Alpacafarm owners suing SSP over investigation

Published on Thu, Mar 22, 2007 by Jacck Kintner

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Alpaca farm owners suing SSP over investigation

By Jacck Kintner

John and Kelly Wood, owners of Wildwood Alpaca Farm on Sweet Road, have sued Security Specialists Plus (SSP) Preferred Animal Care for $107,500 over what they claim was a bungled investigation of a dog attack that killed five of their animals on January 1 and 2.

“Because of their incompetence we will never be able to prove which dogs did this,” said Kelly Wood.

She said that she and her husband have spent many nights outside guarding their herd of over 100 animals.

“We know that at some point the dogs will probably come back, but without proof of which ones they are we can’t have them picked up or confined,” she said. “The case is closed as far as the county is concerned.”

The suit alleges that “SSP failed to collect, lost or impaired the evidence of the attack” on Wood’s herd, and that both “SSP and county officials admitted the failures.”

As a direct result, “the agency was removed from the investigation by the county, the evidence necessary for the Woods to be able to hold the dog owners responsible was lost, damaged or destroyed.

In addition, the Woods became precluded from obtaining the information they needed to recover their damages from the incident.”

Wood said that she was referred to SSP by the 911 operator when she called at 2 a.m. on January 2 but was not able to connect with anyone until 1:30 p.m. that afternoon.

In her frustration she called the Whatcom County sheriff’s office who took over the investigation from SSP on January 5. “By that time it was too late to collect stool samples,” she said.

SSP owner Greg Rustand is on vacation and was unavailable for comment. SSP has a $378,000 contract to provide animal control services for all of Whatcom County except the incorporated areas of Blaine and Bellingham. But after hearing this and other reports of allegedly poor service at least one Whatcom County council member, Laurie Caskey-Schreiber, has called for terminating the contract. “If they’re not doing their job, I think we should find another provider,” Schreiber said at last week’s council meeting, “I think we should fire them.”

Whatcom County executive Pete Kremen has asked the sheriff’s office to review the situation.

“I‘m not pleased with what I’ve been seeing over the last few days, and there have been some problems,” he said. “We’ve reached a point that we have to seriously consider alternatives.”

Kremen was contacted by the Woods but was also reacting to a later incident involving a herd of 38 llamas on Olson Road near Ferndale that neighbors allege had been abandoned by their owner, Lynette Smith.
Neighbors said that despite many calls SSP had done little or nothing for almost three years until a Seattle TV station showed pictures on March 9 of the bones and carcasses of dead animals in the field and a dead cria (baby llama) floating in an adjacent ditch.

Further investigation by two veterinarians, one of whom was supplied by SSP, resulted in the herd being confiscated and criminal proceedings being initiated against Smith by the county.

SSP has been in hot water with the county before, once being accused of euthanizing animals and then placing them in a freezer before ensuring they had died, though they were cleared of any criminal charges.

The company also has a $500,000 contract to operate a minimum-security jail for the county. Last year one guard was convicted of carrying drugs while on duty and another admitted to stealing money from an inmate.

The lawsuit was filed earlier this month but at press time, no court date had been set.