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


  1. And let's be brutally clear..."testing a dog for rabies" means cutting the dog's head off and the health department taking it to a state lab to test the brain tissue. When I was last in that field the health department paid the shelter about $25 per head removal. What they did was factually wrong, immoral, and illegal. This is exactly why there is a legal, mandatory hold period for strays...the Baltimore county animal shelter blatantly violated the law and a citizen's right to his property. Not withstanding what has been said about the dog owner perhaps not wanting Rose, he may actually have a civil case against the Baltimore county government for money damages

  2. This makes me angry. They tried to euthanize my Hope with incorrect information also. I believe they should be monitored both in healthcare decisions as well as legal (Baltimore county code) decisions.

  3. Thank you for documenting and reporting the details of this case. It's important that people truly understand not only the incompetence BCAS displayed but the true lack of concern. They don't seem to be disturbed by accountability at all. That has to change. I think it needs to be examined as to why they repeatedly get away with this criminal behavior.

  4. This is UNACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR of a facility who should be informed on protocols and proper animal control. Animals deserve a chance- a chance to be reunited with their owners, a chance to get medical attention, and a chance to be adopted through rescue if all else fails. Are there tons of dogs and cats that are taken in as strays int he Baltimore area? YES, but they ALL deserve this chance and Briar Rose was no exception. Those involved in making decisions at BCAS should be accountable for their actions. Why do they have the highest euthanasia rate in MD?? It's a sad day every day for those animals that wind up there... for those thinking of adopting, please visit this shelter first.. the animals need your help.

  5. Don Mohler and the other county officials need to WAKE UP and realize that the people they have running their shelter have NO CLUE what they're doing. I know that admitting that they're wrong or that they may not know everything is hard to do, but it's time. They are being given incorrect and antiquated shelter management information by the people who run the shelter, whom they trust blindly. The other three shelters quoted here are ALL saying that what BCAS did was wrong both legally and morally, and not how they would have handled it. Doesn't that mean anything to anyone at the Health Dept or in the County Exec's office?? If they don't want to believe the "animal nuts" and "crazy cat ladies" they should at least listen to these shelter directors. They need to set their egos aside and get with the times. How many lawsuits is BCAS dealing with now? Four? The owner of Rose could also sue if he chose to. As a business owner, if someone in my company underperformed as much as this shelter's director/vet (and whoever else is making these decisions) they would be fired. It's just bad business. What has to happen before they sit up and take notice!? I'd bet if the County Exec's pet ended up at BCAS and this kind of gross negligence took place, things would change overnight. Until then, he and Mr. Mohler will just continue to drink the Kool Aid they're being served by Dr. Branch, Laura Culbertson, Dr. Sinclair, and the rest.

  6. The article was very well written and much more objective than I could have been. What BCAS did does not surprise or shock me, just saddens me.

    My question is, would the owner be willing to take further action against BCAS & the County? If they would, I think it would help in the fight to reform BCAS.

  7. I am in the process of contacting several animal advocate groups to see if a protest group or organization could develop a public event to bring the news media into this horrific County Run facility, payed by our tax dollars. We need to stop talking about this & do something productive, & seek fairness for these animal;s!

    1. I agree..on that very day a dog was saved and Dr Sinclair was on WJZ (http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2015/01/14/small-dog-stabbed-held-in-fire-in-baltimore-county/) using the press in the shelter's favor.

    2. There are several groups that have been working on this for YEARS. There have been press conferences, protests, media blitzes, etc. That's the only reason this is even being covered by Deborah Stone. There has even been legislation introduced at the County and State level to try and FORCE them to have a real volunteer program. Unfortunately Kevin Kamenetz has seemingly made it one of his personal missions to make sure that never happens, as evidenced by his personal visits to Annapolis to lobby against any and all bills aimed at reforming BCAS. No need to reinvent the wheel, all of the advocacy groups are well aware of the situation at BCAS and are on it. Join up with one of them!

  8. Anonymous, please find Reform Baltimore County Animal Services on Facebook. They have been catalysts for change and have done an amazing job so far.

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  10. BCAS does not scan for chips and will take adoption application before the legal 4 days. My dog was busted at Willow Park on New Years day 3 or 4 years ago. Despite a large SPCA tattoo and microchip, they took adoption app. on Jan. 2. Their excuse was they were short staffed, yet upon my arrival there were three staff in the kennel, two staff in the office, and two dogcatcher vans pulling into the parking lot. Something needs to be done about this bureaucratic nonsense, which in BR's case led to her demise.

    1. All animals are scanned several times with several types of scanners!!! More often than not, the owner forgot to register their chip, which essentially makes the chip useless unless a 3rd party organization (e.g. animal hospital) registered the chip for the owner. BCAS will place an adoption hold on an animal before the stray hold, but does not adopt animals out before that period. They accept adoption holds before the stray period ends in order to save lives! The quicker that animals can be moved in an out of the shelter the better (more free cages = less euthanasia). You listed 5 staff. There are about 100 animals at BCAS (not including spay / neuter). Is 5 staff a lot? And the "dogcatcher" pulling up in the parking lot was probably bringing in more abused, neglected, or lost animals for BCAS staff to help.

