Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Timeline of a Preventable Tragedy

     I feel I need a disclaimer on this post. In the 4 months that I've been writing Save 90, I have consistently tried to be fair, objective and not overly critical of the 
Baltimore County Animal Shelter (BCAS). I want to be a positive force for change and improvement, not an alarmist or someone who blows things out of proportion.
    Today I have no choice but to be outraged and deeply saddened by a preventable tragedy that unfolded in recent days at BCAS.
     This is the story of a puppy whose short life came to an unnecessary end. BCAS euthanized her because she had suspected bite injuries and there was legitimate concern that the puppy might have been exposed to rabies through those suspected bites. 
     As I said, this concern was valid. What unfolded afterward was anything but. The shelter killed the puppy after only two days, well before a required four day stray hold period was up. This, despite an offer from a rescue group to foster the dog during a 6 month quarantine, despite information that the possible owner of the dog had been found, despite the fact that this possible owner said the dog had been vaccinated for rabies, and despite an offer from another shelter to take the puppy.
     The facts of this story are complicated. I've interviewed many people involved to get the fullest picture possible. 
     Here is a timeline of what unfolded:

Early morning hours, Tuesday, Jan. 13
     Baltimore County police found a female puppy at an apartment building in Middle River. The puppy, named Briar Rose, had injuries that included lameness in her back right leg, and suspected bite wounds on her body. The police officer took her to a 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital. 

                                              Briar Rose

     On intake, Briar Rose had no temperature, and one veterinarian who saw her described her to me as "playful and sweet."
     A hospital employee later learned that BCAS planned to take custody of Briar Rose and euthanize her, because of concern that she might have contracted rabies through her injuries. BCAS said the only other alternative was a 6-month quarantine, and the shelter was not able to provide it.
     The hospital employee, in an effort to save Briar Rose, called Sarah Millard, a board member at 
Animal Allies Rescue Foundation (AARF). She was hoping AARF could foster the dog and save her life.

Approximately 3:15 P.M. Tuesday, Jan. 13
     Millard messaged Teresa Fernandez, an AARF volunteer who also volunteers at BCAS. Millard asked Fernandez to notify shelter authorities immediately that AARF wanted to pull the dog and that Millard could foster her during the quarantine period. 
     Fernandez notified shelter officials that Millard was a Baltimore County resident, was vaccinated for rabies, and could foster and quarantine Briar Rose. 

8:31 A.M. Wednesday, Jan. 14
     Acting Chief of Animal Services Laura Culbertson emailed Teresa Fernandez saying, "We are checking to see if we can release Rose today. Can you pick her up?" Teresa responded that someone could pick up Briar Rose. 

11:16 A.M. Wednesday, Jan. 14
     Culbertson emailed Fernandez again. She wrote, "Our staff actually will take this puppy.....thanks tho (sic)."

2:30 P.M. Wednesday, Jan. 14
     BCAS picked up Briar Rose from the animal hospital.  

3:51 P.M. Wednesday, Jan. 14
     Fernandez emailed Culbertson saying, "Hold on. I think the original owner has been found. I'll keep you posted."
Culbertson did not respond to this email.

Around 4:00 P.M. Wednesday, Jan. 14
     Briar Rose arrived at BCAS.

Unknown time on Wednesday, Jan. 14
     An area animal shelter offered to take Briar Rose from BCAS.
How did someone find the possible owner of Briar Rose?
     Sarah Millard of AARF has a friend who knows a maintenance man at the apartment complex where police found the puppy, and contacted him. He asked around, was told who owned the dog, and went to the man's apartment. The man wasn't very cooperative but did say Rose was his and that she had been vaccinated for rabies and was microchipped. 

10:30 A.M. Thursday, Jan. 15
     An employee at the animal hospital called the shelter to check on the puppy. BCAS informed her Briar Rose had been euthanized...that a decision had been made that no one but a BCAS employee was allowed to foster the puppy and that no one had been able to do so. 

     So, Briar Rose was euthanized sometime late Wednesday or on Thursday morning.  This was done approximately two days after she was found, despite a required four day stray hold requirement. The four day stray hold is intended to give owners a chance to find and reclaim their pets. 
     She was euthanized despite the fact that someone from a reputable rescue group who was rabies vaccinated and a Baltimore County resident was willing to foster and properly quarantine her.
     She was euthanized despite notification that a possible owner had been found. It appears no one from Animal Control followed up on this information in an effort to find the owner and verify whether the dog had been vaccinated for rabies.
     She was euthanized despite the fact that another area shelter had offered to take her. 
Here's an interesting additional fact. 
     When strays come into a shelter, shelter employees give them a name. The name Briar Rose, however, is strangely coincidental. 
     When the maintenance man spoke with the possible owner, he referred to his dog as Rose. 
     How did the shelter know her name was Rose? Was it because the dog was microchipped? The possible owner said she was. If so, why wasn't the microchip information tracked down?
I contacted Don Mohler, Chief of Staff for Baltimore County Executive, Kevin Kamenetz and asked for comment on this story. 
     Mohler directed me to a comment the county posted on the Reform Baltimore County Animal Services Facebook page. 
     It reads in part, "Carly Stokum and Jan Markowitz from Communicable Disease in the Health Department were consulted as per policy by me as to the disposition of the puppy. Because of exposure risk, they decided to not put the puppy into the community on a 6 month quarantine. The rules for the quarantine are not fair to the puppy's socialization and put the community at risk if the rules are not followed. We were advised to have the puppy euthanized and sent as lab specimen immediately.
     A very recent case of a similar situation illustrates the seriousness of these recommendations and the process in which they need to be implemented. A stray puppy with wounds of unknown origin and unknown vaccination status was found in Maryland and adopted by a family in another state. Within 2 weeks the puppy developed rapid onset of symptoms and was laboratory-confirmed rabid.
This was a public health decision."
Here is a link to Mohler's full comment on Facebook:

