Petition Closed
Petitioning Councilman Cathy Bevins and 8 others

Stop the needless killing at the Baltimore County Animal Shelter

Baltimore County residents won't stand for their tax dollars being spent to needlessly kill animals. The current system at Baltimore County Animal Control is inhumane, inefficient and unprofessional.

The powers that be at the Health Department and shelter refuse to admit that there are any problems with their current policies and procedures, instead spending their time on PR campaigns to improve the image of the shelter.  

We demand real, meaningful and permanent change at Baltimore County Animal Control and the Baltimore County Animal Shelter.

View the original petition and grievances that this is in reference to here:  http://www.change.org/petitions/baltimore-county-residents-demand-change-at-animal-control

Letter to
Councilman Cathy Bevins
Councilman John Olszewski
Councilman Tom Quirk
and 6 others
Councilwoman Vicki Almond
Councilman Tod Huff
Councilman Kenneth Oliver
Councilman David Marks
Maryland State House
Maryland State Senate
The need for significant change at Baltimore County Animal Control is obvious. I have reviewed the Health Department's response to the recent petition regarding Baltimore County Animal Control that was circulating and am dismayed that Baltimore County taxpayer money is being used to fund this kind of PR campaign rather than admitting that there are any problems and working to address the shortcomings of BCAC and the shelter.

The shelter and Health Department officials must work with their community to make Baltimore County Animal Control more humane and effective.

Please review the below response to each of the Health Departments arguments.
___________________________

Dr. Gregory Branch of the Baltimore County Health Department responded to the Petition wherein residents of Baltimore County, Maryland residents and other concerned individuals itemized many of the County shelter’s policies/practices that they want changed. The response issued by the Health Department (which is included below) acknowledges the existence of those policies/practices and refers to the regulation or difficulty that it argues justifies each policy/practice. The response contains no adequate explanation or reason for the continued use of each policy/practice (i.e., public health benefits, fiscal benefits, best practice data, etc). In the case of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), the Health Department’s resistance to TNR is based on a misunderstanding (at best) of the science and data behind that tool.

It is also interesting to take note of the fact that the County Shelter declined an invitation to be part of the Baltimore Animal Welfare Alliance (a group where other county shelters share ideas and information on improving shelters and animal care) based on a difference in “priorities”. The County should be required to join this organization in order to learn about successful steps taken by other shelters that would allow it to have an effective enforcement arm while still running a humane and fiscally sound shelter. Its citizens demand that it make animal welfare a priority inside its shelter as well as in County communities, and take all steps needed to move toward that end.


1. Baltimore County Animal Control ("BCAC") kills all animals that have been in the shelter for 4 days even if there are plenty of open cages, regardless of adoptability or health. And that's just for strays -- there is no holding period for animals surrendered to the shelter by their owners, and most are not even given a chance for adoption but are immediately killed. If the owner of a stray animal is identified, the owner has only 72 hours to reclaim their dog or cat before the shelter kills it.

Health Department Response:

• BCAC is the only animal shelter allowed to accept stray animals in Baltimore County.
• The four-day holding period was determined by the Baltimore County Council to be a reasonable amount of time to hold stray animals.
• The four days is a minimum, not a maximum.
• Pet owners who surrender their animals to BCAC understand and sign an agreement that there is no required holding period for animals turned in by their owners.
• We will hold adoptable animals as long as we have space for them.

Critique of BCHD Response:

The Health Department admits to these facts.

Furthermore, if there is written protocol, policy or regulations that state otherwise or allow for the flexibility in holding time that Dr. Branch refers to in his answer, those are not cited or referred to. Internal, unwritten policies that lack standards, protocol and direction put every animal at the mercy of the staff’s “opinion” on how to handle each animal. Such unwritten “rules” provide no information to rely upon and create a disorganized and frantic, as well as inhumane culture within the shelter and in the community.

Written laws, regulations and policies need to be put in place to maximize every animal’s chances of adoption/rescue or being found by its owner. These decisions cannot be left to the opinions and prejudices of the shelter staff.



