Monday, December 8, 2014

Rescue Groups-How they do it

     A lot of news to report on this post...perhaps the most since I started writing Save 90. I have news about the 
Chief of Animal Services job, remarks by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz on a radio show last week, as well as Save 90's second video on rescue. 
     In the first video on my last post, we saw how rescues work hand in hand with animal shelters. This time, we'll examine how rescue organizations accomplish their work, how they pay for it, and how they change the lives of so many animals. 
     First I want to thank Save 90's newest advertisers: The Big Screen Store and The Sofa Store, Barre. at the Quarry, and The Lichter Group. 
     You'll find their ads below the text of this post as well as a tally of funds raised through these ads for animal rescue groups. 
Now, some news:
     On my last post, I reported that Baltimore County was going to begin interviewing applicants for a new Chief of Animal Services. 
     One of those applying for the job was Jen Swanson, now the Executive Director of thBaltimore Humane Society. Last week, Jen got a phone call from the county, informing her that her interview was cancelled. 
     To learn why, I emailed Monique Lyle, the 
Public Information Officer for the Baltimore County Health Dept. which runs the county shelter.
     Lyle replied, "We did not attract a sufficient number of candidates to evaluate so we have cancelled all interviews. We are evaluating how we want to move forward."
     When I asked how many had applied, she answered that about a dozen had done so. That would seem like a rather large group of applicants. And, as I mentioned earlier, the list included someone who currently runs a shelter in our area, Jen Swanson. 
     I don't know who the other applicants were, or their qualifications, but it's difficult to understand why county officials didn't think it worth their time to interview Swanson and learn what she would bring to the table.  
    Says Swanson, "I'm very disappointed. I really thought I had a good shot at it, and I was looking forward to getting in there and helping save animals while also protecting public safety."
     A staff member of one Baltimore County Council member wrote a local animal advocate about the matter, "I have been given the impression that the County Executive and Dr. Branch are looking for a candidate that is in step with their political philosophy as it relates to Animal Services. That may be why Ms. Swanson, as qualified as she might be, is not being chosen."
     Here's the only way I can interpret this: anyone with differing views on how the shelter should be run has absolutely no shot at  getting the job.
     That's disappointing to say the least because, while there have been some improvements at the shelter, and construction has begun on a new shelter facility, it's not what's needed most. What is called for is a change in philosophy, a move toward a mindset like the one that guides BARCS, the shelter in Baltimore City. 
     BARCS is the equivalent of the Baltimore County Shelter in that it's an open admission shelter. It must accept every animal surrendered by pet owners as well as every animal picked up as a stray on the streets of the city.
     BARCS takes in almost two and a half times as many animals as the Baltimore County Shelter. Yet it accomplishes so much more...more rescue coordination, more volunteers, more fosters, more enrichment, more concern over each animal's life. While Baltimore County's euthanasia rate is 50%, BARCS' euthanasia rate is just over 20%. 
     For reasons I cannot comprehend, that kind of operation is apparently not in step with the county's political philosophy as it relates to Animal Services. 

On to the title of this post: Rescue Groups-How They Do It
     Two point seven million. 
     The Humane Society of the United States estimates that's the number of healthy animals killed in U-S animal shelters in 2012. It's just a number...until you think about each individual healthy life that ends prematurely with an injection or inside a gas chamber. 
     In my last post, we looked at the ways rescue organizations help reduce the number of animals killed in animal shelters. 
     Now let's see how rescue groups carry out their life-saving work. I spent time with the volunteer members of 
Animal Allies Rescue Foundation, also known as AARF, one of the animal rescue groups in the Baltimore area. AARF has saved almost 500 animals since it formed in 2012. Take a  look.

     Animals that land in shelters and are taken out by rescue groups are all too often victims of the shortcomings of human beings. It's our job as caring people to do what we can to help them heal and stop their suffering. That's what rescue groups are all about.
     Here's where Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz comes in. On Dec. 3rd, he was a guest on the C4 show on 
WBAL Radio. A caller asked why the shelter is killing so many animals. Her approach was confrontational and not constructive. She stood little chance of getting a good response as a result. 
     That said, here is what Kamenetz had to say: 
     "You have to really understand what the role is of Baltimore County. We take animals of last resort...the animals that no one else wants. No one else wants to adopt them or they're abandoned or they're disfigured and we then always have to take those animals. A lot of private shelters, when they reach their capacity, they stop taking new pets in."
    These are not animals of last resort. The shelter is a place of last resort for them. They are not the animals no one else wants. They are the animals someone doesn't want. 
     It's clear from the video above, rescue groups do want these pets, so much so, in fact, that they raise thousands upon thousands of dollars to get them medical care. Then they give them to families who want to take these pets home and love them forever.
     My first rescue, Arthur, was a perfect example. You'll see his picture above. Ironically, I found him at the 
Baltimore County Animal Shelter about 25 years ago. He had been picked up on the streets as a stray. He was filthy, his hair matted from root to end. At first glance, it was difficult to imagine anyone wanting him.  
     I had him groomed and took him home. He was beautiful and sweet and I loved him until he died 13 years later. 
     Is it possible that our county officials don't see what's underneath the dirt, the matting, the injuries, fear, and anxiety? Do they really believe these animals are different from pets that come from breeders? The only difference between them is the fact that shelter pets have been unwanted, neglected or abused. 
     It's true, our Baltimore County shelter cannot pick and choose which animals it accepts. It must take in every animal that comes through its doors. But that's not an excuse for placing too little value on each life. 
     Not every one of them can be saved. Some are too sick, too old, or too aggressive. But if we believe it's worth trying to save as many a possible, that is a shift in perspective. It has the potential to move us along the road to saving 90.

