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Fred Acker: Dog's Best Friend or Cruel Keeper?

More questions than answers in proceedings against SPCA of Connecticut's Acker at Litchfield courthouse on Wednesday

The temperature was definitely below freezing on Wednesday morning as a group of protesters gathered outside Litchfield Superior Court in anticipation of the arrival of Fred Acker. But that might have been the only fact for certain.

Acker, a resident of Monroe, owns the not-for-profit "SPCA of Connecticut" which he described as transitioning during October from a facility in Monroe to a larger, leased space in Bethlehem when he was arrested in November on 62 counts of felony animal cruelty.

And while there was much debate in the courtroom Wednesday over allegations of an under-heated and under-lit garage, and whether it is possible to determine a room's temperature through a window with a laser temperature gun, Acker insisted it was much ado about nothing.

"I am not profiting from this. I live in a small little room and have not had a day off in 13 years," he said to Patch during a break in the proceedings.

A detractor of Acker, retired 25-plus year Stratford Animal Control officer Michael Griffin, disagreed. "I ran you out of town once already," Griffin called out from the sidewalk as Acker arrived for court.

"No, they ran you out of town," Acker shouted back, later explaining that he had no idea what Griffin had against him, and claiming "Griffin was the laziest ACO ever. Didn't respond to complaints. Didn't advertise dogs for adoption. He was forced to retire early."

Acker "has been making big business of these animals for 20 years," Griffin countered. "Starting with the name SPCA Connecticut, which sounds like ASPCA, Acker misleads people. His Monroe shelter was grandfathered and didn't have to be up to code with the town. In the backyard there were stacks of caged dogs under tarps 365 days a year. He got citation after citation and just paid them as a cost of doing business. At one point he got ticketed for operating an illegal pet store," said Griffin. "On top of all that, he has a no-return policy."

Griffin attracted many comments in a series of blogs about Acker on Patch on Nov. 30 and again on Dec. 7 and Dec. 10.

"He used to pull dogs from the Stratford Animal Control when I was ACO," said Griffin." He'd buy them for $5 and resell them for hundreds. Until I told him to get lost."

"It's an us-versus-them mentality," Acker told Patch just before court proceedings commenced. "In general there is a deep hatred of animal rescue groups on the part of municipal animal controls. I have a target on my back," said Acker. "Not the guys at Bridgeport Animal Control, who are great, but, in general, they have it out for me."

Indeed, Jimmy Gonzalez head ACO at Bridgeport Animal Control who testified under subpeona about his knowledge of Acker, said Acker had pulled hundreds of dogs from Bridgeport Animal Control over the years.

"Fred has shown me vet bills, letters and photos of success stories," said Gonzalez. "He takes the dogs who we would otherwise have to euthanize. The ones with mange problems or the possibility of Parvo. He takes the ones that would be a challenge and spends a lot of money on the animals that because of our limited budget we wouldn't have money to care for."

Yet, on Nov. 8, Animal Control Officer Judy Umstead of Bethlehem and a state animal control officer raided Acker's Bethlehem facility and seized 60-plus dogs.

SPCA of Connecticut charges a $20 non-refundable application fee online. On Wednesday, the judge wondered aloud what would happen if 50 people wanted the same dog?

Was a photo, Exhibit 5, just stains on an unsealed floor, as Acker's kennel manager of seven years Susan Fernandez insisted, or dog feces as suggested by ACO Umstead?

Was a photo taken by ACO Umstead, bloody diarrhea or just dogfood that turned red when water was added and then spilled by an excited dog as Fernandez described?

Was there a reason there was no food in sight the day Umstead visited simply that it was stored in garbage cans with lids to keep away from rats and rodents, as Fernandez explained?

Many questions remain unanswered, but Acker just wonders when he'll get his dogs back. In fact, both Acker and Fernandez broke into tears during a break in proceedings, insisting that while there are 62 charges of animal cruelty, a total of 65 dogs were seized. Acker insists three are missing. "They're either stolen, lost, or dead."

And, while it was established that Acker's Bethlehem facility did not yet have its certificate of occupancy in October -- and Acker had been issued a written warning stating what was required in order to comply -- Fernandez admitted she nevertheless traveled to South Carolina and returned with 36 more dogs.

On the stand, Fernandez explained SPCA of Connecticut's move from Monroe to Bethlehem, mentioning needing more space and "because of court." The judge interrupted, saying that if there were any other cases pending in Monroe, he wanted to know about them.

In response, Fernandez explained that there had been complaints from Monroe neighbors and new zoning regulations required the downsizing of SPCA of Connecticut's capacity to a maximum to 29 dogs. "We just wanted to rescue more dogs."

During a break Patch asked Acker about his return policy. In response, he described SPCA of Connecticut as a sanctuary. "I took one dog back after seven years. And another after five years. Our contract says you can't adopt a dog and give it away. You can bring it back no questions asked. I might ask for a donation, but even if the donation is 10 cents, I'll take it back."

Asked about Griffin's suggestions of profiteering, Acker replied, "I have an annual $100,000 vet bill. I have costs for transportation, food, staff, and rent. So we charge a $395 fee, which is a donation. And sometimes less if it is an older dog. And we have creative ways of fundraising. We take donations of cars. We belong to a barter company so we can get $2,000 to $3,000 for a car."

