News of Otsego County

Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.


susquehanna spca

Shelter Raises $236K, Benefactor Adds $30K

$3.3M Raised To $5m+ Goal

Shelter Raises $236K,

Benefactor Adds $30K

Staffworks founder Anita Vitullo, left, presents Stacie Haynes, executive director of the Susquehanna SPCA, with a check for more than $95,000 at the end of the Staffworks “Save a Life” campaign. With Haynes are Becca Daley, SSPCA communications coordinator and Alicia Dicks, director of the Community Foundation.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

COOPERSTOWN – Stacie Haynes couldn’t believe the size of the check Staffworks founder Anita Vitullo handed her.

“I just about fell out of my chair,” the Susquehanna SPCA executive director said. “Last year we got $95,000 and I was nervous that we wouldn’t beat that!”

The Save-a-Life campaign offers shelters a matching donation of up to $10,000, and this year, Vitullo added some extra incentives – an extra $10,000 for every $100,000 raised, with a maximum of $20,000.

In all, the animal shelter raised $236,420, making it eligible to receive a total $30,000.

“People care so much and they really stepped up,” she said. “We had three ways people could donate; to the Emergency Medical Fund we set up after we got Zoe, the Save-a-Life fund and our Capital Campaign.”

In thanks for everything that Vitullo has done for the shelter, Haynes announced the Welcome & Adoption Center will be named for the Staffworks founder.

“Anita alone has helped us leverage an incredible amount of money,” said Haynes.

Last December, Vitullo offered a $10,000 matching grant, which spurred $75,000 in donations, and at the awards presentation in January 2019, she gave an additional $10,000 “high performers” grant to the shelter.

Vitullo’s generosity continued. In April, she announced the “Shelter Us” campaign, which would match contributions up to $250,000, adding $500,000 to the coffers. “These sorts of financial contributions make a huge difference,” Haynes said.

Although the SQSPCA’s original goal was $2 million, additions to the planned project have pushed the fundraising goal to $5 million, of which they now have $3.3 million.

“We’ve had a lot of support, and we’re so grateful,” said Haynes. “But it’s always challenging. We’re trying to raise money for our capital campaign, but also we need to raise funds for our annual operations, keeping the lights and heat on and the animals fed.”

Additionally, changes to the design and location of the shelter have added costs. “We changed the location of the shelter and decided to build a new thrift store,” she said. “And we’re adding a community room.”

The community room was inspired by both necessity and generosity. “We’ve had kids who, for their birthdays, instead of presents, ask people to donate to the shelter,” she said. “And they want to have their parties here or just sit and visit with the animals, and we don’t have a space.”

Similarly, staff meetings and trainings are held in the lobby of the cramped former motorcycle shop.

“We want people to be able to come here and for us to be able to show our appreciation,” she said.

Haynes anticipates a March groundbreaking for the new shelter, and is in conversations with several people and organizations about possible campaigns. But she also encourages anyone who wants to donate to feel free to come by the shelter and drop off a donation in person.

“We love it when people come and bring donations directly to us,” she said. “That way we can show them the behind-the-scenes of the shelter so that when we build the new one, they’ll be able to see the difference their contribution made.”

“It’s a lot of work,” said Haynes. “But a lot of people have helped get us here.”

SQSPCA Awarded $266K In Annual ‘Save-A-Life’ Campaign

SQSPCA Awarded $266K At

Annual ‘Save-A-Life’ Campaign

Staffworks founder Anita Vitullo, center, presents Stacie Haynes, left, executive director of the Susquehanna SPCA, with a check for more than $266,000, raised through Staffworks annual Save-A-Life campaign, at an awards ceremony held in Utica this afternoon. At left is Alexis Izzo, SQSPCA communications director. Vituallo pledged to match the first $10,000 a shelter raised, with an additional $10,000 for every additional $100,000 raised, up to $20,000. In all, the SQSPCA received $30,000 from Staffworks, raising $236,000 from donors.
Basile To Seek Raises, Aid For Animal Shelter


Basile To Seek Raises,

Aid For Animal Shelter

Editor’s Note: This profile is the first of three on newly elected Otsego County representatives who will take office Jan. 1.