Now for Save 90's latest ads from The Big Screen Store and Sofa Store, Barre. at the Quarry, and the Lichter Group.

Here's the growing list of Save 90 advertisers:  

Chesapeake Contracting
Needles and Threads of Ruxton
Bare Necessities
Edie Brown Associates
The Mark Building Company
Studio of Makeup
BJS Insurance
Parsonizing Dry Cleaners
Graul's Market
Zibazz Hair Studio
Linens and Lingerie
Betsy Robinson's Bridal Collection
Nationwide Nissan
The Jewelry Lady
The Big Screen Store and The Sofa Store
Barre at the Quarry
The Lichter Group

     I hope you'll support these businesses. Their ads have contributed $3910 to Save 90. As a result, I'm preparing to write my 5th check for $750 to an area animal rescue group. More on that in the next post. 
     If you know of a Baltimore County business owner who might like to advertise on Save 90, please ask them to contact me at
    Special thanks to Jennifer Kahn for her help on Save 90 this week!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Rescue Organizations-A Huge Piece of the Puzzle

     Another post….another round of ads! A million thanks to 
Save 90's newest advertising supporters: 
Betsy Robinson's Bridal Collection, 
Nationwide Nissan, and 
The Jewelry Lady.
     Their ads will appear below, as well as thank you's from the most recent animal rescue organizations to benefit from our advertisers'  generosity. 
     First, two quick news items:
1) Baltimore County is accepting applications for a new 
Chief of Animal Services. This would be a replacement for Charlotte Crenson (whose name you will see later in this blog post.) The question is, will the county hire someone who is dedicated to the kinds of programs aimed at saving every life possible? 
2) Baltimore County has awarded the bid for construction of the new animal shelter to Roy Kirby and Sons. They have begun construction.
Now on to this week's post:
Rescue Organizations: A Huge Piece of the Puzzle
     Most everyone has heard of animal rescue organizations and has some idea of what they do. But you might be surprised at all they accomplish, the difficulty of their never-ending work, the amount of money they must raise to do that work, and their vital role in saving the lives of animals in animal shelters.
    It's difficult to know the exact number of animal rescue organizations, but we know it's high. We get some idea just from the number that are affiliated with Petfinder. 
     Petfinder's Director of Shelter Outreach, Sara Kent, says, "Close to half of the 13 thousand + membership in Petfinder is comprised of foster-based rescue groups." These are groups that place animals in volunteer foster homes while they work to find forever homes. 
     Where do these animals come from? From animal shelters mostly. As a result, rescues play a huge role in saving the lives of animals in shelters. 
      Says Barbara Healy of the MD SPCA, "Rescue groups that have foster homes available are great resources for shelter animals who are too stressed, fearful or shut down in a shelter/kennel environment. Often behavior issues a dog may display in the shelter environment are not exhibited in a home environment, which will allow the dog to be adopted more quickly."
     In addition, adopting families have the benefit of a great deal of information about the pet, learned while it's in foster care. Foster parents often know whether an animal is housebroken, whether it's friendly with children and other animals, if it needs lots of exercise or is very sedentary, etc. This information can be so important when it comes to choosing the right "forever" home. 
     Animal shelters like BARCS in Baltimore City rely heavily on rescues to increase their live release rate and reduce their euthanasia numbers. 
    BARCS Executive Director Jen Brause took over the 
Baltimore City shelter in 2005 when it became a 501 c3. She says, "When we first took over, the shelter only worked with one rescue group. That was one of the first things we changed. We work with hundreds of rescues now and send them over 3 thousand animals a year." 
     With 12 thousand animals arriving at BARCS each year, getting 3000 (25%) out is huge. The task falls largely to BARCS' Rescue Coordinator, Juliette Crosson. Watch this video to meet Juliette and see some of the amazing work that she does. 
Now that you've seen what real coordination with rescue groups looks like, let's talk about Baltimore County Animal Services (BCAS), our Baltimore County Animal Shelter which is run by the Baltimore County Health Dept.
     There has been a great deal of concern that BCAS does not adequately work with rescue groups. 
     Some of these groups have complained that it has been difficult to work with BCAS. Some feel underutilized. I asked one local group that pulls many animals from BARCS and the MD SPCA if they get pleas from the Baltimore County Shelter. She tells me, "Rescue pleas do come from time to time, but rarely. Instead we will occasionally hear form volunteers (vs. staff) asking if we can pull a specific animal or …animals".
     One animal rescue group, Fancy Cats Rescue Team, has filed suit in U.S. District Court against Baltimore County, as well as the Director of Animal Control, Charlotte Crenson. The suit charges that Crenson retaliated against Fancy Cats after the group complained about the health of cats coming to them from the shelter and about several cats that didn't survive.
     On June 2, 2013, Fancy Cats sent an email to Crenson raising serious concerns about the cats that had died. It also said that in comparison with other shelters with which the rescue group worked, the level of illness in cats coming from the Baltimore County Animal Shelter was "staggering." 
     Later that day, Crenson sent an email back to Fancy Cats removing the organization from the shelter's rescue partners list.
     The county refuses comment on the suit.
     To be fair, there has been some increase in the number of animals that are going to rescue from BCAS. In 2013, the shelter sent 275 cats and 209 dogs (484 animals total) to rescue. In 2014, from January 1st until November 10th, the 
Baltimore County Animal Shelter sent 405 cats and 195 (600 animals total) to rescues. 
     An improvement, yes. But if you compare this number with BARCS, which sends 3000 animals to rescues each year, Baltimore County comes up very short.
     The Baltimore County Animal Shelter is failing to take advantage of one of the greatest resources for saving lives and decreasing its 50% euthanasia rate. 
     It takes work to create strong relationships with rescues. It takes dedication to contact them and follow up each time a good candidate for rescue comes through the door. The question is whether Baltimore County believes that each animal's life is worth the effort.  
     If manpower is an issue, Baltimore County should take advantage of volunteers (something I've suggested numerous times on this blog.) As I've mentioned before, BARCS has 400 volunteers. The MD SPCA has 800. The Baltimore County Animal Shelter has 20. 
    This is the way it all comes together. A successful shelter must come at the problem of homeless animals from numerous angles, by coordinating extensively with rescues, creating a strong and well-trained volunteer force, and developing a thriving foster program. 
     Do it all and guess what happens? Live release rates go up. Euthanasia rates go down. And the 
Baltimore County Animal Shelter can begin moving toward saving 90% of the animals in its care. That's what Save 90 is all about. 

