Convicted of Animal Cruelty: Still “Rescuing” Dogs

 

acker in litchfield courthouse

Fred Acker during a break in court proceedings, Litchfield Courthouse, December 2012. Credit: Leslie Yager

When Bethlehem Animal Control Officer Judy Umstead visited a rented barn in her town back in November 2012, she reported finding dogs kept by SPCA of Connecticut in under-heated and under-lit conditions.

The shelter director, Fred Acker, was arrested and charged with 63 counts of animal cruelty. Over 60 dogs were seized by animal control.

More than a year later, Acker was convicted on 15 counts of animal cruelty stemming from that cold day. In Litchfield Superior Court on Jan. 23, 2014, Judge John Danaher III gave Acker a six-month suspended sentence and two years of probation.

Michael Griffin, a retired animal control officer from Stratford, has made a mission of following the travails of Acker who he first encountered at his municipal shelter some 20 years ago.

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

In Connecticut, the fee to adopt a spayed or neutered dog from a municipal shelter is set at $5.00.

“He has been making big business of these animals for 20 years,” Griffin continued. “Starting with the name SPCA Connecticut, which sounds like ASPCA, Acker misleads people.”

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Michael Griffin protesting outside Litchfield Courthouse in December 2012. Griffin, a retired animal control officer from Stratford, has followed Fred Acker’s travails over the years. Credit: Leslie Yager

Though Acker was found guilty last month of 15 counts of  animal cruelty for which he  had faced a maximum of fifteen years in prison, the 15 month suspended sentence means Acker has thus far avoided jail time.

And though Acker was ordered to pay $13,481 in restitution to the town of Bethlehem, animal control officer Umstead, reached by phone, said a total of 63 dogs seized from Acker’s Bethlehem barn back in 2012 are still being cared for by animal control. Umstead worries about the dogs’ spirits as she can’t adopt them out. Furthermore, Umstead said Acker still claims to want the dogs back.


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SPCA of Connecticut – Thriving in Monroe

Though it’s not over for Acker, who is appealing the conviction and is now facing animal cruelty charges in Superior Court in Milford, SPCA of Connecticut appears to be thriving. Susan Fernandez, formerly the shelter’s $8.00/hour kennel manager has been appointed “director.”

On a recent frigid Saturday Greenwich Free Press paid a visit to Monroe where an “adoption event” was underway at SPCA of Connecticut.

On Saturday, Jan 25 at 1pm it was 26° and there were  about 18 dogs braving the cold outside in various pens. Several of the dogs were shivering, some violently.

After filling out an “application” this reporter took the photos below while being escorted among the pens by a paid shelter worker named Susan:

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The property at 359 Spring Hill Rd in Monroe, home to SPCA of Connecticut. Arriving at 1:00p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25 it was 16° Credit: Leslie Yager


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The SPCA of Connecticut staff member Susan advised keeping a distance from these pens, which contained what she described as “the monsters.”

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Beyond this stockade fence at the back of the property were dogs described as aggressive and off-limits to visitors. Credit: Leslie Yager


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The first row of pens housed a shivering brown pit bull-beagle mix named “Mama” who growled when approached. SPCA of CT escort described the dog as food aggressive and said she could not be placed in a home with other dogs. Credit: Leslie Yager

bernie and pit bull

SPCA of Connecticut employee, Susan, said the brown and white dog in foreground, “Bernie,” had been returned multiple times by adopters who complained that he was strong and pulled too much. Beyond Bernie is a pit bull who spent her time spinning in circles. Credit: Leslie Yager

diarrhea

On the front porch a half dozen dogs described as “salable” by Susan included this dog who had diarrhea. Credit: Leslie Yager

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Outbuilding at SPCA of CT. Credit: Leslie Yager

front porch 26°
"Mama" food aggressive:not good w:other dogs

Greenwich Free Press forwarded these photos and others taken on Jan. 25, 2014 to Devin Stilson, Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney at the Bantam State’s Attorney’s Office. Stilson replied that the case in his jurisdiction is over, but that he forwarded the information to Maria Sous, the prosecutor in Milford who has an open case against Acker.

The fates of the “rescue” animals at SPCA of Connecticut remain uncertain, as do those of the 63 seized dogs in care of animal control. Acker has avoided jail time and has appointed his kennel manager Susan Fernandez to replace him as director. The SPCA of Connecticut website reads:

“The SPCA is happy to announce that Susan Fernandez has been appointed as our new Director. Susan brings more than 15 years of animal shelter experience to us. Contact us today for more information about our humane adoption and shelter services.”

The website invites visitors to sponsor a dog or cat for $100 or enroll to make a recurring $50 monthly donation.

The site also indicates the shelter will accept  in-kind donations: “The SPCA of Connecticut, Inc. accepts donations of cars, trucks, vans, boats, RV’s, timeshares, planes, vacant lots and real estate. You receive a generous tax deduction while helping our homeless pets. Please call us at (203) 445-9978 for more details.”

