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.
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."
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.
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.
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Edie Brown Associates
The Mark Building Company
Studio of Makeup
Parsonizing Dry Cleaners
Zibazz Hair Studio
Linens and Lingerie
Betsy Robinson's Bridal Collection
The Jewelry Lady
The Big Screen Store and The Sofa Store
Barre at the Quarry
The Lichter Group
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Window Consultants, Inc.