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Animal control officers out of control?

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An unheated metal container and some chain link fencing, all sitting in a junk yard surrounded by decaying cars and other debris, is home for the stray and loose dogs in Salisbury for most of the year.

That's where the town's two animal control officers, the father-daughter team of Harold Congdon and Tina Boucher, stash the dogs they pick up during the non-winter months, charging $45 a day for a kenneling fee.

 That fee goes to the private owner of the kennel -- Congdon, who also owns the junk yard where it's situated.

And a FOX Undercover investigation found people who say they were charged exorbitant fees to recover their dogs, which in some cases their owners say were picked up for no good reason. The requested method of payment? Cash or personal checks.

"They don't care about the dogs, obviously. The place is a hellhole. Its just horrible. The only thing that mattered to them was getting money out of me," said Leslie Hinton, whose boxer Shelby was picked up twice.

The first bill came after her dog broke loose. She says it started around $240 and was increasing around $95 each day the dog was there.

"They said that was to pay someone to come take care of the dogs," Hinton said.

"How did  you finally get her out of there?" FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked.

"I just went and told her I'm going to call my congressman," Hinton said.

The second time made her even more suspicious.

She says she tied Shelby and her mother-in-law's dog in the back yard and left for the drug store down the street. When she came back, the rope tying her dog up had been cut and both dogs were gone.

"They came and picked the dogs up and said they had been outside for 48 hours alone, that it was raining and they had no food, no water, no nothing. And I'm like, 'That's bull because I'm looking right now at the two bowls of food and water.'"

"At this point how much money did you owe them?" Beaudet asked.

"It was over a grand, and then they wanted to pay vet fees for when they had to take her to the vet for getting in a fight," she said.

After Hinton, whose husband is deployed to Afghanistan, couldn't pay, her dog was adopted by someone else.

Her mother-in-law did pay to get her own dog back. According to Hinton, she paid with a check made out to Boucher personally, at Boucher's direction.

"She said to write it to Tina Boucher," Hinton said.

"Not the town of Salisbury?" Beaudet asked.

"Not the town of Salisbury," Hinton replied.

But Boucher and her father say they can take cash because they are owed the kennel fees personally -- it's their family's kennel.

"Do you make people give you cash to get their dogs back?" Beaudet asked Boucher.

"No," Boucher replied. "They can pay by check."

"Are you pocketing the money that people give you?" Beaudet asked.

"When it comes into the shelter it's pretty much to buy food for the other dogs that come through the shelter," Boucher replied.

And she remembers the story about Shelby differently.

She says Hinton and her mother-in-law's dogs were taken after a neighbor complained they were left outside on a "ten-degree" day.

"So I contacted both owners, which was the mother-in-law and Leslie, and said the dogs weren't supposed to be left out, said there's no food, no water, no shelter, so I took them both into custody," Boucher said.

Boucher says Hinton never contacted her again or paid the fees, so her dog was adopted by someone else.

Money taken in by animal control officers is supposed to be recorded at town of city hall.         

In Salisbury, the town provided records of fines collected by animal control, which had dropped steeply over the past three years. In 2010 there was $1,585 collected. The next year, $385 was collected, and last year just $175 dollars in fines was collected.

Congdon told FOX Undercover he would provide us with veterinary records and reports he's filed with the town about the animals he and his daughter have taken in. But he stopped returning phone calls to FOX Undercover and so far hasn't provided the records.

It's a similar story with Salisbury Town Manager Neil Harrington, who along with officials from the town's health department didn't return repeated calls from FOX Undercover looking for the records.

Leslie Hinton isn't the only one telling FOX Undercover about cash for dogs. One dog owner who had to pay to get dogs out of the pound provided canceled checks. One was written out to "cash -- animal control" for $95. The other was made out to "animal control", also for $95, but someone wrote Harold Congdon's name above it.

One person who saw the dog shelter in operation before it shut down for the winter said the fees didn't sound right considering the lack of care she observed.

"I can't imagine that it's costing them anything to care for those dogs because the food is donated, the dogs are getting no medical care, they're not paying for heat," she said.

The person also spoke with a volunteer who told her she was the only one caring for the dogs this past fall

"What she told me was that the dogs were very poorly cared for prior to her coming in. Some days they were fed, some days they weren't. They didn't get out at all," she said.

The woman agreed to be interviewed only if we hid her identity. FOX Undercover talked to others who wouldn't be interviewed on camera but told similar stories: demands for cash or personal checks, and complaints about the condition of the kennel.

What are people afraid of?" Beaudet asked her.

"I think a  lot of people are afraid of repercussions," she said. "They think they have control of their dogs so people are afraid their dogs will be taken away."

But Congdon said the dogs are cared for just fine.

"He gets fed, he gets watered, he gets walked three times a day, out in the woods out back," he said.

Congdon, who is also running for selectmen, sees nothing wrong with his kennel.

"Do you like the animals?" Beaudet asked.

"The animals are better than the people. If they're voting I'd get elected tomorrow," he said.

But he's not getting one person's vote.

"When you saw that place, what did you think?" Beaudet asked the woman who had seen the kennel.

"My first impression was we have to get these dogs out of here. Somebody needs to get these dogs out of here somebody needs to be aware of what's going on."

The MSPCA is aware of the complaints but a spokesman tells us the MSPCA has no authority over animal control officers, who they work for cities and towns.

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