Friday, June 12, 2015

Emergency! Full Shelter

     This is an unexpected post because of the current difficult situation at The Baltimore County Animal Shelter (BCAS). The shelter is beyond full. 
     This is not an uncommon occurrence, since BCAS is the county's open admission shelter. That means it must accept every animal that comes through the door whether it's an owner surrender or is brought in as a stray by Animal Control.
     When kennels are full, animals must be euthanized to make space. Some animals have reportedly already been put down this week.
     Animal overpopulation is not the fault of the shelter. Not only that, but the people in charge there (including the new Chief of Animal Services, Dr. Melissa Jones) appear to care deeply about the animals and have been scrambling to find ways to get animals out alive to make room for more. 
     This is a difficult task, and it's an issue that needs to be taken up by the Animal Services Oversight Commission which was created by the Baltimore County Council.
     Unfortunately, the Commission has not had its first meeting because county officials have yet to work out the logistics for it to happen. This needs to be resolved ASAP. 
     In the meantime, a number of animal advocates have proposed ideas to begin to ease the overcrowding crisis, and they seem to have merit. Here are a few that make a lot of sense. 

1.) Begin requiring those surrendering their pets to make an appointment to do so. In cases where the person surrendering the animal is in crisis, this wait period obviously could be waived. But in many cases, people can and will wait at least a few days. 
       This is something that's done by many shelters for two reasons. It allows them to plan for some of their intake, and sometimes it even results in owners deciding they can keep their pets after all. That's because the shelter is able to offer them access to services that would help them keep their pet.

2.) One of those services would be low or no cost veterinary care.      The shelter would need to develop a network of veterinarians who could offer services at low or no cost. This would be a tremendous help to those who can't afford veterinary care, and might alleviate the need for them to surrender their pet.

3.) Another needed service is behavioral training as many people give up their animals because of behavioral problems. If the shelter had arrangements with behavioral trainers, that would be another service it could offer to pet owners. In fact, what an amazing thing it would be to offer low cost obedience classes right at the shelter. I know there are trainers in this area who would be willing to be a part of that effort. 

3.) Begin a training program for animals when they arrive in the shelter. Well-behaved pets are much more adoptable, and are less likely to cause problems once they are adopted that could land them back in the shelter. There are trainers in our area who will surely be willing to offer training to shelter staff and/or volunteers in how to do some basic obedience work. 

4.) Start a pet food bank with donations from the public. Save 90 would be willing to make a donation to get it started. If a family is in financial crisis and cannot afford to feed their pet, this could help them avoid the need to give it up.

5.) Put out press releases. I think this goes against the county's way of doing things because authorities don't want to seem like they don't have everything under control. But the animal overpopulation problem is not under anyone's immediate control. And when it gets out of hand, there's no shame in asking for help. Baltimore County should put out a press release, asking the media to publicize the overcrowding problem so that the public can respond by coming to adopt/foster animals. This is not a position of weakness. It's a position of strength to ask for help when it's needed. Many people would want to help, but can't if they don't know there's a problem.

6.) Offer reduced rates for adoptions. This could be part of the press release and could be publicized along with an appeal for adopters and fosters. Reduced fees worked very well at the shelter over the Memorial Day holiday.

     Save 90 hopes that shelter administrators will consider these options as a way to ease the current crisis. I know Dr. Jones is trying to save every life possible and that this is a particularly stressful time. I hope she knows she's not alone in feeling the pain and that there are many who want to help in any way they can.

Please scroll down to see the most recent Save 90 post with the latest news and a report on an amazing program called Project Mickey.


  1. BCAS could consider not bringing in cats merely on the grounds that they are "feral." A feral cat takes up cage space in a shelter with no real hope of redemption or adoption. Feral cats, like squirrels, deer, rabbit, etc., are not "strays," and many shelters do not respond to calls about cats. Eliminate feral cat intake and quite likely a lot of cage space would open up in Baltimore County's facility. Spay or neuter such cats, eartip and vaccinate them, and return them and the chance of real problems is eliminated. Only extremists believe that lethal methods can work or have broad public support.

    1. Carrie, Thank you so much for your comment. I'm a big supporter of TNR. Baltimore County is supposed to conduct a pilot TNR program. I'm hopeful it will be a big success so that the county sees what it could accomplish in lowering the number of cats in the shelter as a result if it expands the pilot to a county-wide program.