     I spoke with Dr. Steven Rosenthal, a veterinarian and the owner of Chesapeake Veterinary Cardiology Associates. He serves on the AARF Advisory Board and went to see Briar Rose while she was in the hospital.
     Dr. Rosenthal described Briar Rose as, "bright, alert, playful, and personable to all staff members."
     He told me, "I find it unfortunate that this puppy that had a potential for a loving home was euthanized prior to full availability of all information of its health status and prior medical history. I'm not sure what the rush was."
What would other shelters in our area do under these circumstances? 
     I asked the Executive Directors of BARCS, the Baltimore Humane Society and the MD SPCA. Here are their responses:

Jen Brause, Executive Director of BARCS:
     "When BARCS takes in a stray animal that has bite marks of unknown origin, we hold it for the stray hold period. The only time it would be put down before its stray hold period is up would be if the animal was near death and unable to be stabilized and/or if the animal was showing clear signs of rabies. Otherwise, if no one came to claim the animal and it was considered adoptable, we would either quarantine it for 6 months at the shelter or would transfer it to one of our rescue partners to carry out the quarantine."

Jen Swanson, Executive Director of the Baltimore Humane Society:
     "We feel if we had or could find a foster home for it, we would be ok with it. We wouldn't want it in the shelter, not because of rabies necessarily, but because of the lack of human interaction they would get being in quarantine, and just the fact that a kennel is not the same as a home, and could potentially cause stress-induced behavior problems. That said, if they (BCAS) contacted us about this we would do everything possible to make sure the animal didn't get euthanized." 

Aileeen Gabbey, Executive Director of MD SPCA:
     "We would do the hold period and work with interested rescues. Rescue groups are best for these tough situations."

My Conclusions
     Here's the question: Is this case an extraordinary circumstance or is it symptomatic of pervasive problems at the shelter? It would appear to be the latter. 
     Clearly shelter employees and the Baltimore County Health Dept. employees who supervise the shelter failed at every level. Their decisions appear to have been governed by fear rather than best medical practices, informed decisions, and connection to other area shelters and rescue groups. 
     It's a systemic problem that can be repaired only by leadership of the County Executive and the passage of pending 
County Council legislation to create a Shelter Oversight Commission. 
     The Baltimore County Animal Shelter has made halting progress in recent months. But clearly that progress wasn't enough to save the life of Briar Rose. It's time for leadership that results in major reform.

Final Fact:
     An employee of the pet hospital that treated Briar Rose says she was notified by her superiors that the lab results showed that Briar Rose did not have rabies. I have emailed county officials to verify this. They have not responded.

Because of the serious nature of this post, I have not included any new Save 90 ads. They will resume with my next post.
Below is a list of those who have advertised on previous posts:
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
The Little Shoebox
Window Consultants, Inc.
Matava Shoes

Thursday, January 1, 2015

This Is What We've Been Waiting For!

     As I'm writing this post, I have a cameraman from WJZ over my left shoulder. Unusual company, to be sure. Channel 13 came to my home to do a story on Save 90. 
     Many of you have seen the story, but in case you haven't, and would like to watch, here's the link.
New Save 90 ads:
     Before we talk about this post's subject matter, I want to thank my newest Baltimore County advertisers: 
The Little Shoebox, 
Window Consultants, Inc., and 
Matava Shoes. 
     Their ads will appear below the text of this post along with a thank you video from the latest animal rescue group to get a check from Save 90, as well as a new tally of money raised so far.

Now the news...And there's lots of it.
First the good news. And it's really good.
     Efforts to bring change to the Baltimore County Animal Shelter have moved onto a new stage. They came front and center at the meeting of the Baltimore County Council
     Newly re-elected 2nd District Councilwoman Vicki Almond has been a very strong supporter of change for the 
Baltimore County Animal Shelter. She spent a great deal of time and effort crafting a bill to be introduced at the first meeting of the newly (re) elected County Council. The legislation, if approved, will establish a Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission.
     The Commission will consist of 11 members; each of the seven Baltimore County Council members will appoint one member to the Commission. The other four will be appointed by 
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. Of the four members appointed by Kamenetz, one must be a licensed veterinarian, one must be a representative from an animal welfare organization, one must be a person who operates an animal shelter, and the fourth must be an at-large member from the public.
     Councilwoman Almond sees this Advisory Commission as just a first step toward major change. 
     Watch this video to hear what Councilwoman Almond has to say about this bill.

