A Conversation with Fred Acker, Former Director of SPCA of Connecticut

On Wednesday Fred Acker, the former director of SPCA of Connecticut, contacted Greenwich Free Press (GFP) by phone to respond to the article, “Convicted of Animal Cruelty: Still ‘Rescuing’ Dogs” originally published on Feb. 3.

Acker said he was sensitive to the subject of animals being kept in the cold. The article noted that during GFP’s Jan. 25th visit to 395 Spring Hill Rd for an outdoor adoption event the temperature was just 26° and some dogs could be seen shivering. The former director of SPCA of Connecticut said that the dogs are typically outside a little over three hours during these events and that at night the staff brings all 29 dogs in their current care indoors.

“There are multiple buildings. There are two kennels out back,” Acker said, adding that the dogs are placed in crates indoors downstairs in the main house and in one of the two outbuildings on the property. He said that all the dogs are walked early in the morning.

Profiteer or Pauper?

Acker addressed quotes in the GFP article from retired Stratford animal control officer Michael Griffin, who said of Acker, “He has been making big business out of these animals for 20 years…He used to pull dogs from the Stratford Animal Control when I was ACO. He’d buy them for $5 and resell them for hundreds. Until I told him to get lost.” (SPCA of CT charges a non-refundable $20 online application fee and an adoption fee of $395).

“Everyone know there’s no such thing as a $5.00 dog,” said Acker to GFP. “Finding a $5.00 dog at a municipal shelter is the equivalent of a small lottery prize,” he added. “Because a dog that is spayed or neutered are somewhat more responsibly owned. So 90-95% at shelters are intact..”

Acker went on to detail the expense involved in running a shelter. “We have 29 dogs in an old house for 15 years. It gets run down. What people expect the shelter to look like, for them to say ‘Oh my God,’ would take millions. As it is, since 1999 when we opened I think only one person has opened a private shelter in the entire state. That person is a mega millionaire. That’s what it would take to do this thing the right way.”

“What I gave up to do this. I gave up a lot. For 15 years I’ve lived like a homeless person,” Acker added.

Trailblazer or Pied Piper?

Acker brought up the topic of southern dogs, by way of explanation when asked why SPCA of Connecticut’s Petfinder page indicates the dogs are in Norwalk. Acker said that he was the first to bring up dogs from southern states for adoption and conducted large scale adoption events in Petsmart locations in Norwalk and Plainville.

“I’m not looking to pat myself on the back, but 15 years ago you would not have been able to do that. 15 years ago every animal control officer was so against that, it just couldn’t happen….I was vilified. Even people in the south were suspicious. They had no idea we were short of highly adoptable dogs…Nobody ever came and apologized to me.”

Acker also takes issue with the term “imported dog” to describe a dog transported from a southern state like Tennessee, Georgia or Arkansas to Connecticut, for example, as something of a deliberate misnomer by state animal control. “These are American dogs,” Acker said, adding that the state Dept. of Agriculture has made it very difficult for rescuers to bring dogs up from the south.

Acker said he previously had three Petfinder sites including one in Plainville and one in Norwalk, because those were the locations of the large scale adoption events at Petsmart. He said there is plan to switch the Petfinder references from Norwalk over to Monroe.

Monsters?

Acker addressed the GFP quotes of a shelter staff member named Susan who described some of the dogs as “monsters, others as “aggressive,” and the ones on the front porch as “salable.” After clarifying that “Susan” did not refer to Susan Fernandez, who replaced him as shelter director, he said, “That Susan…probably was not the right one to give details. When they refer to the dogs as monsters, that’s probably not the right way to introduce the dogs to the public.”

Beyond Susan’s poor choice of words, Acker defended his record of finding homes for dogs that might otherwise be euthanized in a municipal shelter. “Since 1999 placing 9,300 dogs, I can show you 100 difficult dogs that have been rehabilitated that no one ever thought would get adopted.”

“At my trial, former animal control officer (Jimmy Gonzalez) said we take sick dogs, dogs who need surgery. And Jimmy doesn’t even like me, because …they kill half in Bridgeport,” Acker said before describing expensive veterinary care he provides, including a $1,800 surgery on a dog in his care that needed an eyeball removed.

Acker described other municipal animal control officers in disparaging terms. He has particular ire for Michael Griffin whose GFP quotes he described as hysterical. “He’s become this animal champion, but when he was an animal control officer he was a drunk and was useless. You can quote me on that because it’s true. He would not get off his behind… And everybody knew it.”

He also did not mince words when he spoke of Judy Umstead, the ACO in Bethlehem. Acker accuses her of stealing  three dogs during the 2012 Bethlehem raid on what he described as a nearly-complete kennel.


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“We were seven days away from that place being fabulous,” Acker said of the Bethlehem facility he had leased and planned to use as a kennel.

GFP asked Acker whether he is concerned that the 63 dogs seized from him might be deteriorating in the 15 months since being seized. (Bethlehem has no municipal shelter. Dogs have been boarded at Hemlock Kennels where Judy Umstead works part-time in addition to being an animal control officer). Dogs seized from SPCA of Connecticut have also been kept at  10 other municipal shelters and boarding facilities including ones in Fairfield, Southbury and Newtown.

“I’m completely worried about them,” Acker said, adding that Judge Trombley had ordered the return of all the medium and large size dogs. “But they appealed because they felt they should keep all the dogs… They’re all making money. Judy Umstead has made $30,000 to $40,000.”