Next post will look at rescue from the perspective of animal rescue groups.
Now on to happy news. This week's ads from 
Betsy Robinson Bridal Collection, 
Nationwide Nissan, and 
The Jewelry Lady.

I hope you'll support Save 90's growing list of Baltimore County business advertisers:
Chesapeake Contracting
Needles and Threads of Ruxton
Bare Necessities
Edie Brown Associates
The Mark Building Company
Studio of Makeup
BJS Insurance
Parsonizing Dry Cleaners
Graul's Market
Zibazz Hair Studio
Linens and Lingerie
Betsy Robinson's Bridal Collection
Nationwide Nissan
The Jewelry Lady

As you know all money raised from these ads is going to animal rescue groups. Each time the amount reaches $750, I write a check for that amount to one of these groups.
Total raised: $3090. 
Newest recipients:
  • Adopt A Homeless Animal
  • Feline Rescue Association and
  • Tara's House Animal Rescue
Thank you to our advertisers who make these donations possible!


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Shelter Hits the Road

     Before we get to the main subject of today's post, some timely news about shelters in our area. This week, the 
MD Dept. of Agriculture announced recipients of 475 thousand dollars in grants, aimed at reducing intake and euthanasia numbers at our state's animal shelters. 
     The plan was to accomplish this goal by increasing low-income residents' access to spay and neuter services. 
     Fifty-one non profit and governmental organizations applied for the grants. Fourteen have been chosen to receive money, among them, BARCS (Baltimore City's animal shelter), the MD SPCA, and the Baltimore Humane Society. 
    The Baltimore County Animal Shelter did apply for this money but was not chosen as one of the grant recipients.
     I spoke with Jane Mallory, the Program Coordinator for this grants program at the MD Dept. of Agriculture about why the Baltimore County Animal Shelter did not win one of the grants.
     She told me that those chosen included shelters offering spay and neuter services for free. Baltimore County's grant request involved creating more outreach and advertising for its current  spay and neuter program, which provides spay and neuter services for $65 for dogs and $50 for cats. 
     With grant money limited, the MD Dept. of Agriculture selected those programs that would do more for low-income residents, and determined "free" is better than "low-cost." Some of the grant winners even offered transportation to and from spay/neuter locations.
     The Dept. of Agriculture plans to communicate with those who did not win grants to tell them how they can improve their chance of success when next year's grants are awarded. I hope the county is able to secure a grant next year, as low-income county residents could certainly benefit from it.
    That aside, I want to express enormous thanks to this week's Save 90 advertisers. They are three more Baltimore County businesses that care about the animals in the 
Baltimore County Animal Shelter, and support the concepts expressed in this blog.
 They are:
 Graul's Market
 Zibazz Hair Studio 
Linens & Lingerie
Here are their ads:

These businesses now add their names to the growing list of 
Save 90 advertisers:
Chesapeake Contracting
Needles and Threads of Ruxton
Bare Necessities
Edie Brown Associates
The Mark Building Company
Studio of Makeup
BJS Insurance
Parsonizing Dry Cleaners
Graul's Market
Zibazz Hair Studio
Linens and Lingerie

     I hope you'll give your business to these companies that care about our community's animals. They have helped Save 90 raise $2360.00 (that number just keeps climbing!) All money goes to area animal rescue organizations like 
Animal Allies Rescue Foundation (AARF).

    Two more checks will be written next week to 
Adopt a Homeless Animal and The Feline Rescue Association. 

