are clearly taking advantage of the system are not allowed to.”

Klarides received support from Vavrek and State Rep. Brenda Kupchick who were also present at the press conference.

Vavrek said he appreciates Klarides for addressing the situation with the SPCA of Connecticut Inc. based in Monroe.

“I have spoken to many residents in regard to the various conditions at this facility,” Vavrek said.

Vavrek also said, “we look forward to working with you to close any loopholes there may be in our laws for better conditions for these animals.”

“There is much more that can be done...this is just the beginning. We do have to tighten our laws and we do have to get rid of the loopholes and hopefully make is safer for all animals,” Vavrek said.

Kupchick said legislators need to also prevent people who have been convicted of animal cruelty from working with animals.

There are so many good rescues across the state of Connecticut who put their entire love and their compassion into saving animals and making sure they are treated appropriately and making sure they go to good homes. Unfortunately this rescue gives the rest of them a bad name,” Kupchick said.