By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to

Newly elected county Rep. Jill Basile, D-Oneonta, is also a member of the Susquehanna SPCA board. (James Cummings/

ONEONTA – Jill Basile saw her future as her father, Bruce, lay in a hospital bed.

“During that time I watched a lot of news,” she said. “I decided that I didn’t want to be the person who complained behind the scenes anymore. I wanted to do something.”

Her father passed away in April 2017, but his inspiration resulted in Basile’s election Nov. 5 to the Otsego County Board from District 14, which stretches south from the colleges to I-88.  She succeeds Liz Shannon, who is stepping down.

“I figured this was my time to help the community that I grew up in. I missed the sense of helpfulness in my life,” she said. “I think people look at the large picture, but they don’t realize how much local politics affect their lives directly, and that’s why I’m here.”

A native of Oneonta, she received a bachelor’s in financial services from SUNY Cobleskill and joined Hartwick College, first as a residential director, then assistant director of Residential Life and Judicial Affairs.

With a master’s degree in student affairs administration from SUNY Binghamton, she joined Opportunities for Otsego’s Violence Intervention Program as a victim advocate.

“I decided on the county board because of my experience with the county,” she said.

For Basile, it quickly became clear that part of her political career would also involve animals. She began volunteering for the Susquehanna SPCA after she adopted her dog there in 2015 and became a board member in 2017.

“I have loved animals my whole life and after spotting Sasha and adopting her from the shelter, I wanted to give back,” she said.

As a board member of the SQSPCA, one of her first goals is to help her local furry friends. “It’s surprising to me that the shelter provides a service to the county by caring for animal victims and they are not compensated,” she said.

The SQSPCA recently spearheaded an iniative to get more funding for animal cruelty cases in Otsego County.

“The sheriff’s department now has $10,000 in the budget for animal cruelty. That’s a step forward for us,” said Basile. “As a board, it’s been something we’ve been passionate about.”

During her campaign, “that was one of my main talking points. People really connected with me on that.”

Yet another mission for Basile is establishing a better protocol for pay raises for Otsego County employees.

Last year, the county board adopted a competitive scale for its manager, but the new rep said, “statistically, Otsego County’s pay rate is lower than neighboring counties. I’d like to see the county come up with a process or policy for providing raises for employees that would allow county board representatives to prepare for the future.”

Additionally, Basile, who now works from home as an academic adviser to SUNY Delhi’s Nursing Program, wants monthly board meetings at a different time, “when people can attend – 10 a.m. is not accessible for most working people.”

With her first county board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 2, Jill Basile is ready to put things in motion.  “I think people look at the large picture, but they don’t realize how much local politics affect their lives directly, and that’s why I’m here.”

NEXT WEEK: Rick Brockway, R-District 3, representing Laurens and Otego.

Debate Renewed On Funding Animal Shelter

Debate Renewed On

Funding Animal Shelter

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

INDEX – It all began with a helpful conversation, and erupted while the SQSPCA was doing what it does best: saving Zoe, who chewed off her leg to stop the pain of a tumor.

The spark: one word, “unilateral.” The issue: Is Otsego County funding the shelter to minimum standards?

Richard Sternberg, a Susquehanna SPCA supporter, Cooperstown village trustee, retired surgeon and MIT graduate, stopped by the animal shelter on Route 28 for a conversation with SQSPCA Executive Director Stacie Haynes.

Sternberg’s “a master mathematician,” said Haynes. “He helped me calculate the actual cost.”

Applying “cost accounting” to the shelter’s expenses, Sternberg determined some $70,000 of the shelter’s $719,499.01 budget in 2018 had been spent responding to requests for assistance from county government, primarily from sheriff’s department and through calls fielded by 911.

By determining what’s spent where, cost accounting helps managers operate companies or organizations more efficiently.

“I never had these numbers,” said Haynes. “I could not believe how much it was.”

Sternberg shared his findings with the county Board of Representatives Tuesday, Nov. 26, at the public hearing on its $120 million proposed budget for 2020, and said the SQSPCA planned to “unilaterally” impose a fee schedule as of Jan. 1.