Now on to this week's post, "The Shelter Hits the Road":
     Running an animal shelter must be a little like the 
"I Love Lucy" episode where the chocolates go faster and faster on the conveyor belt. Administrators must constantly find ways to get animals out alive, as a never-ending stream of dogs and cats continues to pour through the door. 
     It's not often that something new offers a whole new way to promote adoption. But that's what's happened at BARCS, the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter.  
    This extraordinary adoption tool has been fondly named the BFF Waggin. It's a beautiful new van, specially equipped to take shelter animals out into the community. There, they can meet potential adopters in pleasant, friendly surroundings. 
      The BFF Waggin boasts secure cages that can accommodate up to 33 dogs and cats. It has heat and A/C, running water, and a fridge. 
     And can you believe it...this amazing vehicle, with a price tag of 150 thousand dollars, came to BARCS through an anonymous gift.
     The BFF Waggin hit Baltimore's streets this past August, and has 5 adoptions under its (fan) belt….several more if you count those people who were at BFF Waggin events, decided to visit the shelter, and adopted dogs there.
       A few weeks ago, organizers of Baltimore Beach Volleyball invited BARCS to bring the BFF Waggin to a tournament at Rash Field. 
Take a look.

     You might see the BFF Waggin driving the streets of Bal-timore or at partner stores such as Pet Smart, Petco, and Pet Valu. Organizers can also request a visit from the BFF Waggin, so you'll be seeing it at special events and festivals too. 
     Just think of all the potential adopters this vehicle will reach who may have never gone to BARCS. They'll meet animals in relaxed settings, more likely to allow the dogs and cats to show their true personalities. This, of course, makes them more likely to be adopted.
     I don't know the name of the anonymous donor who gave this generous gift. I'm not privy to the reasons why he or she chose BARCS as the donation's recipient. 
     I imagine it may have had something to do with the dedication of BARCS employees and volunteers, and the amazing work they do to find loving homes for close to 80% of the 12 thousand animals that come through the shelter each year. 
     Just imagine: what would happen if Baltimore County Animal Services decided to emulate BARCS...creating similar programs for enrichment, volunteers, and coordination with rescues? What if Baltimore County even decided to let a 501c3 run the shelter in a public/private partnership with the county, just as BARCS does with Baltimore City?
     I believe that will be the day when philanthropic animal lovers will choose the Baltimore County Animal Shelter as the recipient of their charitable donations. 
     Just imagine how these changes would improve the lives of animals in the shelter. Just imagine how many more of them would find happy, forever homes. This is what Save 90 is all about. 
     I can see it. Can you? 
    If so, let your county representatives know it. That's the first step to making it a reality.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Statewide Solution

     O.K. Business first.
     Many thanks to the latest Baltimore County businesses who support the concepts expressed in this blog and are advertising on Save 90. The newest advertisers are: Larry Rosenberg of The Mark Building Company, 
Karen Weiner of Studio of Makeup, 
Barry Steinfelder of BJS Insurance, and 
Michael and Mitchell Parson of Parsonizing Fine Dry Cleaning. 
Here are Save 90's latest ads and don't forget…Support Our Sponsors! 
This is the growing list of Save 90 advertisers:                   
Chesapeake Contracting
Needles and Threads of Ruxton
Bare Necessities
Edie Brown Associates
The Mark Building Company
Studio of Makeup
BJS Insurance
Parsonizing Dry Cleaners

 Total money raised so far: $2070.00. All is going to area animal rescue organizations.
     Having Baltimore County businesses support these efforts is crucial. This sends our county government a message: The people at the heart of our county's economy want our shelter to emulate the great shelters that are its neighbors: the MD SPCA, the Baltimore Humane Society, and BARCS. 
     If you know a Baltimore County business that would like to place an "ad" on Save 90, please have them contact me at
    Nelson Mandela said, "It always seems impossible until it's done."
     Keep that in mind.
     This will get done.

Now on to today's post:
     I saw Ken Ulman (Democratic candidate for Lt. Gov.) recently and asked him for a comment on our state's animals. Here's what he had to say.

So, what might statewide support for Maryland animals look like? 
     It would be a challenge, because in Maryland, there is no cookie cutter animal shelter mold. Each county or jurisdiction has its own shelter. Some of these employ best practices and save most of the animals in their care. Some do not.
     So, whether a dog or cat gets out of a shelter alive is partly a matter of location. If it's lucky (a relative term!), it ends up in a shelter like BARCS in Baltimore City. BARCS has a foster program, extensive relationships with area rescue groups, and a large and active volunteer force. As a result, BARCS saves almost 80% of the 12 thousand animals that come through its doors each year. 
     Animals in many other Maryland shelters aren't so fortunate. For example, in Baltimore County, euthanasia rates are 50%. So, only half of the approximately 5000 animals there each year survive. 
     Imagine a statewide solution…legislation that would standardize the practices at Maryland shelters, requiring them to do what shelters like BARCS, the MD SPCA, and the Baltimore Humane Society do: place the highest priority on saving as many lives as possible. That means creating extensive relationships with rescue organizations, having a thriving foster program, as well as a large and active volunteer force. 
     Creating statewide standards is the goal behind "CAPA 4 Maryland". CAPA stands for "Companion Animal Protection Act." The state of Delaware passed a CAPA law in 2010. The state of California has something similar known as the Hayden Law. The group, 
"CAPA 4 Maryland" wants this kind of legislation in our state.  
     Tammy Zaluzney of CAPA for MD says, "CAPA basically mandates all the things good shelters do."
     Among other things, here's what she says CAPA would do:
1) Make euthanasia the last resort, requiring shelters to make lifesaving their primary goal.
2) Standardize public safety efforts as well as the relationship between shelters and animal rescue organizations. 
3) Provide transparency for taxpayers who are footing the shelter's bill.
     Zaluzney says her group is working on language for CAPA legislation to be introduced in the next session of the Maryland General Assembly, and is talking with potential sponsors of the legislation.
     But don't expect smooth sailing. One possible roadblock to this kind of law is that Maryland is what's known as a home rule state. That means cities, municipalities, and/or counties have the ability to pass laws to govern themselves as they see fit as long as they obey state and federal constitutions. Some counties will no doubt balk at statewide sheltering requirements.
     Will Baltimore County be one of them? I contacted the Baltimore County Health Dept. to ask. A spokesman declined to comment. 
     Since the legislation is not yet written, it's difficult to know if CAPA 4 Maryland is the right way to go. But on the face of it, the idea of standardized practices seems to make sense for animals as well as humans. Think of the Ebola epidemic. We would all hope that every state in our nation is on the same page there. 