     I'll write more about public/private partnerships in the weeks ahead. At BARCS, it means Baltimore City has a partnership with the shelter and provides some of its operating budget (that's the public part). But BARCS is a 501 c3 (that's the private part) and is responsible for raising the rest of  the money it needs to operate. 
     At the time I interviewed, Councilwoman Almond before the bill was introduced, five of her 6 fellow Council members had signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. By the time she introduced the bill at the County Council meeting, all 6 of her fellow Council members were on board. This measure will be veto-proof.  
     The next step for the legislation is discussion at a Council work session on January 27th at 2 PM. 
     The County Council will hold a final vote on the bill at the Feb. 2nd County Council meeting at 6pm. 
     This truly is a first step toward change. It's huge. Now we must keep this moving forward. Please go online, find out the name of your County Council representative.  Call his or her office to express support for this bill and/or write an email.
     If council members don't hear from their constituents, they'll conclude that people don't care about this issue. You're reading this blog. Clearly you do care. Let them know it. 

Legal News:
     Three Baltimore County citizens have filed suit against Baltimore County over the Baltimore County Animal Shelter. The suit is a mandamus action, meaning it is asking the court to order Baltimore County to do things it is obliged by county law to do at the shelter but is currently failing to do. For example, it alleges the shelter routinely fails to walk or exercise dogs, fails to provide for the adequate socialization of cats, and fails to provide environmental enrichment for the animals.
     The suit, which is not seeking financial damages, has been filed on a pro bono basis by a large Washington, D.C. law firm called Covington and Burling. 
     I spoke with two of the attorneys involved, Kamila Lis and Bryant Lee. They told me the suit includes a number of witnesses who have come forward with statements about what they've seen and experienced at the shelter. 
     Said Lis, "Our facts are strong and our case is strong. Otherwise we wouldn't have brought the case." 
     Don Mohler, Chief of Staff for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, was quoted in a Baltimore Sun newspaper article on Saturday, saying the lawsuit is "absolutely absurd." The county refused additional comment today.
More legal news:
     You may have read about the recent animal fighting ring bust in Baltimore City. Many dogs were taken in that bust, and six of them are at the Baltimore County Animal Shelter. Because of the pending legal case, they've been placed in something called, "Administrative Hold." That means they may be at the shelter for quite a long period of time while the dog fighting case makes its way through the legal system. 
     According to Baltimore County Health Dept. spokeswoman, Amanda Knittle, "All animals held in custody are cared for by our ....professional animal care staff and veterinarians. Adoptability decisions will have to wait until their status is resolved."
     Here's the problem. There's a good chance those animals will be caged for weeks and possibly months while prosecutors work on this case. Being caged for that length of time is obviously not an ideal situation at all. Save 90 hopes Baltimore County will seek out rescues willing to take these dogs and keep them in foster care while the case is resolved. 
Now a story of volunteerism and of diamonds in the rough:
     If you've ever been amazed by before and after pictures in beauty magazines, you know what a little sprucing up can do. But those pictures don't begin to compare with the transformations that can take place in an animal shelter.
     Many shelters don't have the money to have a full-time or even part-time professional groomer on staff. That's where volunteers come in...people like Animal Groomer Chris Goldsmith who volunteers her time at Anne Arundel County Animal Control. 
     Animals often arrive in shelters dirty and matted. They don't exactly put their best paw forward to potential adopters. Chris helps peel away this outer layer to show the beauty of the animals that lies beneath. Take a look.

     Robin S. Catlett, Administrator of Anne Arundel County 
Animal Control says, "Our shelter staff, volunteers and the animals greatly appreciate Chris donating her time and services to helping the animals in need.  She has had a positive impact on countless animals since she began volunteering with our shelter."
     I often criticize the Baltimore County Animal Shelter, but here I have to give them great credit. One of the shelter's staff members has duties that include grooming. 
      For those shelters that don't have groomers on staff, volunteers like Chris Goldsmith make all the difference. 
     Now, for the latest Save 90 ads:
Thank you to The Little Shoebox, Window Consultants, Inc. and Matava Shoes:

Because of money raised through its advertisements, Save 90 has written its 5th check for $750 to an area animal rescue group...this one to Bella's Bully Buddies:
Here's the growing list of Save 90's advertisers...I hope you'll support them:
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
The Little Shoebox
Window Consultants, Inc.
Matava Shoes

Because of Save 90's advertisers, Save 90 has now raised $4100 for area animal rescue groups.
Thank you.
If you or someone you know owns a Baltimore County business and would like to advertise on Save 90, please have them contact me at debstone01@comcast.net.