By LorettaRodgers and MichelLee
The City of Chester is now without animal control because, according to the Justice Rescue (JR) organization, the group has not been paid $30,000 in services rendered over the past several months.
JR’s humane police officer Russ “Wolf” Harper, during a personal interview, said calls to Chester officials, including Council member William “Al” Jacobs and Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, have gone unanswered and ignored.
JR has been responding to abuse and neglect cases in Chester for the past five years. As a result of Delaware County disbanding its animal control program and the city’s program being deemed ineffective, a verbal agreement was reached wherein the City of Chester would pay JR $7,500 per month for 24/7 coverage of, not only abuse cases, but all animal control incidents.
“We initially asked for $10,000 per month, which would barely cover the medical costs related to abuse and neglect cases, but city officials said they would only pay $7,500 per month,” Harper said. “For the sake of the animals and innocent residents, we agreed. To date, we have not received one single penny in payment from the city — not one. Our officers are all volunteers therefore the money goes directly to the animals for treatment and rehabilitation.”
Harper said he called Jacobs’ office several times and when he finally got through to a “real person,” his questions were responded to nonchalantly. He was also admonished for calling the mayor’s office about the situation.
During Monday’s Chester City Council deliberative session, the subject of JR and the city’s animal control dilemma was not even discussed even though Facebook has been abuzz with activity since Sunday evening.
Following the meeting, a Spirit reporter asked Jacobs about the situation and was directed to the city’s public relations representative who basically discounted the issue, adding that Council does not respond to allegations made on social media.
The reporter reminded spokesperson Aigner Cleveland that the actual contractors from Justice Rescue are leveling the claim of nonpayment to which the matter was again dismissed.
“Councilman Jacobs needs a more accurate assessment with invoices, then we will provide more information. We are not releasing information at the moment,” said Cleveland.
Harper said Chester also promised the internationally-known rescue organization a building to be used as a shelter as well as a van, neither of which have ever materialized, despite the city having a older-model van marked “Animal Control” that sits abandoned in a parking lot adjacent to City Hall along Rt. 291.
JR, a non-profit group, has saved countless animals from abuse and neglect. The group also has its own television program and more than 250,000 Facebook followers. As of Monday afternoon, the Chester animal control matter had been commented on extensively and shared more than 1,000 times.
“As far as Chester City goes, I’m not surprised,” wrote Mandy Hinrichsen, of Rags 2 Riches Animal Rescue, Inc. on another Facebook post. “They were over $40,000 behind towards (the Brandywine Valley SPCA) and one of the main reasons why (the) Delco SPCA stopped taking strays. Lord knows how much CC owed them.”
Harper said Chester’s animal control is a dangerous and serious problem, adding that since JR started providing 24/7 services, dog fighting and abuse cases have decreased. In addition, Harper said before the group arrived, Chester police officers shot dogs deemed vicious because they had no specific training in dog control and felt they had no other alternative.
Harper said since being called, there has not been one instance of police-shooting a dog.
“The situation in Chester is bleak where neglect and abuse of animals in this area is second only to Philadelphia, and that’s just because of size” Harper said. “The city needs a good program and I don’t understand why they are throwing away a good thing.”
Harper said in addition to animal control, JR officers have established a good rapport with city residents, especially young people.
“We discuss the wrongs of animal abuse and bullying,” Harper said. “When we are on the scene and see other suspicious activity such as child or spousal abuse, theft, rape or other things, we report them. So, we serve a bigger purpose. It has been proven, and statistics show, that animal crimes have many gateways for drugs, child abuse, guns, domestic violence, robbery, rape and sexual homicide.”
JR has helped hundreds of strays from Chester, which have cost thousands of dollars to treat medically and rehabilitate. For example, Frank, a dog shot five times, cost the group nearly $20,000. And Remi, a pitbull mix used for dog fighting, cost the group $17,000. According to JR, many others that were hit by cars, shot, abused and abandoned cost the group approximately $225,000 over the past three years.
The group also assists in investigations, such as the young pitbull recently found zippered shut in a suitcase and left to die of starvation, and the two dogs also recently confined to a container and set on fire.
“Chester City currently owes Justice Rescue $30,000 and we cannot operate animal control for Chester another day until paid,” Harper said, “not because of principal, but because we are a non-profit, and we cannot afford to help any longer.”
Harper said the group will continue responding to severe abuse and neglect cases because its mission is to help animals in need.
Calls to various Chester City government offices were not returned by Monday’s deadline.