Dave Ledford, a self-described “huge animal lover,” has worked at the Carroll County Humane Society for two years.
On Monday, he attempted to reassure about 50 community members attending a meeting at the county office building to discuss the use of euthanasia at the humane society that employees try to do the best thing for each animal they receive.
“Sometimes euthanizing an animal is the best thing for that animal,” Ledford said. “It’s part of our job. It’s not an easy part of our job, but sometimes that is the best thing for the animal. Sometimes the animal is suffering.”
The Board of Carroll County Commissioners hosted a more than two-hour “listening meeting” Monday to hear the concerns of citizens with Animal Advocates of Carroll County.
Animal Advocates, a group of about a dozen citizens, believes the county humane society is not doing enough to make pets received by the shelter available for adoption, which leads to more use of euthanasia.
More than 20 residents spoke at the meeting, sharing concerns with the number of animals euthanized at the shelter, the feasibility of creating a no-kill shelter, and the possibility of forming a citizen committee to increase communication between residents and the shelter.
County Commissioner Haven Shoemaker called for the meeting because he believes commissioners should hear the concerns from Animal Advocates, but he added that he is not “on one side or the other.”
Shoemaker was joined at the meeting by commissioners Doug Howard and Richard Rothschild.
More than 3,000 cats and dogs come through the doors of the Carroll County Humane Society in Westminster each year.
The Animal Advocates group believes that limited adoption hours are an issue that leads to more euthanasia, according to its founder, Laura Shenk.
“The hours are so bad,” Shenk said. “How can you expect to get animals adopted when you’re only open when people are at work?”
The Humane Society is open for adoptions from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
Humane Society Executive Director Nicky Ratliff said the adoption hours are based on staffing, adding that her staff does a “tremendous amount” of marketing animals available for adoption through their website, a weekly television program, and newspaper advertisements.
Ratliff, who speaks openly about her disagreement with the accusations made by Animal Advocates, believes her staff is being unfairly criticized for just doing their job.
“This is my dream job,” she said of running the animal shelter, which she has done for 31 years. “It doesn’t make you feel great when people say you’re killing animals.”
Ratliff did not attend Monday’s meeting, but a handful of humane society employees spoke in support of the work done by the organization.
Ed Smith, an animal control officer at the humane society, said the agenda of Animal Advocates is to create a no-kill shelter, which “simply will not work” because it presents the issue of housing so many animals when they cannot be euthanized.
“We all strive for higher adoption rates,” he said.
Shenk said Animal Advocates of Carroll County, founded in 2009, was formed to organize volunteers for adoption events with the shelter, but they later became disturbed when they learned how many animals were being euthanized.
Their goal now is to increase the live release rate, which is the percentage of pets adopted or reunited with their owner, at the shelter, according to Shenk.
From Jan. 1 through Nov. 30, the Humane Society took in 3,298 cats and dogs, according to Ratliff.
Of the 1,066 dogs taken in by the Humane Society, 373, or 35 percent, have been euthanized, including 197 requested by the dog’s owner. Of the 2,232 cats, 1,406, or 63 percent, have been euthanized, including 260 requested by the cat’s owner.
According to a National Council on Pet Population and Policy 2011 nationwide survey, 56 percent of dogs and 71 percent of cats received by humane societies across the country were euthanized.
Humane societies across the state differ in how they are run because they are independent organizations. Some humane societies handle animal control operations, like Carroll does, but it is governed by county ordinances.
According to Ratliff, all of the adoptable dogs brought into the shelter are being placed. The rest are too dangerous or old to be adopted.
Ratliff said there are just not enough homes in Carroll to place all of the kittens brought into the shelter.
She added that the humane society is limited to how many cats it can keep on site due to the potential spread of viruses.
“You have to make some tough choices,” Ratliff said.
The Humane Society has been able to alleviate this problem to an extent with an adoption agreement with PETCO.
At least four kittens are available at the pet supply chain every day from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., according to Ratliff.
Since Oct. 2012, 180 cats have been adopted through the agreement with PETCO.
Shenk agreed that the PETCO program is “wonderful,” but added her group “feels strongly” that the humane society can do better.
“They work for the community and they need to be able to meet the community’s needs,” she said.
The county has allocated $883,370 to the Humane Society for fiscal year 2014 to provide animal care and control throughout the county. The county and the Humane Society agreed to a five-year memorandum of understanding in July to continue providing animal control services. The memorandum is updated every five years.
Ratliff said any agency can always do more to meet the community’s needs, but it’s dependent upon funding and space.
“Anybody who says there nothing more you can do is crazy,” Ratliff said.
After the meeting Monday, Rothschild and Howard said it is incumbent upon the commissioners to meet with the humane society and discuss the information presented.
The possibility of forming a citizen ad-hoc committee to work with the humane society will also be explored, Rothschild said.