"[They] portray the shelter as a slaughterhouse," he said. "If you want to meet with me, pick up the bloody phone and don't use a public forum."
Fang gave a few examples of these attacks. One was a June 19 post made by a woman who had applied for a job at the humane society about a year ago but was not hired. The post began, "Something rotten at HSHC? Could it be the smell of dead animal flesh?" Another post made by HOPE on June 23 called the humane society "sneaky," referring to its adoptions page being "out of order" and saying they "added a bunch of animals back to the page to make it longer." The humane society's executive director, Mary Leavens, said the shelter's computer software, which is being updated, caused the glitch and was not done intentionally.
Normally, Fang, Leavens and others with the humane society don't respond to posts made by HOPE. The one time Fang did say something was when he saw his home address posted along with the humane society's, which was meant to encourage members to write letters. He asked HOPE to remove his address from the page. Dent responded to the post, saying, "The address listed on our page is your business address that is listed on the Internet, but if you prefer to use the shelter address we will most certainly change it."
The shelter and the county, which helps fund the facility, are proud of their statistics. Fang noted that in 2010, more dogs were returned to owners — 427 in all — than there were euthanized, and 524 were adopted. Because of the large number of cats brought in every year — more than twice the amount of dogs — the statistics are quite different: 861 cats were adopted and 39 were returned to their owners.
Aaron Tomarchio, the county executive's chief of staff and county liaison on the humane society board, also believes the shelter is doing a good job.
"If we were any other jurisdiction and didn't have a relationship [with the humane society], our obligation would be to hold the animals for 72 hours, and after 72 hours our obligation is concluded. If it were a county-run shelter or space, animals would be euthanized after 72 hours," Tomarchio said about the reality of other county-run programs. "They have an opportunity to have a new lease on life, to be adopted and be cared for the way a county-run program wouldn't be able to give them."
"Would we have preferred it [the number of animals euthanized] to be zero? Of course we would have," Fang said. But Fang added the shelter is open-admission, meaning it doesn't turn away any animals regardless of health, age or any other factor. With limited space and resources and taking the well-being of the other shelter animals and general public into consideration, he said having a no-kill shelter isn't possible at this time.
The decision to euthanize an animal isn't "done willy-nilly," Fang noted. The shelter's staff, veterinarians and Harford County Animal Control judge the temperament of dogs and cats. Medical screenings are also done.
Fang stressed that the shelter takes "the matter of public safety very, very seriously." They refuse to let animals who have a history of biting and other violent behavior be adopted. "When the feral [cats] come in, we have no choice. If Animal Control is bringing in feral cats, we do not want those feral cats put back where they were a nuisance."
Dent and HOPE don't believe the shelter is "forthright in information with the public," a thought reiterated throughout the organization's Facebook page.
She said the humane society publishes weekly numbers of how many animals were adopted and returned to owners online, but doesn't list how many were killed. "They never really acknowledge the problem," she said.
While it appears the shelter does not post the number of animals euthanized on a weekly basis, it has begun posting year-end numbers for the public to see. Last year was the first the shelter did that.
Fang said prior management "miserably kept" records and they were unable to publish accurate statistics.
"When it came to our attention, I said, 'This is crazy. Fix this.' We can't run a place and have all those animals in inventory and not know who there are, where they are," Fang said.
Leavens said two big reasons why a post doesn't go up online when an animal has been euthanized is because it doesn't effectively convince someone to adopt and invites a barrage of questions – and possibly judgment – from people upset about the animal's death. The majority of shelters don't post those numbers online, Leavens said.
As Leavens explained, if a post were made on HSHC's Facebook page or website about "Fluffy" having to be put down, naturally the public would want to know the reasons behind the decision. Someone at the shelter would then explain why the decision was made (Leavens gave an example of bad health, teeth falling out, vision problems and other medical conditions). If the person commenting on the post didn't agree with the shelter's reasoning, that person could easily start a vicious cycle of more people getting involved and potentially deter future adopters or donors.
If someone does call the shelter asking about a particular animal, Leavens said, they will respond with "that animal is no longer with this shelter."
In terms of shelter programs, HOPE believes simple things can be done to improve the facility.
One practice that can be put in place, Dent said, is to change the shelter's hours of operation. The facility is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, as posted on its website.
Dent thinks this could pose a problem for people who wish to visit animals for possible adoption as "most people are not out of work" by the time the shelter closes during the week. She thinks if the shelter remained open later once or twice a week, it could make a difference. "It takes staff time, but you get bang for your buck," she said.