Haynes praised Sternberg’s efforts to help the shelter, as did board chair Gaylord Dillingham. But, he said, “It came across as somewhat adversarial.” Haynes is the SQSPCA’s contact with the county board, and will continue to be, he said.

Sternberg didn’t return a call or a text placed to get his perspective.

Before the cost-accounting exercise, Haynes said she assessed the sheriff’s department a $40 flat fee.

But, she added, the county board has put $5,000 a year for the past few years in the sheriff’s budget for shelter services. Now, with Sternberg’s financial data, she can assess the true costs.

In an interview, Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr., who serves with Haynes on PETS, the county’s recently formed animal-welfare task force, said he met with her in recent days, and accepts “she has not charged us in cases where she probably should have.”

Moving forward, he said, he expects the SQSPCA will present an itemized bill reflecting the true costs of its services. The sheriff’s department will then pay the bills until the $5,000 runs out, then will ask the county board’s Public Safety & Legal Affairs Committee for an additional, non-budgeted “emergency” allocation.

The total amount, averaging the last three years, could be as low as $40,000 a year, said Haynes. The $70,000 reflected two big 2018 cases – 103 animals found deserted on a Garrattsville farm in April, and 56 Lhasa Apsos surrendered by a Milford woman in November – as well as a heightened public awareness of the shelter’s services that resulted.

“The welfare of animals is both our priorities,” said Devlin.

County Board chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown, agreed “the board wants to take care of its responsibilities,” but he said there are complications.

For one, the state Comptroller’s Office frowns on using the “emergency” definition repeatedly for the same expense over the course of a budget year.

And if the county board decides it needs to contract services to handle abused or abandoned animals that are seized – or dangerous ones – it would have to go out to bid, and other shelters or veterinarians might win the contract.

In some instances, said Bliss, a former longtime Town of Middlefield supervisor, towns, which are required to appoint animal control officers, might set up less-costly temporary shelters of their own.

(Bliss said an article in last week’s newspaper on the budget hearing misreported his intent: He didn’t decline to talk to Sternberg, but offered to meet with him after the hearing to discuss the issue.)

For her part, Haynes said the SQSPCA, which is on track to raise more than $3 million in its “Shelter Us” capital campaign for a state-of-the-art animal shelter in Index, needs more operating revenue to cover the services it provides day-to-day.

Delaware County allocates $88,000 a year to help support its two shelters, and Schoharie allocates $75,000, she said. The SQSPCA has been asking this county board for $40,000.

In her effort to obtain funding, Haynes said, she’s been directed to four different county board committees, so jurisdiction is unclear. “The county always says, ‘This is a town issue’,” she continued. “This is not a town issue.”

There are two related provisions in the state’s Agricultural & Markets Law, the governing statute, she said.

Article 26 prohibits town animal control officers from handling cruelty cases. Article 7 requires police departments to do so; sometimes, state police or local police departments respond, but mostly it’s the county Sheriff’s Department or referrals directly to the shelter from the county’s 911 Center.

“County 911 will call me, after hours: ‘We have a deputy at x location, and we need to seize two dogs and three cats.’ The staff comes in on overtime. There’s mileage to round them up,” Haynes said. “We bring them back to the shelter, and we hold them” until the legal process involving seized animals runs its course.

Still, Haynes and her staff love animals, and that puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to hard-nose bargaining.

“We have a moral obligation to do what we do,” said Haynes. “We’re never going to stop doing what we’re doing.”

Unilaterally, SSPCA Planning Fees

Unilaterally, SSPCA Planning Fees

Richard Sternberg, who said he was speaking on behalf of the SSPCA Board of Driectors, tells the county Board of Representatives the Shelter plans to unilaterally impose a fee schedule Jan. 1 on government entities that use its services. (Jim Kevlin/

By JIM KEVLIN • Special To

COOPERSTOWN – Richard Sternberg, saying he was acting on behalf of the Susquehanna SPCA, told what appeared to be a partly surprised county Board of Representatives this evening that the Shelter will begin unilaterally levying fees Jan. 1 on county entities and towns that require its services.

“We will be initiating a billing system,” said Sternberg, the retired Bassett surgeon and Cooperstown village trustee, who said he was acting as an adviser to the Shelter’s Board of Directors.

