Group Protests Animal Shelter Conditions

(David Stuck)

More than 100 protestors lined the sidewalk in front of the Baltimore County Council’s offices on Washington Avenue in Towson, holding signs with pictures of dogs and cats and shouting call-and-response chants.

“Who kills our dogs and cats?” a woman shouted, to which the crowd answered, “Baltimore County bureaucrats!”

The April 21 protest was organized by a group called Reform Baltimore County Animal Services, which is calling for increased community outreach and transparency to reduce the shelter’s kill rate, better facility conditions and veterinary care and an increased volunteer force.

“People have been trying to bring about change at this place for the last couple of years and have been met with resistance from the county,” said Lynn Greene, spokeswoman for the organization. “They are still functioning like a 1940s shelter.”

But Dr. Gregory Branch, director of the Baltimore County Department of Health, said there is “no merit” to the group’s complaints.

“A lot of things they’re talking about are unfounded,” he said. “All the animals are actively adopted, and we try to work with different rescues and adopt them out to the public as quickly as we can.”

The Baltimore County Division of Animal Services’ shelter is located in Baldwin, a point of contention among Reform BCAS since it’s on the far northeast side of the county, on the border with Harford County.

Branch said the shelter takes in about 2,800 cats and 1,800 dogs per year. Approximately 23 percent of the dogs and 59 percent of the cats are euthanized, he said, a procedure used for sick animals and at owners’ requests.

“If a dog is adoptable or [can be rescued], we will not euthanize that animal unless we have no space,” said Branch.

While Branch disputes the group’s accusations, local activists, animal rescue workers and former volunteers tell horror stories about neglected animals, dirty animal cages and a staff that fired volunteers for questioning the shelter’s conditions.

“I saw things that were so unsanitary, just the spread of disease and sick animals, and I thought I had to let these people know there were ways to do this more effectively, and they didn’t appreciate that at all,” said Kathy Soul, a former kennel owner and dog walker who volunteered from March to July 2013. She said she was “fired” from that position.

“They didn’t seem very receptive to my ideas or suggestions,” added Soul, “and we’re talking about things like, ‘Why don’t you clean out feces at the end of the day? Why don’t you clean out the water bucket between dogs?’”

There are about 50 registered volunteers with the Baltimore County shelter, according to Branch. Protesters contend that number is staggeringly low compared to other shelters. The Baltimore Humane Society in Reisterstown, for example, has about 250 volunteers, at least 125 of whom volunteer in any given month, said executive director Jen Swanson.

Branch acknowledged in a statement that the 30-year-old shelter is inadequate in design and size to meet the shelter’s demand, and he expects that problem to be remedied with a new shelter that will be built on the 14 acres where the current shelter is located.

“We’re going to have a new, state-of-the-art $6 million facility,” he said. “We’re excited about the possibilities.”

The new facility, expected to open in August 2015, will have more kennel space, a meet-and-greet room for adoptions, a surgical site, two dog parks (one for the shelter and one for the public) and a cat socialization room.

The county also hired two full-time veterinarians in April and introduced public spay-and-neuter services.

But Jody Rasoff, a member of Reform BCAS who works with several rescues, isn’t convinced a new facility will solve what she sees as systemic issues.

“These things can get changed without spending the $6 million on a new shelter,” she said.

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  1. Other than the obvious that we are all concerned about that needs changing, everything on our online and paper petitions, I have my own concerns. The meet and greet room for cat socialization, and dog parks will spread more of the diseases already running rampant at Baltimore County Animal Control! Thus leading to MORE Euthanasia. For instance a cat who is positive for feline leukemia and not tested when brought in should never be allowed access to common areas. Since BCAS does not do mandatory testing, any cat being handled after handling a cat that is infectious, would be at a much higher risk of contracting the deadly disease. Then the domino effect sets in.

  2. I wish I could attach a file to this comment. I would show you a copy from Baltimore County’s files, showing you the numbers for 2012. The county refuses to turn over 2013’s numbers. In 2012 they impounded 5,900 animals. I would hope the director of the health department not to mention a “medical doctor,” could comprehend basic math. If you could please provide me email, I could you send you a copy of the numbers. I also have plenty of pictures I took myself, and firsthand stories. Thank you for the article and getting information from both sides.

  3. Can Dr. Branch count? I know he’s good at knowing the alphabet, but I think his math is a little fuzzy! I think someone should demand a list of the Rescue Groups BCAS works with and then call all of them to verify. There are very few.

    • Can Dr. Branch count? I know he’s good at knowing the alphabet, but I think his math is a little fuzzy! I think someone should demand a list of the Rescue Groups BCAS works with and then call all of them to verify. There are very few.

  4. Bcas refuses to give anyone documentation on the euth rates to back their numbers. According to undisclosed sources at bcas, the rate is closer to 60%. Bcas is “out of space” on a daily basis this the constant euthanization of adoptable and rescue able animals. They constantly are rejecting rescues requests to rescue animals. Finally, the week before their “tv interview” volunteers and staff were instructed to thoroughly clean the place to make a good impression. A cleaning like that had not been done in years.

  5. Dear JT,
    As the media contact for Reform Baltimore County Animal Services I find it necessary to set the record straight regarding your article “Group Protests Animal Shelter Conditions.” Branch’s claim that “all animals are actively adopted,” is just dead wrong. The truth is that Baltmore County Animal Services shelter has NO adoption standards, euthanasia is used instead of adoption, most rescues have been banned, and euthanasia is NOT saved for only sick animals or when full. Euthanasia is “actively ” used instead of adoption is a much more accurate statement. Branch falsely reports a kill rate of 23% for dogs and 59% for cats, when the County’s own statistics reveal the last published kill rate was 63% in 2012. Our reform group requested 2013 documentation to substantiate Branch’s claims of a lower kill rate, but he refused to release that information. The fact is that this shelter has a strongly held belief that killing is cheaper and easier for the County especially because the employees who have no knowledge of animal behavior, such as the difference between a frightened animal verses an aggressive animal, cannot accurately assess any incoming animal for adoptability. There is evidence to prove that because veterinary care and sanitation have been so deficient, many animals have become seriously ill. In addition, the management has retaliated not only against volunteers, but against rescue groups as well, by refusing to allow them to save animals from the facility. Branch and the shelter are too quick to accuse the many people who have seen firsthand the appalling conditions and suffering in that shelter, of lying. This is not just an animal issue, but a community issue, as it clearly reflects the manner in which the County government responds to concerns of its citizens. Kevin Kamenetz and Branch are much too quick to rationalize and defend their killing and poor protocol and fight to maintain control rather than stand up and do the right thing which is to form a public/private partnership as was done in the city, thereby saving money and lives.


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