     We'll be watching this issue as the MD General Assembly convenes in January of 2015. And no matter the outcome of next week's MD gubernatorial election, I surely hope our next governor is concerned about the animals in our state's shelters. If statewide rules make sense, I hope he supports them.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ads; The Good Kind!

     Are you ready for a game changer? Well, here it is. I'm initiating a new element on this blog. Save 90 will now feature "ads." These will not be typical advertisements. I'm engaging members of the Baltimore County business community and enlisting their support for the concepts behind Save 90.
     So, now you will see their "ads" on this page with every post.
     "Advertisers" will pay $90, $190, $290, well, you get the picture…any amount they want that includes the number "90". They will then have videos on this blog where they express their support for Save 90.
     All money raised will go into a Save 90 bank account, and each time the account balance reaches $750, I'll write a check for that amount to an area animal rescue group.
     I'll keep a running list on the blog of all "advertisers" and the total amount of money we've raised together, so you'll know which area businesses really care about the animals in our shelter. I hope you'll support them.
     And here's the best part. Our Baltimore County government will see that this issue matters, not just to individuals but also to the business owners whose jobs and taxes are the backbone of our county. When county officials see how many people want real change at our shelter, how can they justify doing things the same old way?
     I want to especially thank my first "advertisers":  Bobby Ginsberg of Chesapeake Contracting in Reisterstown, Judy Greer of Needles and Threads of Ruxton, the Fram family of Bare Necessities in Greenspring Station, and Edie Brown of Edie Brown Associates in Mays Chapel.
     Here is the first group of Save 90 "ads."

     Because of the generosity of our first advertisers and others who will appear on this blog soon, Save 90 has already written its first two checks of $750 each to area rescue organizations: Animal Allies Rescue Foundation (AARF) and Adopt a Homeless Animal (AAHA).    
     Here's how you can help. If you know a Baltimore County business owner who wants to "advertise" here and show their support for Save 90, have them contact me. I can be reached via email at
     We ARE making a difference together. Let's keep going.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Volunteers Work!

     If you want to touch a nerve on both sides of the debate over the Baltimore County Animal Shelter, just utter one word: volunteers. It may seem strange, but it's a fact. This is a real sore spot for many who want to see change at the shelter, as well as for officials in Baltimore County government.
     The argument officially dates back to 2012 when the Baltimore County Animal Shelter began accepting a small number of volunteers. Pretty soon some of them began agitating for change. 
     They started a Facebook page, photographed shelter animals and posted the pictures in an effort to increase adoptions. They were critical of shelter conditions and complained about decisions of the shelter administration. Sometimes they didn't follow rules. 
     As you might expect, this didn't sit well with county officials who felt these folks were pretty much just trouble makers. Ultimately a number of volunteers were let go. 
     Today Baltimore County's volunteer program is minimal. It includes just 20 volunteers. They are allowed only limited duties: dog and cat socialization and making toys and bedding. 
     "So what?" you may ask. "What difference does it make whether there are lots of volunteers or not?"
     The reason is that a thriving volunteer program is a critical piece of the puzzle at well-run shelters. It enables shelters to improve animals' lives while in the shelter and get more animals adopted. 
     BARCS, the shelter in Baltimore City, has over 400 active volunteers who work in numerous roles and put in approximately 38 thousand volunteer hours a year. 
     The MD SPCA has 800 volunteers who have worked over 45 thousand hours in the nine months from January through September of 2014! If these were paid hours, even at minimum wage, the SPCA has gotten over 326 thousand dollars worth of work this year for free.
     Watch this video to see the MD SPCA volunteer program in action.