2. BCAC does not spay or neuter any animal before adoption, adding to the population of unwanted animals in the County.

Health Department Response:

• BCAC does not have the facilities for this within the building.
• BCAC mandates that animals be spayed or neutered after they are adopted.
• Health Department data indicates that in 2009, 90% of pet owners complied with this agreement.


Critique of BCHD Response:

The Health Department admits to the fact that it does not spay or neuter animals before adoption.

Even if there is a 90% follow-through rate for spay/neuter, those 10% who are not getting their pets altered cause a huge addition to the overpopulation problem.
This is not a matter of having a state-of-the-art facility as there are many other resources to accomplish this important step in the adoption process.

Furthermore, the shelter does not vaccinate incoming animals when they come into the shelter and the protocol for tending to sick and injured animals is unclear at best. Only those animals that leave through adoption or rescue are vaccinated upon leaving the shelter. This is not only inhumane but a dangerous practice that exposes the animals in the shelter to illness and causes undue suffering.



3. BCAC will not allow Pit Bull Terriers to be adopted, condemning them to death for their breed alone. There is no law against owning any particular breed of dog in Baltimore County -- this is an arbitrary policy created by the powers that be at the shelter. Other shelters in Baltimore County adopt out Pit Bulls.

Health Department Response:

• BCAC is “extremely cautious” about the placement of “pit bull-type animals.”
• “Pit bull-type animals are first sent to 501c3 placement partners (rescue group) for evaluation, if accepted.”


Critique of BCHD Response:

The Health Department states that “pit-bull type” animals that come into the shelter go to rescue. However, it provides no supporting information regarding how and based on what, a determination is made as to whether to allow a rescue to assess the dog for acceptance into the rescue, and how many of the pit bull type dogs that have come into the shelter actually have been assessed by a rescue and how many have not been given that opportunity.

In addition, information provided by the County stated that the shelter works with over 100 rescues but it fails to provide a list of those rescues or to explain what “works with” means. Are rescues invited to the shelter to assess the animal for admission into the rescues’ programs, or does the rescue have to take the initiative and ask if there is any animal in the shelter that their rescue should know of? There has been no information put forth that verifies any system or protocol for working with rescues of pit bull type dogs or any other breed or type of animal that come into the shelter.

The public understanding, based on the lack of information from the shelter, is that many more dogs and cats have been killed at the County shelter than have been placed in rescues, including those of the “pit bull type”, because :
A) BCAC has no staff sufficiently trained to assess a dog or cat when it comes to the shelter,
B) BCAC has an extremely limited number of 501( c )(3) rescues that it will partner with and
C) Rescues are not adequately informed of or allowed access to the animals in need of rescue at the shelter.



4. BCAC refuses to implement Trap-Neuter-Return for feral cats although it's been scientifically proven to work through decades of research. Its policy of trapping and killing feral cats is inhumane and has proven ineffective. Instead of supporting volunteer efforts, BCAC penalizes good Samaritans who are trying to control the cat population in their neighborhoods by fining them.

Health Department Response:

• BCAC chooses to support reducing the number of free-roaming cats by promoting responsible pet ownership, low-cost spay/neuter, enforcing current laws regarding licensing and responding the citizen complaints.
• BCAC maintains that feeding feral cats attracts rodents, adversely affects the bird population and generates complaints by residents.
• BCAC states that feral cats pose a rabies threat to humans and that one rabies vaccination is inadequate for protection from rabies.


Critique of BCHD Response:

The “facts” noted in the response are inaccurate on many levels. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene information about rabies treatments is not specific to managed feral cat colonies, but refers to all exposures of all animals. In fact, there have been no confirmed cases of rabies in a cat or dog in Baltimore County or City for 2011.

Managed feral cats in a TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) program are vaccinated for rabies at least once and are monitored for signs of illness and disease. TNR is widely recognized as best practice for managing feral cats and is recommended by the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and many other organizations.

