Humane Society of Harford County leaders have not yet made any changes to their policies regarding the handling and euthanasia of animals considered dangerous, but they are continuing to review the situation after staffers at the shelter euthanized a Bel Air man's cat they claimed was acting in a threatening manner.
Members of the Humane Society's board met Friday morning Bel Air and the hold policies were discussed, two board members confirmed.
"It was an unfortunate incident," board President David Fang said of the death of Robert Brooks' female cat Mistoffelees in late June, which occurred within hours after the animal was brought to the society's Fallston shelter as a stray. "However, we are always looking at ways to improve things about our operation, from customer service to the appearance of the property to working with the animals, to specific polices such as the one we're dealing with now."
The Humane Society's shelter serves as a "designated drop-off facility" for pets either picked up by county animal control officers, or brought in by members of the public, according to Aaron Tomarchio, chief of staff for Harford County Executive David Craig and the county government's representative on the Humane Society board.
Tomarchio stressed Friday that board members did not "make any hasty decisions" regarding shelter policies, but agreed to have staff and board members bring recommendations to the next board meeting scheduled for August.
"We did make a commitment to look into it and to figure out what we may need to change," he said.
Fang stressed shelter staff "apologized profusely" to Brooks, who had owned the cat for 18 years after finding her in the street during the mid 1990s. Brooks was invited him to discuss the matter further, Fang said, but he has not yet approached them.
"Frankly, we're sorry for the loss of his cat, just as we would be sorry for the loss of anyone's treasured pet," he added.
Brooks said he had spoken with the shelter manager, but did not want to only have private communications with the Humane Society.
"I'm vested in this, and I believe the minimum I can get out of this is some change," he explained Friday.
Brooks has contacted an attorney, Anne Benaroya, also executive director of the Maryland Animal Law Center.
He said he did not know how difficult it would be to lose Mistoffelees until she was gone. He said she would "greet me loudly" in the mornings and when he came home from work.
"She was either on your lap or bringing you toys," he said.
"I'm not trying to attack people," Brooks added. "But I really think its time for change here and everybody needs to pony up for that."
Mistoffelees, an indoor cat who had been declawed on her front paws, was brought to the Humane Society on June 28 by a neighbor, who found her after she had gotten out of the house while Brooks was out of town, according to Brooks' written account of what happened.
The cat, who did not wear a collar because she did not like them, according to Brooks, was placed in a cage, and staffers tried to approach her by using a prosthetic hand attached to a stick.
"They're normally scared of the hand, and if it's inserted into the cage, they go to the side to get away," Mary Leavens, executive director of the shelter, told The Baltimore Sun. "This one was biting it with its ears pinned back and hissing."
Staffers said Mistoffelees was aggressive and tried to scratch them and remained aggressive when they approached her again after giving her about 30 minutes to cool off, Leavens said. Staffers sedated the cat and scanned her to find a microchip, but did not find one. Mistoffelees was euthanized about an hour after shelter staff initially made contact with her.
"There was nothing to indicate that this underweight cat with a scratch on its nose had a home," Fang wrote in a statement posted on the Humane Society's Facebook page.
The Humane Society can hold stray cats for up to three days, according to its website, and euthanizes dogs and cats for a number of reasons before that three-day hold period ends, including the animal's temperament, its health, a lack of space if an animal is not adopted or fostered, or at the owner's request.
"The decision to end an animal's life is never, regardless of the reason, made arbitrarily or capriciously. It is a sad reality for us, and one, we are working very hard to change," Humane Society officials stated on their web page. "Please let us tell you about ways you might join us and help save the lives of pets in our community."
The Humane Society, an independent, nonprofit entity, has a "contractual arrangement" with the county to operate the shelter, Tomarchio explained. The county provides operating funds to the Humane Society each year; $650,000 was allocated in the Fiscal Year 2014 operating budget through the Department of Inspections, Licenses & Permits, according to budget documents posted on the county website.
The organization is also planning to build a new shelter on its Connolly Road property, and the county has allocated $7.05 million its capital budget for planning and construction.