A founding member of the Schenectady County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals will resign as its chief in December as he prepares for a military deployment to Afghanistan.
Mathew Tully, 38, is a lieutenant colonel in the New York Army National Guard, attached to the 42nd Infantry Division. He will train the Afghan National Police and perhaps the Afghan National Army during a year-long deployment.
The SPCA’s board of directors will look for a successor and is accepting applications for the unpaid position. Tully said the ideal candidate will be a retired police officer with command experience.
“The type of function is best served by someone with a recent law enforcement background,” he said.
Looking back on his tenure, Tully said, “I think I have done a good job forming up the SPCA and getting it to the proficiency it is at now, but there is not time in the day to do everything.”
He added, “I am leaving on a high note, and I believe the organization is ready and should obtain a new person for day-to-day cases.”
Upon his return from overseas, Tully said he would stay involved with the SPCA but would first spend time with his family.
In 2008, Tully, who also is an attorney in a fast-growing firm, and his wife, Kimberly, formed the SPCA. It was the first new SPCA chapter in New York state in 30 years.
Using a staff of volunteer peace officers, the SPCA investigated animal cruelty and abuse cases in Schenectady County, and later in Schoharie County. In October, the SPCA seized 34 cats and one dog from a Rotterdam home. It also rescued an abused Great Dane and helped with the arrest and prosecution of its owner, Michael Perillo, who is serving one year in prison for animal cruelty.
In addition, Tully won a landmark case on behalf of the SPCA against the state that puts focus on access to public records and allows the SPCA to improve the speed and quality of care while tending to animals in need.
Not everyone has welcomed the SPCA, however. Some animal rights groups have criticized the organization for not seizing more animals, an approach Tully rejects. He said he would rather work with animal owners to solve problems rather than seize animals.
When the SPCA did seize animals, the nonprofit found few places to house them within Schenectady County, Tully said. In the Rotterdam case, the SPCA filed a lawsuit against Schenectady County when officials refused to shelter and care for the animals. The county settled the lawsuit by designating SPCA peace officers as county animal control officers and allowing them to write dog license tickets. The county and the SPCA will share fines collected from the tickets. The one-year agreement also requires the county to provide and maintain vehicles for SPCA officers.
The Schenectady County Legislature approved the law Wednesday night in a 9-5 vote. The vote was one of the few in years in which majority Democrats did not vote unanimously for an agenda item. Voting against the law were Democrats Michael Petta and Martin Finn, Republicans Robert Farley, who is minority leader, and Jim Buhrmaster and Conservative Holly Vellano, who caucuses with the Democrats.
Farley called the law deficient in every regard and said it would open the county to litigation. Majority Leader Gary Hughes said he sees no problems with the law.
“The SPCA’s officers are trained peace officers who are accountable. Also, there is a short termination clause in our agreement with the SPCA. We can cancel it upon notice at anytime during the year,” he said. “If there are issues, we can void the contract and end the relationship.”
Hughes said the county has contracts with other nonprofit community organizations which can take action under the law, and the county has not had problems with them. He specifically mention the Northeast Parent and Child Society as one such group.
Tully said the SPCA has never had a complaint made against it for abuse of power. Should people have complaints, he added, they can contact the state Attorney General’s Office, which has oversight of nonprofit groups in New York.
The Animal Protective Foundation of Glenville, which has had conflicts with Tully, said the county’s new law makes no provision for housing animals seized through ticketing offenses or cruelty cases.
For the APF, the main issue is there is no dedicated community animal shelter in Schenectady County, said Marguerite Pearson, APF spokeswoman. The APF is not a shelter but a nonprofit group that takes in animals from municipalities through contracts; it says it cannot house large numbers of seized animals.
Pearson said when Tully seized animals from the Rotterdam home, the APF took in 17 cats and provided more than $200 worth of care for each animal. “This care was funded neither by the county nor the SPCA, but by our donors,” she said.
Pearson said the APF now houses the majority of all stray dogs in Schenectady County and cannot take anymore. “The APF will support any and all thoughtful and realistic efforts to improve care and justice for animals, as well as safety on our streets from dangerous dogs. We are concerned about the illusion that this legislation creates in solving these problems,” Pearson said.
Tully said the SPCA will soon announce contracts with organizations to house animals. “There are many opportunities that exist beyond the APF,” he said.