     The MD SPCA isn't resting on its laurels. Its volunteer program is always open, and Volunteer Manager Katie Flory would love to see the number of volunteers grow. 
     So, one has to wonder: what is standing in the way of 
Baltimore County creating a thriving volunteer program at the 
Baltimore County Animal Shelter?
    Yes, some past volunteers created problems. Yes, these problems left a bad taste in the mouths of county officials. Yes, it's  a real problem when volunteers operate under their own auspices. They must come under the control and management of the facility for which they volunteer. 
     But what's past is past. That was then. This is now. 
     So, let's get started. Let's see the county create a structured volunteer program with great training, clear procedures, and real coordination. 
     If you look at BARCS, the MD SPCA, and many other shelters, it's obvious this can be accomplished. In fact, both BARCS and the MD SPCA have long offered to help the county make such a program a reality. 
     The county has not accepted this offer of assistance. I understand that asking for help isn't easy. It involves admitting that you need it. But there's no shame in it. 
     In my opinion, the smartest people do what they know best, and rely on others to help when it comes to things they don't know how to do.
     To be fair, this is clearly not the only project on the county's plate. Government is responsible for many things. The shelter is just one of them. But if you believe that animals matter, it's very important.
     As the county prepares to build a new $6 million shelter facility, it needs to think about how it will run things there. Adding a vibrant volunteer program is vital.
     It's time to enter the modern day world of animal sheltering. A volunteer program is a way to start.
     So, let's create a thriving volunteer program at the Baltimore County Animal Shelter. Then, we can sit back and enjoy all the unpaid help and dedication that volunteers bring to the table.
      I believe our county government wants to make our county the best it can be. This is one way to do it. Volunteers do work.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

The 66 Dogs Project

     Animal overpopulation. What a dry term-no hint of the size of the problem or the suffering of the 3-4 million dogs and cats in the U.S. that live their last days in a cage and ultimately are killed each year. 
     A problem of this magnitude can seem overwhelming. Yet many animal lovers find a way to make an impact, a dent in the problem. Some volunteer for animal rescues or in shelters, some donate money or toys or food. Jenny Williams is donating her talent.
     Jenny is a Colorado-based freelance writer, editor and illustrator who spent some time working at a local shelter. After a while, she began to think, "I could spend every day there and still not feel like it was making a difference in a bigger way."
     So, she came up with an idea-something she named, 
"The 66 Dogs Project." Jenny decided to paint watercolor portraits of 66 dogs in shelters or rescues that, for some reason, were being overlooked by potential adopters. She hoped to cast a fresh light on these hard-to-adopt dogs, in hopes that her portraits would help them find forever homes.
    Some dogs from the Baltimore area have gotten in on the action, including two from the Baltimore Humane Society, and Molly, a dog rescued from the Baltimore County Animal Shelter and boarded at a local kennel while her rescuer looked for a home. You might remember Molly from my first blog post and video. 
     Here's the story of the 66 Dogs Project with its very own Baltimore happy ending.

      Jenny has a website, "" which includes the portraits of all the dogs she's painted so far. Her Facebook page allows shelters and rescues to download the portraits to share on their own sites. 
     Every time a dog is adopted, Jenny sends the original portrait to the adopting family as a gift. If you look on the 66 Dogs Project webpage, you'll see many have found loving homes. 
    In case you're wondering, there was no reason to pick the number, 66. "It just felt ambitious enough that I was really committed, but not all-consuming," she explains. 
     Jenny says she felt driven to paint dogs because some, like pit bulls, have a particularly difficult image to overcome. 
     "Part of the motivation for the project," she says, "is focusing on dogs that tend to have a stigma against their breed." She feels her portraits combat stereotypes in a positive way. 
     I was struck by Jenny's story because so many of us experience the same feeling that Jenny described-a desire to positively impact the problem of unwanted dogs and cats.
     Jenny says, "Each of us finds a way to feel useful because that's the only way to keep going. It's allowing me to stay connected to this world in a way that feels good."
     For me, this blog is a way to achieve that feeling. If I can educate and inform, and perhaps even help an animal, I will feel I made a difference.
     As June Carter Cash once said, "I'm just trying to matter." For all the people like Jenny who are finding their own way to make a difference, you matter. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

WOW! Look what they've done in Montgomery County!

     What can you get for 17 million dollars? In Montgomery County, the answer is, a lot. Montgomery County opened a brand new county-funded 17 million dollar animal shelter this past March and the wow factor is huge. 
     For starters, the Montgomery County Animal Services and Adoption Center is over 49 thousand square feet, is energy-efficient, has radiant floor heating in the canine areas, and HVAC systems which provide ten air changes per hour to prevent the spread of odors and disease. There are private animal holding and treatment areas, plus classroom, conference and office space. There's a walking trail and outdoor fenced exercise runs. Take a look.