Speaking at the public hearing on the 2020 county budget at the county courthouse, he said when Executive Director Stacie Haynes’ time is required, a fee of $80 an hour will be levied, with quarter-hour increments. For other staff members, it will be a $40 hour fee, plus $30 per day for caring for each animal housed at the shelter, and 65-cent-per-mile mileage if staffers’ or Shelter vehicles are used.

Sometimes, the county Sheriff’s Department drops off dogs; in that case, the Sheriff’s Department would be charged, Sternberg said. If 911 makes the placement, 911 would be charged. Some towns have contracted with the Shelter; but those that haven’t would be charged according to the same schedule if local dog control officers ask for help. In places like the Village of Cooperstown, which has its own police force, it would be charged if its officers drop off a dog or asked for the shelter’s services.

Sternberg reported the Shelter’s operating budget – not including construction costs – amounted to $719,499.01 in 2018, and said about 10 percent of usage comes from the county, meaning – if this approach stands – county government could expect to be charged $70,000 next year.

At the end of Sternberg’s presentation, county board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, told Sternberg the public hearing was just for the budget as it stands, and since no money is now in the budget, the issue could not be discussed in that forum.

County Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr., who was in the audience, said he believes the Shelter deserves some county support. However, he said he’s unsure if the unilateral fee schedule is enforceable.

During his presentation, Sternberg mentioned a meeting with a county board committee last Friday.

There, he said later, retiring county Rep. Kathy Clark, R-Otego, when presented with the SSPCA ultimatum, asked that a detailed list of donors’ names in the current Shelter Us fund drive and the amount donated should be supplied to the county before any decision is made.

SQSPCA Reports: Zoe’s Surgery Successful

Susquehanna SPCA Reports

Zoe’s Surgery Successful

Zoe has successfully come out of surgery, Stacie Haynes, executive director, SQSPCA, reported. (Photo courtesy New York State Police)

COOPERSTOWN – Zoe, the dog rescued from Exeter with a missing leg, has safely come through a surgery to remove a benign mass and amputate what remained of her leg.

“She keeps shocking everyone with how strong she can be,” said Stacie Haynes, executive director, Susquehanna SPCA. “We cannot thank you all enough for the love and support you have shown this truly incredible dog.”

Surgeons at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Hospital were able to fully remove the non-cancerous mass and successful amputate her leg. Zoe is still under sedation, and Haynes cautioned that the next 24 hours were critical, and vets would be watching her for a risk of bleeding.

“If we can get through the next 24 hours, things are looking good,” she said.

Exeter Man Arrested In Dog Cruelty Case
Zoe Allegedly Chained Outside With No Food, Frozen Water

Exeter Man Charged In

Neglect, Abuse Of Dog


EXETER – Four days after the Susquehanna SPCA rescued Zoe, a dog in such distress that she is believed to have chewed off her own leg, her owner was arrested and charged with abuse and failure to provide shelter.

Carl K. Pritchard, Exeter, was charged with a misdemeanor of over-driving, torturing and injuring animals; failure to provide proper sustenance and a violation for failing to provide appropriate shelter for dogs left outdoors.

“The dog was chained to the ground with a plastic pet carrier that had hay at the bottom,” said Trooper Aga Dembinska, public relations, Troop C. “There was no food bowl and a frozen-over water bowl.”

Rescued Dog’s Leg Appears Blown Off


Dog Rescued

With Missing Leg

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Zoe, a German shepherd, was rescued from Burlington Flats.

BURLINGTON FLATS – The Susquehanna SPCA rescued a senior German shepherd Zoe who was found injured and in an inadequate shelter at a home in Burlington Flats.

“A passerby noticed this dog tied outside and that her leg looked like it had been blown off,” said Stacie Haynes, executive director.

With the help of Otsego County 911, State Police, and Anita Vitullo of Staffworks, the shelter saved Zoe. She is currently being treated at the Oneonta Veterinary Hospital.

“Her fight to survive has just begun because her missing leg is only one of many concerning medical ailments she is facing,” Haynes wrote on the shelter’s Facebook page. “The team is going to do everything we can to ease Zoe’s pain and show her compassion and a more peaceful life that she deserves.”

