Howard animal shelter receives mysterious 5-figure donation

The Howard County Animal Shelter announced Wednesday that it is $81,796 richer, thanks to an unexplained bequest from the will of a Columbia woman. 

The sizeable donation comes from Mary Jean Harris, a resident of the Park View retirement community who passed away at age 89 on May 18, 2012. Harris left the balance of her estate to the shelter but didn't explain the reason why. 

According to Howard County officials, a records search didn't turn up any clues -- Harris hadn't worked for, volunteered with, or adopted a pet from the shelter. The county said family members were not available to shed light on the will. 

Deborah Baracco, the administrator of Animal Control, said the gift would help the shelter supply important resources to the animals it houses. 

“This random kindness from someone who obviously cared for animals means so much to our operation," Baracco said. "Donations serve a special purpose separate from our regular budget. It provides important supplies and resources like dog beds, thundershirts, medicines, low-cost spay and neutering, and pet care assistance for low-income residents and helps our staff and volunteers care and find homes for the animals that come to us.”

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman called the gift "generous." 

“This will go a long way toward helping our shelter care for the animals that need it and further protect public safety in the community when animals are involved," he said.

The Howard County Animal Shelter's annual budget is about $1.6 million. The largest donation the shelter has ever received was $122,000 in 2010. More recently, the shelter received a $17,000 gift in 2013.  

The shelter is located at 8576 Davis Road in Columbia. 

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