By Anita Oh

DELAWARE COUNTY, Pa. (CBS) — Amid growing concern over a lack of centralized animal control in Delaware County, one volunteer group relied upon by some members of the community has announced it is shutting down.

Delco Dawgs, a small volunteer group dedicated to saving stray animals, says it has hit legal “red tape” as it qualifies as neither a non-profit nor an animal control facility.

Some municipalities have animal control contracts, while others do not. For example, the Brandywine Valley SPCA currently provides full animal control services to Brookhaven, Chester, Concord, Middletown, Springfield, Tinicum Townships and others in Delaware County.

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When community members would see sick or injured animals roaming the streets, they’d often contact Delco Dawgs for help, said co-founder Jill Speckman.

“Twenty-four-seven, we don’t take any time off. We’ll take a call at 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 in the morning,” said co-founder Jill Speckman. “We fish them out of creeks, we pick up deceased animals — three this week, hit by cars. They die of starvation, they are used as bait for fighting dogs.”

Speckman says the group started in early 2016 intending to help neighbors find missing dogs, but it’s since evolved into more, especially in municipalities with no animal control division.

The group is often tagged in social media posts or called directly by community members who see sick or injured animals roaming the streets. They then respond in their personal vehicles and take the dogs to an appropriate facility.

But under current dog law, in order to pick up stray animals, the group is required to have a special kennel license authorized by the state.

“We don’t want to do the wrong thing, we don’t want to misrepresent, so the best thing for us to do was to just back down,” Speckman said.

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Volunteers estimate they have spent more than $100,000 out-of-pocket in the past year to board the animals and provide medical care.

Speckman keeps photo albums of nearly every animal she’s helped save over the past two years. She fears hundreds more are now at risk.

“They’re not all dogs. We’ve saved chickens and turtles and ducklings, bunnies, frogs, skunks,” she said. “The problems in Delaware County are overwhelming and keep spiraling and there are so many animals that have nowhere to go.”

That’s a concern echoed by Dr. Sara Sprowls, veterinarian and owner of Glenolden Animal Hospital.

“I think that’s going to be very frustrating for people in this community when they don’t even have that anymore, and they’re being told to put the dogs back outside basically when they’re found,” said Sprowls.

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She added that Delco Dawgs filled a large void but that it’s now up to the county to step in.

“Building an animal control facility in Delaware County that can serve this purpose is the ultimate solution,” Sprowls said. “Essentially, for the past several years, there hasn’t been a formal animal control facility for the entire county of Delaware. Delco Dawgs has been fantastic trying to pick up as many strays as they can. We help on the medical side, but that’s not an adequate solution either and it’s not government-funded.”

The Delaware County Council said in a statement to Eyewitness News, “Delaware County is committed to serving the public in the care and well-being of animals and committed to helping our municipalities find humane solutions to this difficult problem that counties across the Commonwealth struggle with.”

In 2011, Delaware County’s municipalities faced a crisis when the Delaware County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DCSPCA) announced it would no longer accept municipal strays. While the state’s “Dog Law” places responsibility for animal control on the state’s Department of Agriculture local municipalities, Delaware County acted quickly to form the Animal Protection Board which studied various options available for the housing of stray animals from the county’s 49 municipalities.

Following an extensive study, and much attention and time devoted to the issue, it was determined that building a county-operated animal shelter would be cost prohibitive. Ultimately, the county contracted with the Chester County Society for the Protection of Animals for services as a temporary solution to the emergency situation that was created by DCSPCA when the organization abandoned serving Delaware County and its municipalities.

Over the past several years, Delaware County municipalities have developed their own resources to remediate animal control, and have independently formed contracts with shelters and animal control agencies based on the needs of their residents. Delaware County has not received any notice of concern from our municipalities in regards to this issue.

In the best interest and for the well-being of animals, Delaware County will continue to study solutions, and remains open to new solutions and a continued discussion on this matter.”

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