Susquehanna SPCA Exceeds Grant-Matching Goal

$100K Goal, $129K Raised

Susquehanna SPCA Exceeds

Grant-Matching Challenge

The Susquehanna SPCA is $229,000 closer to its goal of building a new animal shelter – shown here in the most recent artist’s renderings – by exceeding a $100,000 challenge grant match by the C.J. Helig Foundation.

COOPERSTOWN – The Susquehanna SPCA fundraisers didn’t just meet the $100,000 challenge proposed by the C.J. Heilig Foundation.

They exceeded it.

On Sept. 16, the C.J. Heilig Foundation announced a dollar-for-dollar matching challenge grant of $100,000 to assist the SQSPCA in its Shelter Us capital campaign to help build a new animal shelter.

By the Friday, Nov. 1 deadline, donations and pledges generated by the Heilig match had topped $129,000, exceeding the goal and – with the match – bringing the SQSPCA $229,000 closer to its campaign target.

Water Woes Return To Susquehanna SPCA
All Animals Safe, But Cleanup Could Take Days

Water Woes Return

To Susquehanna SPCA

The kennels and the isolation buildings were both flooded, a scene that met the staff of the Susquehanna SPCA this morning. 

By IAN AUSTIN  • Special to

Neil Maney. Phil Simmons Pump & Well Service, lowers a water pump into the flooded septic tanks of the SPCA alongside Kenny Palmatier, Walter Wyble and Phil Simmons. (Ian Austin/

COOPERSTOWN – Six cats and three dogs were rescued from the Susquehanna SPCA Isolation Building  and kennels this morning after overnight rains flooded the it with over 12 inches of water.

Executive Director Stacie Haynes was notified of the flooding around 6:30am by their landscaper Al Saltenberger. “I left as quickly as I could, but there was no cell phone coverage this morning and that delayed me being able to call in the staff until I reached the building,” said Haynes.

Before the rest of the staff arrived Haynes was joined by passerby Aaron Cleveland, a security officer at Bassett, who helped her move the frightened animals into dry and safe locations.  “Last time we flooded we took steps to have mitigation in place.” said Haynes, “We put in gravel, put in rip-rap, and more. We have had no problems and felt really good about the work we did until today.”

Susquehanna SPCA Rescues Dogs, Cats – And Bees, Too


Susquehanna SPCA Rescues

Dogs, Cats – And Bees, Too

If you happened to drive along Route 28 past the Susquehanna SPCA this afternoon, you may have noticed what looked like an invasion of moon men.  Actually, it was the 4H Homesteaders of Hartwick Seminary, intent on retrieving a swarm of bees that invaded the walls of the animal shelter, then recreating the hive at the nearby home of Leatherstocking Bee Co., whose owners, Tammy Van Buren-Duke and Luke Denbleyker, also advise the 4H club, many of whose members are part of Tammy and Luke’s blended family.  Getting ready for the operation are, top photo, from left, Tanner Griffin, 13, Noah Denbleyker, 10, Tiffany Pagillo, 16, and Hannah Denbleyker, 13.  Inset, Luke examines the hive for the queen bee; if the queen could be found and put in the portable hive, the rest of the swarm would follow her.  4-Hers and their advisers were all impressed by the way bees work together.  “They all coordinate to help the hive,” Tammy said.  (Jim Kevlin/

Pastor Messner Takes Dip For A Good Cause 


Pastor Messner Takes

Dip For A Good Cause 

The Rev. Paul Messner takes his first dip of the day in the dunking cage at Atonement Lutheran Church’s block party today in Oneonta – credit Keegan Syron’s accurate arm.   Helping Pastor Messner at the cage – in addition to spending $1 from time to time for three rubber balls to throw at their mentor – were members of Hartwick College’s Alpha Sigma Phi national fraternity, from left, Keegan, Syrano Edwards, Les Vaccaro and Connor Roadermel.  The block party benefits the Susquehanna SPCA’s Shelter Us campaign to raise $3.5 million for a new animal shelter at Index.   (Jim Kevlin/

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