The county has considered turning the operation over to a nonprofit. Officials issued a request for proposals a month ago, with responses initially due last week. They extended the deadline to May 15 after animal advocates said the timeline was too short.

The county also relaxed some requirements. The original request for proposals called for organizations to operate their own shelter. But officials changed it to say they would consider sharing space at the existing shelter.

Mohler said the county extended the deadline to give more organizations a chance to turn in proposals.

"We want to get as many as possible," he said. Officials would not say whether the county had received any.

In addition to connecting pets with adoptive homes, the county operation is charged with providing rabies clinics, seizing animals in animal-cruelty and dog-fighting cases, and picking up strays.

"Our primary role is a public health and safety role," director Tom Scollins said. "We're many times just stretched thin doing that."

The county's animal-control division employs 28 workers, and the shelter has eight volunteers who perform clerical work, do laundry and care for animals.

Some say more volunteers could help with the workload.

"When it comes to animals, there are a lot of people that would like to volunteer and help out," County Councilman Todd Huff said.

Donna Bernstein, an animal advocate from Pikesville, said volunteers could coordinate adoption events, socialize cats and take care of other shelter needs.

"There are so many really effective positions if they would just let people in," she said. "Right now, they just will not deal with the vast majority of reputable rescues."

Scollins said the shelter works with many rescue operations.

"You can't make everybody happy all the time," he said. "It is certainly everybody's goal here to get as many animals adopted as possible. That's why they're in this line of work."

State lawmakers tried last year to open the shelter to more volunteers. Del. Wade Kach, a Republican from northern Baltimore County who said he has received complaints from constituents about the shelter over the years, sponsored a bill that would have required the county to allow volunteers to help with adoptions.

"They were shutting out groups that were advocates for animals," he said. "That was the main problem."

Kamenetz's administration lobbied against the proposal. Mohler said the shelter is not equipped to accommodate a large number of volunteers.

Kach is hopeful that the proposed public-private partnership would improve conditions for the animals.

"I think they're going to have a better shot at getting adopted," he said.

Whether the county finds a nonprofit to run the shelter, officials plan to hold on to their animal-control responsibilities, including confronting rabies and animal cruelty. The county would not lay off its animal-control employees, officials said, but it is unclear whether their duties would change. Officials said they did not know how much a private takeover of the shelter would cost.

Lawmakers say they'll keep pushing for change.

Del. Jon Cardin has reintroduced legislation that would require the shelter to provide volunteer opportunities, and the county's House delegation is to vote on the measure Friday. The Owings Mills Democrat said he believes the county needs to be pushed to improve the shelter.

"We feel that if they're not going to do anything that's meaningful, we need to put the legislation in to push them," Cardin said.