  2. Although the county doesn't have "relationships" with any service providers, upon pet adoption they could provide an adoption kit listing low cost vet services and listing available trainers. A suggestion to save costs and paper: I assume that BCAS obtains e mail addresses as part of an adoption application? Once a pet is adopted BCAS or a volunteer could send a follow-up which would include the adoption kit attachment. Low cost vet services, could include shots through the big animal chains, but also through organizations like BHS which has a low cost clinic, and the MDSPCA's Hampden clinic. Also, I am sure there are many reputable trainers who would be willing to put their names to an available-trainer list. I do not volunteer with BCAS. Their training schedule does not correspond to my work schedule, but I would be happy to know what they do provide to adopters and be happy to compile a few flyers listing low cost services in the area. I would even print it myself and would be willing to be a volunteer who sends follow up to adopters. I am sure others would be willing to do as well.

    1. Hi, Joanne,
      Thanks for leaving a comment. I love the idea of an adoption kit. Also, following up is so important. BARCS uses Rescue Well to make follow up phone calls to see if adopters are having any problems that might cause them to bring an animal back. I would like to see BCAS begin to follow up in this way and send meals with info that could be helpful, like affordable trainers (perhaps some might be willing to offer discounts to those who adopt from BCAS). The Commission needs to get rolling and these are the kinds of programs it could recommend.

  3. All shelters in MD have a successful program that partners with rescue organizations (for all animals - not just dogs and cats). The overpopulation and euthansia rate is definitely the shelter's fault. There is no foster or rescue program - other shelters that have these in place don't have the high percentage euthanasia rate. The shelter and county need to be accountable for their policies and partnerships that they have failed to implement. These efforts do not rest on the backs of the commission - the suggestions of the commission need to be followed through by a willing and participating county staff and management. The directors of the Humane Society, MD SPCA and BARCS offered their expertise and guidance when legislation to reform the shelter was being initiated to help train and initiate programs the BCAC could use - BCAC refused the assistance.
    When I was director of a non profit dog rescue I received 100s of emails from shelters as well as personal phone calls and texts to take in animals. Other rescues received the same communication and courtesy. AND the shelter coordinated arrangements for transports and to hold the animal until the rescue arrived the same day - BCAC killed animals promised to rescues while transport was enroute the same day. There's no integrity in that lack of professional behavior. The email blasts contained photos and ntake information for proper placement in an appropriate approved non profit rescue. These emails with a configured distribution list were part of the daily work of the shelter and NOT just when things got crowded and it was urgent. Pro-active instead of reactive....and establishing relationships with rescue organizations and volunteers makes a shelter successful. The management makes the difference. The daily emails to rescue orgs, a fostering program still appears to be non-existent for Baltimore County Animal Control.
    Having owners make appointments to surrender their animals will only have the owners abandoning the animals or tethering to the property of the shelter - you have to be in cooperation with the residents as open admission shelter. And as it is, the hours of this shelter are not conducive to afford residents the chance to "come back later". Once someone decides to make the effort to surrender an animal - taking an animal back doesn't magically change that decision.
    Offering adoption sale prices (reduction in cost) doesn't cover costs incurred for the animal's care. Baltimore county has one of the "cheapest" adoption costs in Maryland. Animals "on sale" isn't how you want to attract the best owner of an animal that's already been abandoned. If you can't afford the adoption price - how can you afford vet care costs, food and grooming of a pet?
    A reputable cooperative spirit to have relationships and partnerships of integrity with non-profit rescue organizations and a comprehensive foster program will keep animals from suffering euthanasia. That rests completely with the shelter and it's management and staff. The other shelters in MD manage to do this. Baltimore County can if the residents (and constituents) insist on this.

    1. Darla,
      Thanks for your comment. I agree that there have been many problems in the past, but the county actually is beginning to address them. There is a new volunteer coordinator and the shelter will be hiring a foster coordinator as well. The new shelter director, dr. Melissa Jones appears to be a real animal lover who cares and is working hard to begin to implement successful programs. I believe the shelter will also be creating many new partnerships with rescues that it has not worked with in the past. All of the improvements we want to see are going to take time but I believe everything is moving in the right direction. Feel free to share your thoughts any time.


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