     I wanted to see the shelter in Montgomery County partly because Baltimore County is getting ready to build its own new 6 million dollar shelter facility. Clearly, 6 million is not 17, but it would seem that 6 million dollars could buy you a lot, as long as the county makes great effort to do it right. 
     One county official tells me the deadline for bids to build the new shelter is September 18th. The county hopes to break ground around Thanksgiving of this year with completion of the new shelter expected (weather permitting) around September of next year. The county expects to have more answers about the building's features within the next couple of weeks, and I'll keep you posted. 
     The current facility is old and needs replacing, so a new building is a great thing. But while the physical plant is important, what goes on inside the shelter is just as important as the walls that enclose it. As a result, the county needs to give great thought about shifting toward the kind of sheltering philosophy that guides the shelter in Montgomery County and a growing number of other animal shelters around the country.
     That means things like extensive coordination with rescue groups, the creation of a vibrant foster program, ample use of volunteers, and the use of enrichment to reduce kennel stress. 
     Kennel stress is not some new age concept. Think about what solitary confinement can do to a human being. The SPCA of Texas website defines kennel stress as a similar kind of thing...a kind of insanity that results when animals are confined in cages for prolonged periods without ample human contact or opportunity to exercise, think, and rest. 
     Kennel stress manifests itself in all kinds of negative behaviors, sometimes even aggression. An animal's mental health can deteriorate so profoundly, the pet may no longer be suitable for adoption. 
     To combat kennel stress, animal experts recommend what's known as enrichment, things like social interaction with staff and volunteers, obedience training, opportunities to play outside and interactive toys where dogs must find ways to get to treats tucked inside of them. 
    To put it simply, as Baltimore County prepares to build an updated facility, it needs to embrace the kinds of programs that help animals mentally thrive as well as survive.
     On another front, my visit to Montgomery County brought me face to face with an unexpected question; whether or not the best solution for Baltimore County's shelter is a public/private partnership (PPP). Under a PPP, a non-profit group (private) would form to run the shelter, receiving some funding from the county (public), then raising the rest of its operating revenue on its own.
     This system works very well at many shelters like BARCS (the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter) and the 
Washington, D.C. Humane Society. Both of these are similar to Baltimore County's facility in that they must accept all animals surrendered by citizens, as well as the strays picked up by animal control officers in their jurisdictions.
    As it turns out, Montgomery County's shelter is not operated through a PPP. It's owned and operated by the 
Montgomery County Police Department. And yet, the lack of a PPP doesn't prevent it from employing the kinds of programs that put animals' needs first. 
     So, while many have been calling for a PPP at the Baltimore County shelter (and I have been one of them), I'm no longer sure whether a PPP is necessary to create the kind of shelter we want. 
     When all is said and done, what matters is the philosophy set forward by those who run the place. If we have a shelter administration that really wants to create a modern-day operation, that may be enough. It's a question of the county's commitment to this goal. 
     How does Baltimore County begin to move in this direction? Perhaps what's warranted is a measure like the one adopted in Pasco County, FL. As I've written earlier, county commissioners there approved a plan in 2012 requiring their shelter to achieve a 90% live release rate. They set the standard, then left it up to those in charge of the shelter to achieve it. 
     Surprise! It's working. The Pasco County shelter's live release rate has jumped from  22% to 80%, with efforts continuing to reach the 90% target.
     Because of recent calls for change, some Baltimore County Council members are considering legislation concerning our shelter. Perhaps new laws should include a mandate for a  90% live release rate. 
     For this to be ultimately successful, there would have to be a shift in mindset in the county…a dedication to adopting new ways of thinking, more transparency, and a real belief that every animal matters. 
     Those who are angry that this has not yet happened need to understand human nature.  Even though county government is supposed to be answerable to residents, no one likes to be told how to do their job, especially by people complaining that everything is wrong and nothing is right. With time, I believe county officials will see the benefit in bringing the shelter in line with today's best practices.
     If that happens…if our shelter implements programs to keep all animals mentally and physically healthy, expand its volunteer program, increase cooperation with rescues, become transparent, and greatly move the live release rate from its current 50% to 90%, I think most animal advocates won't care how they do it. 
     PPP or no PPP, 90% survival is surely good enough for me. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

So, where is it?

     If you were to ask people on the street about the Baltimore County Animal Shelter, what response would you expect? Would they say they had been there before, that they knew just where it was, that they would go there to adopt a pet or find their pet if it were lost? Hmm. Click on the video below and let's find out.

     After watching this video,  I think it's safe to say that a whole lot of Baltimore County residents don't even know their county runs a shelter, much less where it's located.
     The facility (and the planned new one that will be built on the same piece of property) is tucked away in Baldwin, sort of near the Loch Raven Reservoir.  Most county residents never pass by it. This is not the current County Executive's fault. The shelter's location long precedes Kevin Kamenetz's election. But if you believe the old real estate adage that it's all about "Location, location, location," you know we're at a real disadvantage.
     So, it's no surprise that many people don't go to the Baltimore County Animal Shelter when they want to adopt a pet. That's bad news for the almost 5000 dogs and cats that end up there each year, not just the owner-surrendered animals, but also the strays. Pet owners whose dog or cat is missing might want very much to find it but probably don't know where to look. The shelter is required to hold those strays for only four days. After that, the animal can be offered for adoption. But if there's no room at the inn, it can be killed to make room for another stray brought in by Animal Control. There's always the chance an owner won't learn where the pet is, until it's too late.
     So, what must we do if we want to "save 90" (90% of the animals that come in to the shelter )? The answer is: create more visibility. Here are some ideas for increasing awareness about the shelter and its whereabouts:
1) Contests
a) You could have a contest to re-name the shelter. "Baltimore County Animal Shelter" is, for lack of better terms, not very warm or appealing. Surely someone can come up with a better name or a cute acronym like BARCS (The Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter in Baltimore City.) Not only would the name be new and improved, the contest alone would increase awareness about the shelter.
b) You could have a contest among shelter employees. They would compete to see who could facilitate the most adoptions. Promise prizes. Prizes can be small. People just like winning stuff. Or the winner could be named Employee of the Month. Recognition is nice. It gives people a stake in the operation and makes them feel appreciated.
c) A contest for the public could allow citizens to pick the cutest new dog and cat at the shelter from photos on Facebook each week. The shelter does not currently have a Facebook page. It needs one. People will get involved on Facebook. And when they do, they'll share pictures of the animals with their Facebook "friends" which might even lead to adoptions. Awesome.
2) A PSA Campaign
There are many well-known personalities in this community who are also animal lovers. I would bet money that many would be thrilled to be in a public service announcement for the shelter. I myself would do it. I would even volunteer to write the copy!
3) Bus Signs or Bench Signs
Maybe the signs would have a picture of an adorable dog or cat and would read, "Come find me and take me home. I'm at the Baltimore County Animal Shelter 13800 Manor Rd."
4) Incentives for Adoption
Do what retail stores do. Have promotions and advertise the heck out of them on that Facebook page we just talked about. Perhaps the promotion could be a discount on adoption fees at specific times (when traffic at the shelter is typically low), or a chance for your adopted pet to be in the shelter's calendar for the coming year, (they don't have a calendar but I know a great photographer who says she would shoot the photos). Other organizations, even the Orioles, have calendars highlighting their pets.      The possibilities are pretty endless. And once these promotions catch hold on social media, there's no end to the numbers of people who might get involved. Just think of the
2014 Ice Bucket Challenge that's spreading awareness for ALS research. is there anyone in the entire country who hasn't heard about that?
4) I saved the best for last
If people aren't coming to the shelter, bring the shelter to them. Let's open one (or more) small adoption centers in addition to the Manor Rd. facility, perhaps in Towson, Cockeysville, Dundalk, or Essex, anywhere along a main artery in the county. It doesn't have to be big or fancy, just a nice, clean space with a big sign outside. Perhaps it could be located in a building owned by the county that isn't currently being used, or maybe an animal lover has a property they would lease to the county on the cheap.
     Here's the bottom line. We need to think outside the box. This is 2014. We have amazing tools at our disposal. We must choose to use them.
     This shelter is OUR shelter. The animals there are OUR community's animals. Everyone who lives in Baltimore County needs to know where to find them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What is Save 90?