Reached by email on Thursday, Judy Umstead responded to Acker’s assertion that she profits from the seized dogs, “…for 365 days we did it for free. 15 dogs times $10.00/day times 365 is $54,750.00 in the red! We are not getting the state mandated $15.00-only $10.00. Since we charged we have received about $13,500. Needless to say we are still in the red $41,250. Hardly a profit! I don’t own the kennel and am lucky my boss loves dogs and believed in what I did. I work on salary  for the kennel and the 2 towns I do animal control for. Therefore, with the hours I put in I’m sure I don’t make minimum wage.”

Acker ended his conversation with GFP by inviting the editor back to Monroe for a follow-up visit during which the indoor areas of the shelter might be toured and the 1,500 letters of thanks and praise from happy SPCA of Connecticut adoptors would be shared. “But please call ahead,” Acker requested.

GFP agreed to a return visit and promised to call before making the trip.


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  • Debbie

    As far as the comment from Acker, convicted animal abuser, about Michael Griffin, Officer(Ret.)Griffin had to appear at roll call every morning, greet public and was in and out of the police dept.all day.Everyday.He recieved Animal Control Officer of the year award from the State in 2003 and a commendation for excellent career from the Stratford Police dept. He would “teach” people about the right way to treat their animals before he would take them.He had a low rate of dogs taken from people. I have been to Ackers property in Monroe and did not see any sign of out buildings.At the back of the property in an area surrounded by makeshift fencing was one small building that supposedly housed the unadoptable dogs.And is that the building he is talking about? Is that a heated shelter?I think that the Monroe Animal Control Officer and/or the State Animal Control Officers need to make a visit to the property.Probably his Probation Officer too!Not a call ahead visit, just a surprise visit.

  • Connie

    As for the comment of the dogs deteriorating at the municipal shelters, all i can say is that the dogs at the shelter i’m associated with are very happy. They are in a warm safe environment, they get to spend time in the office with the ACOs, usually playing with a tennis ball or snoozing on a blanket in the office, they get regular walks and playtime, and they are very much loved by us. They even get groomed so that they aren’t uncomfortable. I think given the choice of a cold dark barn that was “7 days away from perfect”, or a warm loving environment where they get a lot of love and attention – you can decide what is better for these dogs. Let’s hope the courts make the correct decision here also. I would love to have Fred describe any of the likes or dislikes or personalities of the dogs that we currently are caring for……………I highly doubt he can.

  • Connie

    I can only pray that he does not get custody of these poor dogs back – and it’s ridiculous to think that Judy Umstead is profiting from this. She is doing the right thing for these animals and I applaud her for this.

  • Connie

    lol!! “Acker ended his conversation with GFP by inviting the editor back to Monroe for a follow-up visit during which the indoor areas of the shelter might be toured and the 1,500 letters of thanks and praise from happy SPCA of Connecticut adoptors would be shared. “But please call ahead,” Acker requested.” Of course – please give them a warning of when you’re coming so they can clean the place up for you!!!

  • jane

    I have no idea who is right or wrong here. But I do know that the majority of ACOs in CT get their jollies from killing dogs. They kill and kill some more even when there are other options. ACOs can attend the No Kill Conference for free where they can learn how other municipal shelters went No Kill, yet not a single one from CT attends. That is shameful. They would rather continue with the killing
    .

    • Connie

      I’m guessing you are completely uninformed and lumping 1 or 2 shelters into one big category. I don’t know of any ACO that gets their jollies killing animals, that’s a really cruel thing to say. You may want to check the euthanasia statistics at the Dept of Ag before throwing out a broad statement like that.

  • I try to stay neutral Jane, but I agree with Connie. I have met many many ACOs and none get their jollies killing animals. I interviewed a 28 year Greenwich ACO who said that on occasion euthanasia IS a form of rescue.

  • Sage

    Jane, I know quite a few CT ACOs, active and retired, and NONE have ever gotten joy or pleasure from euthanizing animals. Please don’t sweep all of our CT ACOs with such a broad brush. It’s very easy to take potshots and blame ACOs for a problem caused by irresponsible pet owners. The reality is they are not the ones who are the source of the problem.

  • linda

    I am amazed, that your paper allowed Mr. Acker to make such ludicrous statements without any challenge. First he states that all 29 dogs were walked that morning by his staff. which as far as I’m aware consists of him and that women he is currently using as a shill. It takes a lot of people and time to accomplish that. Next he says that his so called kennel was almost ready in 2012 . Ask him what has been done in the year+ since then. It still is the same substandard barn . He states that the court decision was appealed by the other side when in fact he is the one who appealed that decision as well as that concerning his conviction on 15 animal charges as well as the sentences for those charges that were handed down.So it is Acker who is prolonging the plight of the 63 dogs. Of course we are not counting the 17 counts of animal abuse he is facing in an unrelated case. Finally he admits the facilities are old, so where and how is he going to take care of an additional 63 dogs. The man is a pox on animal rescue in Ct. and it is about time a vaccine is given

    • Connie

      I actually applaud the GFP for putting his side of the story out there – it doesn’t really help his case and helps to show his delusional fantasies.

  • Robin

    Please try and reach some of the people who have adopted from this horrible man and get their sides. This man purely is in it for the money! No honest rescue group who is in it for the pure welfare of an animal would dare ask the hundreds of dollars this man has for a good home for an animal, No Rescue Group!

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  • Jackie OH

    CT Municipal pounds charge $5 for an altered dog and $50 for an unaltered dog. Plenty of $5 and $50 dogs up for adoption in our state.

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