SPCA of Connecticut’s lengthy wish list includes land or Building, Adoption Trailer, Transport Vehicle, or Stainless Steel Cages.

Potential adopters are invited to submit an online application and non-refundable $20 application fee: “…all advance or online applications require a $20 non-refundable application fee. Advance applications may expedite or jumpstart the adoption process and may eliminate the need for making two trips to the shelter.”

The nonrefundable application fee does not include the adoption fee of $395.

On the SPCA of Connecticut website link to their adoptable dogs there are 13 marked “Urgent, $5.00.”

Greenwich Free Press will update this story as more information becomes available.


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  • a non-refundable application fee should be a big red flag. just walk away. there are many reputable rescues out there — please find and support them.

  • Pingback: Letter to the Editor: “Save the Bethlehem 63″ | Greenwich Free Press()

  • charlotte jessie

    this needs to stop he has no right to own animals for greed he needs to be stopped anyone condoning this is as quilty as he is lets put a stop to this rt and we will be heard

  • Connie

    I would love to know where he is going to put any of the animals currently being held across the state in shelters. At least right now they are warm and cared for. Fred may have started out as a rescuer, but now he is nothing more than a harder and if he truly cared about the welfare of these animals he would let them stay where they are safe and warm and well cared for.

    • Connie

      Sorry – i meant hoarder, not harder….

  • Sharon McDonald

    We have a New Hampshire licensed dog broker living here in Warrick County, IN who masquerades as a dog rescue. All local AC shelters and dog rescues regularly supply her with dogs. Dogs are shipped off every 2 weeks to “somewhere on the East coast.” With a little research you can clearly see a large network of dog thieves, butchers, bogus Humane societies and animal control shelters dealing in dogs many located in CT, NH, MA, ME etc. Ackerman is one of a multitude of low life’s living off of the suffering of animals.

    • Connie

      what is the name of this rescue? i’d like to warn any local shelters about her….

      • Mary Beth

        Spca of CT

  • Cheryl Patrick

    Great article on a very bad man. Good work Leslie Yager.

  • Jackie OH
  • Mkt

    I am hoping the Town of Monroe and State Animal Control were given these photos and a statement if what was witnessed. I can only imagine what horrors were not seen that day.

  • Mary Beth

    We had dealings with him several years ago. We are a reputable rescue in Ga that takes pups up to CT for adoption We work with Chain stores and have a large volunteer base of past adopters. Before we knew what kind of man he was, we held adoptions with him. He STOLE 25,000 from our organization. Sure wish that we had that money to build the shelter that these pups deserve.
    Need to complain to authorities everyday until they shut him down. There is NO WAY that he should be allowed to be doing business anywhere!

  • I had a lengthy talk with Fred Acker tonight on the phone and plan to do a follow up to this story.

    • Connie

      Did he threaten to sue you??

  • Brad

    I hope the follow up can shed some light on some of the more positives. This man refuses to kill dogs and has such a big heart that he takes on hopeless cases that other shelters would kill. There are pounds that kill dogs everyday. I’m sorry but $395 is not unreasonable for an adoption fee. People should understand the serious commitment it is to care for an animal. The dogs at the shelter receive proper vetenarian care that costs 100k a year plus and. He is not a bad man, but obviously there is an incentive for the shelter to have families adopt the animals. Just like reporters have an incentive to sensationalize the stories they write.

    • Connie

      He may have been a legitimate rescuer at one point, but by bringing in truckloads of dogs that couldn’t be cared for properly if they weren’t adopted puts a whole other spin on it. As a rescuer, I would never leave dogs out in cold weather, in bad conditions, and left in cages too small for them. He’s taken on way more than he can care for and should just let others step in to help. Possibly his former good intentions are now being clouded by his constant quest for sainthood, and his obstinancy is only hurting the animals.

  • Brad, what do you assert is sensational about this story?

    • Anonymous

      Look I understand your doing your job by doing this kind of reporting but your deeply hurt someone I love. “Susan” the shelter worker who loves animals more than anyone I know…was thrown under the bus by you and is being ostracized at work now because of your sneaky slime-ball reporting. You don’t love those animals you just love a good story

  • Debbie

    I personally saw the conditions in Monroe.All those dogs should be taken away also.24 degrees and small dogs in outside runs, on a 26 degree day other dogs in partially snow covered runs.One small dog in need of grooming..haircut..stepping in the waterbowl and being left out after it was pointed out to worker.How longbefore thatt poor dog had frozen legs?Runs without any protection from rain or snow.Wonder how they are making out in this storm?Hopefully all the dogs, including the “old ladies”,7&8year old long hair chihuahas , have been taken inside.

  • Pingback: A Conversation with Fred Acker, Former Director of SPCA of Connecticut | Send your news tips to Leslie.Yager@GreenwichFreePress.com()

  • I thought we had laws in CT about leaving dogs out in this type of extreme weather. Why was he not cited for these dogs left outside in the cold?