   Imagine a reporter who spent twenty years covering protests and vigils...a woman who interviewed countless people, and every day crafted stories about the passions and concerns of others. She was always objective, never part of the story. That reporter was me.

     I'm no longer on television and I don't have to remain uninvolved. So now I'm reporting for my own blog, "Save 90".
      90% is the percentage of animals being saved in many shelters around the country. Many other communities are working hard to achieve this, like Pasco County, Fla. whose county commissioners adopted a Save 90 plan in 2012. Since then, the Pasco County shelter's live release rate has jumped from 22% to 80%, and the shelter's administrator is working hard to attain the 90% goal.
     Clearly it can be done, and this mission should be adopted by the Baltimore County Animal Shelter (BCAS) on Manor Rd. The BCAS live release rate in 2013 was about 50%.
    As medicine and technology and all fields have evolved and improved over the last decades, so it is with animal sheltering. There are now best practices that improve the quality of life of animals in shelters and also save lives that were once deemed un-savable.
     You can see these improvements in the numbers. According to the Humane Society of the United States, in 1970, shelters put down 12-20 million animals. Today it's an estimated 3-4 million. Sadly it's a lot, and way too many, but it's a big improvement nonetheless.
     Social media and sites like Petfinder and Adopt A Pet which link adopters with animals available for rescue have made a big difference. A virtual explosion in the number of animal rescues that take animals from shelters and find them permanent homes has also helped. Another big piece of the puzzle is found within the shelters themselves: new ways of operating and networking, and an overriding emphasis on saving lives.
      Baltimore City's shelter is a case in point. Its kill rate in 2003 was about 95%. Just think of it: 12,000 animals coming in each year...only about 600 walking out the door. But in 2004, the shelter became a 501c3 and changed its name to BARCS, the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter. BARCS operates as a public/private partnership. This means the city of Baltimore contributes some of the shelter's operating revenue; BARCS is responsible for the rest. What's resulted is no less than amazing. Executive Director Jen Brause has lowered the shelter's kill rate to below 25%. Now of the 12,000 that come in, 9000 leave alive. Some are placed with rescues. Some are fostered by volunteers in the shelter. Some are adopted. It doesn't matter how they survive. They survive.
     This is what we want for the shelter in Baltimore County...a shift in mindset, a new mission to save as many lives as possible through coordination with rescues, the implementation of a viable volunteer program, and the utilization of all best practices developed over the last decades.
     Many believe this cannot happen until we emulate BARCS...create a new entity to run the shelter as a 501c3 in a public/private partnership (PPP) with the county. I believe a determination to make change can have great success with or without a PPP.
      Baltimore County is finding itself under fire from animal advocates over the need for change, but it's not unique in this situation. A movement for shelter reform is happening in communities all over the country because most animal shelters everywhere have been run in the same way forever. Shelters were places where almost all animals that went in were killed.
     People who wanted pets bought their dogs and cats from breeders and pet stores, or from a friend or neighbor whose pet had a litter.
      It isn't easy for government to shift its mindset and adopt new ways of doing things. So, it's our job to speak up. If you care about the lives of animals in our community, let our elected officials know it. Tell them you want our shelter to be a model for others around the country, that you want Baltimore County to Save 90.
     I have faith in our government to ultimately do the right thing, once officials see that it can be done and recognize that it is being done in many counties just like ours.
    In the meantime, remember animals at the Baltimore County Animal Shelter have the potential to be wonderful companions and family pets. They are animals like Molly who you can meet in this video.

     Stay tuned to this blog for some of the amazing stories about BCAS animals and the shelters around us.