The Health Department agrees that BCAC rejects the use of TNR as a tool to control Baltimore County’s feral/community cat population but the reasons that are given in their response and previous responses to TNR groups are inaccurate and misinformed about the benefits of TNR. The AVMA as well as HSUS and the ASPCA all support a well-managed TNR program. Scientific data has consistently shown that it is impossible to eradicate the feral cat population and therefore encouraging TNR is the only way to manage the numbers of feral cats and keep the animals and the communities they are in safe and healthy.

Furthermore, rejecting TNR based on the argument that one vaccination is not enough leaves things status quo meaning that the unaltered, unvaccinated community cat population will continue to grow. That is certainly worse for public health than altering and vaccinating these cats. The current steps taken by BCAC do little to bring down the population of free roaming and abandoned cats and absolutely nothing to address the cats that are already in the colonies around the County.




5. BCAC requires that all stray animals be turned over to the shelter within 24 hours, but only is open to the public until 3 PM on Monday through Saturday. This limited schedule effectively bars working people from reclaiming their lost pets within the 4 day hold period for strays, which ultimately results in people’s pets being killed. Additionally, BCAC has no legitimate lost/found matching system.

Health Department Response:

• BCAC states that reuniting pets with their owners is their priority and that staff spends a lot of time posting on Craigslist and assisting owners by phone.
• The shelter is open for individuals looking for lost pets from 8 AM to 4 PM Monday through Friday and on Saturdays from 10 AM to 3 PM.
• Stray animals are scanned for microchips and checked for tags.


Critique of BCHD Response:

The Health Department admits to the hours its citizens and rescues find difficult to work with.

In practice, the time and effort the Health Department alleges it spends trying to reunite lost pets with their owners is ineffective and does not rise to the level of being a “priority” at the shelter.

The ads that the Health Department describes do not contain a picture or much information about found cats/dogs. They are vague “lost pet” line items placed on Craigslist. This poor, ineffective use of the internet and similar tools diminishes an animal’s chance at reuniting with its owner.

BCAC should follow in the footsteps of BARCS and the Maryland SPCA and keep a record of all lost and found pets, complete with pictures if available, and post more extensive information about found animals on Craigslist (including size, color, breed, sex as well as street and city found). Owners of lost pets should be able to make an on line report that their pet is missing.

Furthermore, the requirement that all stray animals be turned into the shelter is detrimental to those pets as well as costs the County unnecessary money. A requirement that the animal be reported as found within 24 hours is sufficient.




6. BCAC refuses to accept the help of volunteers. Volunteers are the cornerstones of any successful/humane animal shelter.

Health Department Response:

• BCAC currently does not have a formal volunteer program.

Critique of BCHD Response:

The Health Department admits this fact.





7. BCAC forbids the posting of adoptable animals on the internet. Social networking venues have proven to be invaluable resources for shelter animals across the country.

Health Department Response:

• BCAC posts animals for adoption on Petfinder.com and Patch.com
• BCAC holds an annual adoption fair

Critique of BCHD Response:

The Health Department admits to this fact.

In fact, the Health Department also forbids rescue groups and animal advocates from posting information on Craigslist, Facebook, the Best Friends Forum and other websites about animals in the shelter that are scheduled to be euthanized and/or need adoption or a rescue. This practice diminishes and often destroys opportunities to find a rescue or adoptive home for each animal.

Within the past few weeks, BCAC has begun using Petfinder on a limited basis (showing only a small fraction of animals available at the shelter and updating infrequently).

With local rescue groups holding adoption events every weekend, an annual adoption fair is not enough.





8. BCAC utilizes inhumane "drop boxes" -- in which many cats and dogs die of exposure -- at police precincts throughout the county. These metal boxes are not temperature-regulated and are checked only once a day at a maximum. An animal could spend almost an entire day in sweltering or freezing conditions with no water or food.

Health Department Response:

• No animal has died in a police kennel.
• As soon as an animal is placed in a precinct kennel, BCAC is notified and an ACO is dispatched to pick up the animal.

(A few weeks after the petition circulated, the use of “drop boxes” was halted!)