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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 Monroe resident, 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 underheated and underlit 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 back yard 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. 30th and again on December 7 and Dec. 10th.

"He used to pull dogs from the Stratford Animal Control when I was ACO," said Griffin." He'd buy them for $5.00 and resell them for hundreds. Until I told him to get lost."

"It's an us versus them mentality," Acker said to 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 ad 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¢, 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, who 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 an hour wage from $8 an 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, Fernandes 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."

christine December 13, 2012 at 01:54 PM
How in the heck can the judge not know what a "puppy mill" is?
Susan Pacanowski December 13, 2012 at 04:57 PM
I have been a volunteer at the SPCA in Monroe for the past four years. I have never witnessed any acts of animal cruelty. In fact, I have witnessed firsthand quite the opposite. Fred Acker and the staff and volunteers do tremendous work to find loving homes for animals that might otherwise not have a chance. In fact, many of the animals that Fred Acker has rescued were taken from other shelters prior to euthanasia – when others had given up on them, the SPCA didn’t. Personally I would never be associated with any organization that in any way, shape or form would cause any harm at all to any animal. I have been a vegetarian for many years strictly due to animal cruelty reasons. In fact, I am proud to be associated with such a good cause. I have seen so many cases of wonderful animals finding great homes due to the work of Fred Acker and his staff and volunteers. Take the 19 year old cat with cancer that its owners had since it was a kitten but suddenly no longer wanted – terrific home found. I have seen many cats that were “returned” like merchandise. The list goes on and on and on.
Susan Pacanowski December 13, 2012 at 04:57 PM
I know the facts of the story and am not here to argue them. That is for the court to decide. The media has twisted the story in order to sensationalize. This ACO Griffin clearly has an agenda. You would think someone who supposedly cares about animals would support finding homes for animals. It would appear he would prefer to have them euthanized because that is what would have happened to so many had Fred Acker not continued to step up and rescue these defenseless creatures – all in need of loving homes – he never gives up on them no matter what – no matter how long it takes.
Bobbie December 13, 2012 at 07:08 PM
This is not purchasing a house or establishing a business, saving an animal's life is totally void of location, location, location. When I was full-time employed, I donated to what is now SPCA of CT thruout the year. I have spoken with Mr. Acker on several occasions, and found him to be a devoted man to his cause. If those creatures who he saved from damnation could speak, Mr. Acker would require no other witnesses in his moral defense. I would truly hope that those who currently have control of that bounty of loving souls awaiting a forever friend, realize that they will be eternally held accountable for their conduct.
Donna Gail December 13, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Just don't be unlucky enough to live in the same neighborhood
Radar's Mom December 25, 2012 at 06:08 AM
I have not only worked for Fred in Monroe, helped with the adoption process and helped care for the dogs, but I have adopted my wonderful dog from him. He is so committed to the welfare of his pets that anyone who questions his motives are just sick and wrong. He lives for saving these pets and I am tired of hearing people putting him down...are they willing to take over his mission? Please stop hurting his efforts and start helping him to save as many animals as possible. Instead of running him out of town, why don't you donate to his cause? Stop the insanity!
Susan December 31, 2012 at 07:18 PM
My family adopted a dog from Fred almost 5 yrs ago. We were given wrong information on age, condition, and temperment. The dog was not a good match for my young son, or the many steps in our house. We opted to return the dog the next day. Fred was lot less friendly, to bordering on rude, and we never did get our "donation" of $395 back.
Debbie February 25, 2014 at 03:55 PM
http://www.change.org/petitions/ray-connors-the-state-to-revoke-licenses-in-fred-acker-name-and-to-remove-any-animals-in-his-possession-and-at-the-site-in-monroe-ct-know-as-spca-to-punish-him-to-the-greatest-extent-of-the-law?

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