Shrugging, Acker said he didn't understand why so many people had it out for him.

Describing a variety of breeds the SPCA of Connecticut rescues, Fernandez said the dogs come from South Carolina, New York, Bridgeport and, recently, California. Fernandez described bringing dogs to Petco or Petsmart for adoption events, including dogs that had been seized from puppy mills.

At that point the Judge interrupted Fernandez, asking her to familiarize him with the term 'puppy mill.'

"That's where they breed them over and over to sell and when they're done with them they throw them away," said Fernandez. "If we get a puppy mill dog, it's because it's been seized already."

Fernandez said prior to the 60-plus dogs being seized the SPCA of Connecticut housed up to 100 dogs and employeed seven or eight staff, plus volunteers. She explained that she worked her way up to her current $13/hour wage from $8/hour, and puts in between 40 to 90 hours a week.

Asked by the judge how many dogs are typically adopted out in a week, Fernandez offered that at one adoption event 365 dogs were placed in three days.

At one point in her testimony, Fernandez described how a dog had escaped from its cage while an employee was tending to it. She recalled how staff had not been able to catch the dog and that the following morning the dog was struck and killed by a car. The employee, said Fernandez, had since been fired.

Later, during a break in proceedings, Fernandez elaborated to Patch about any possible bias against SPCA of Connecticut. "Why should anyone care where the dogs come from?" she asked with a confounded look. "You're saving a life."

Michael December 13, 2012 at 05:25 PM
During my career, I was nationally certified by the University of Missouri in Levels I and II as an Animal Control Officer, 80 hours of class room study in Cromwell Ct., certified in animal cruelty investigation by the New England Animal Control Humane Academy and the Thompson School of Applied Science at the University of New Hampshire which I attended in July of 1996, and also a semester in Criminal Justice called Civil Rights and Human Relations taught at Housatonic Community College in Bpt. Ct. in 1982. If all this makes me the “laziest ACO ever”, then I stand accused. I’m hoping that the results of this trial not only puts Acker out of business but, hopefully sends a message to all the GREEDY people of his ilk who are giving a bad name to all those good, caring people who DONATE their time, money, and energy to finding good homes for unwanted pets. Keep up the good work.
Virginia Silano December 13, 2012 at 07:58 PM
I would like to speak with you Mr. Griffin. Call Bob at Snowflake and leave a number I can reach you. thanks.
Resident December 13, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Mr. Griffin, For a person who does not want to get into a "pissing" contest you sure are doing a great job of it. Keep citing your education - it just shows that you received education - not used it! We adopted a dog from Mr. Acker. She was older and had been with him for over a year. She has been the greatest dog we have every welcomed into our family. Mr. Akers facilities may not be the best but what is the alternative? I would like to know what the ratio of animals that were euthanized versus brought/caught by the Stratford facility while you were dog control officer?
Shirley B. Backus December 14, 2012 at 04:05 AM
I had the displeasure of meeting Mr. Acker face to face. He was acting like somebody who was desperately trying to hide something. I thought I was at the Monroe Animal Shelter when I pulled into his parking lot by mistake. Mr. Acker immediately yelled "We're closed!" before I had a chance to say anything. When I tried to explain that the phone message I heard stated that there would be an open adoption that morning, he immediately accused me of being a liar, acting crazy, and then ordered me from the property, telling me never to return. Mr. Acker doesn't know how to be a businessman. He doesn't even know how to be a gentleman. Anyone with nothing to hide would have responded something more like, "I'm sorry you were inconvenienced, but I really can't accomodate you today. Why don't you try the Animal Shelter down the street?" At which point the mystery would have been solved, he could have given me his business card, and we would have parted with good feelings. Instead, Mr. Acker acted like a dangerous lunatic. It was totally uncalled for. I can only suspect that he was afraid I would see something he didn't want seen.
Alexandra December 26, 2012 at 04:35 AM
I have adopted two dogs from Fred Acker over the years and have stopped in on adoption days and non adoption days. My first rescue was a golden retriever with a dislocated hip. It was an old injury caused by a former owner. My adoption fee not only included spay, microchip, and all vaccines, it also included her surgery and follow up care for a year after surgery. The surgery was a non debatable part of her adoption.I returned to visit Fred to show him our baby's recovery. He couldn't have been more pleased to see how well she was doing. We returned to adopt another dog. Her adoption fee included transport, shots, blood tests and spay. Fred's all about the animals. He lives for them. He doesn't seem to have much use for most people and can come across as gruff, rude or what ever you want to call his demeanor. In all my visits to the shelter I've seen dogs taken out, walked, fed, watered, cages cleaned and returned inside at night. I have never seen dogs in cages stacked unless designed for that purpose. And yes, his place needs work. But you can only stretch a dollar so far. The house needs painting, the outbuildings need repair, but the animals are fed , sheltered and cared for. These are animals that would probably be put to sleep to make room for more dogs looking for homes. You don't have to like Fred, I doubt he cares if you do or don't. But his heart is in the right place and he is trying to make a difference in a poor dogs life. What are you doing?

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