  11. This is why CAPA MD is a must pass Bill!! All of the above actions-by-shelter would be illegal and prosecutable if CAPA were in place. Good Blog-Thank you.

  12. BCAS DOES scan for ships - misinformation. BCAS is a branch of the health department which represents people as well as animals. Where we might like to think that rabies vaccinations are for animals (and they are) they are much more for the health and welfare of people. Animals that arrive at the shelter without documentation become the property and responsibility of the shelter - they cannot be fostered until appropriate documentation is secured. This dog was the property of the county. The lack of animal care on the part of a missing owner should not be the fault of animal services who rescued the dog from the situation in which it was bitten and injured. BCAS works very hard as a municipal, open access shelter. It does not have the luxury that private shelters such as the ones quoted have. Anyone who respects the welfare of a dog would agree that having it in isolation for six months is not healthy emotionally. Second hand information about we found the owner, and no, the dog was not with rabies, is not helpful when continuing to try and work in a responsible way with an agency that is over burdened, under funded, and constantly being attacked by people who only want to blame, point fingers and claim they know more, especially when they are not in the position of responsibility. Yes, another nice looking dog who met a fate similar to the millions across our country - not because of animal control, but because of an owner. For most of the people who read this, if we lost our dog we would turn the world upside down to find that dog - what did this person do? And now you want this person to take action against the shelter. This vendetta against Baltimore County is vile - not really helping the animals - just fuel to a fire for people who if they truly advocated would be far more informed and spread information, stories and facts without the emotional twist. I am sorry the dog was euthanized - we all are - but there were lots of unanswered questions and also, people making decisions higher up then those at the shelter. The people who work at the shelter are trained, professional and well equipped for their work. They answer to their immediate supervisors - and they weep at the lives they are not able to save. Working together is the only way animals are ever helped. I say, retract the claws and gather 'round the campfire in a more peaceful manner.

    1. Well said. Working in the animal care field is not exactly a lucrative field. It is a field that people join because they love animals and are passionate about protecting their welfare.

  13. There's a lot to address here. You've raised some very important and valid points.
    You are correct that BCAS does scan for chips.
    You are also correct that the owner of Briar Rose is to blame for this helpless puppy being in harm's way in the first place. It is almost always the case that the failures of human beings are to blame for the hardships of dogs and cats.
    Owners fail to spay and neuter. Owners fail to provide loving homes. Owners grow tired of pets and discard them. This is a huge part of the abuse and overpopulation problems that are so pervasive.
    I also believe that many people who work at BCAS care deeply for the animals and feel the tragedy each time that one is euthanized.
    All of these things are true. But it is also true that those who are in charge of BCAS must be held accountable for poor decision-making. Deciding to euthanize Briar Rose while eschewing offers from another shelter and a rabies-vaccinated Baltimore County resident to carry out her quarantine was a terrible decision. There was no problem providing necessary documentation. In fact, the rescue was working to verify that Brar Rose had been vaccinated, and if she had not been put down in such a rush (after 2 days), appropriate documentation might have been available.
    If she had been fostered, her foster would have lovingly cared for her under the rules of the quarantine and so the puppy would not have been in complete isolation.
    Your point that the shelter is overburdened and underfunded is an important one. It's the very reason why the county should decide to create a non-profit organization to run the shelter in a public/private partnership with the county just as Batimore City did with BARCS.. This would enable the non-profit to raise much-needed funds to provide better and more extensive programs for the animals.
    I do not agree with those who want to encourage Briar Rose's owner to take action against the county. The owner obviously played an enormous role in her tragic situation and clearly didn't care enough to even respond appropriately when the rescue located him.
    I do not have a vendetta against the shelter at all. I just want to see the best steps taken by the county to move into a more modern way of operating.
    I believe only in fact-based discussions. I do not approve of those who do not act constructively and respectfully to those involved.
    I thank you so much for providing comment and would be more than happy to hear from you again. Deborah

  14. BCAS may scan for chips but they don't always contact the owner or secondary contact in a timely fashion, if at all. I work at a shelter and it can be weeks or in some cases over a month before they contact us (the secondary contact) to say they had our animal...if they contact us at all. I wonder how many animals of ours they killed because they either didn't check at all, or didn't bother to contact us. There have also been times when a dog ran away from someone who adopted from us and the chipped dog ended up at BCAS...the owners were never contacted (nor were we) and the only reason a reunion happened was because our staff recognized the dogs when they were there to pull other animals. I know there are staff there that care, but unfortunately that doesn't equal competent. PS: We have been trying to sit at the table and work with them for years, only to have the door slammed in our faces. Suggesting we need to sit around the fire and sing kumbaya is laughable if you know anything about this situation.

    1. YES! We are done playing nice. We tried that forever, it doesn't work. Too many egos involved, too many fears. They are hiding behind the status quo and old school sheltering mentality. There are progressive ways to end the killing AND protect the public at the same time.


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