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Residents sue Baltimore County over animal shelter conditions

Lawsuit claims Baltimore County animal shelter is "filthy"

A group of residents is suing Baltimore County officials over conditions at the government-run animal shelter, alleging animals there aren't getting fresh food, clean water and proper medical care.

The lawsuit, filed this week in Baltimore County Circuit Court by residents Anne George of Timonium, Jody Kesner of Pikesville and Jody Rosoff of Essex, contends that county government has violated its own laws that require the animals' basic needs to be met at the Baldwin shelter.

"Workers at [Baltimore County Animal Shelter] routinely fail to give enough food to the animals and, consequently, some animals are malnourished or starving," the lawsuit claims. "The animal cages at BCAS are dirty and filthy and do not appear to be regularly cleaned."

Don Mohler, county spokesman and chief of staff for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, called the lawsuit "absolutely absurd."

"If you look up 'frivolous lawsuit' in the dictionary, there would be a picture of this complaint," Mohler said in a statement to The Baltimore Sun. "It is the type of thing that makes people just shake their heads in disgust."

The lawsuit seeks an injunction that would require the county to "appropriately appoint, train, and qualify employees and workers" and enforce legal requirements to provide the animals with basic necessities. The suit names Kamenetz as a defendant, as well as county health officer Dr. Gregory William Branch and Thomas Scollins, administrator of the county's animal services division. Branch and Scollins could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit also alleges that some animals have been euthanized unnecessarily. The suit says a dog named Bear was euthanized Dec. 1, even though a rescue group was interested in taking Bear. The lawsuit alleges that shelter staff "failed to perform an adequate assessment before concluding that Bear was too aggressive to be adoptable or rescuable."

In addition, the plaintiffs allege that disease spreads at the facility because sick animals are not isolated from healthy ones. And they say animals don't receive appropriate vaccinations when they get to the shelter.

The lawsuit also alleges that shelter employees don't make reasonable efforts to locate and notify owners of impounded animals.

County officials have faced public criticism of the shelter in recent months. In October, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland wrote to the county attorney alleging that residents' free-speech rights had been violated because the shelter banned people from taking photos inside the shelter — a policy the ACLU said appeared to be aimed at squelching criticism.

ACLU Maryland spokeswoman Meredith Curtis said Friday that representatives of her organization have met with county officials about the issue "and are hopeful that we can work out a clear First Amendment policy for the shelter."

In response to previous criticism, county officials have rebutted claims that animals don't receive proper care.

They also point to plans to build a new $6 million facility to replace the current one, saying that will alleviate many of the public's concerns.

alisonk@baltsun.com

twitter.com/aliknez

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