The only open-admission animal shelter in Baltimore City has taken in an unprecedented number of animals in 2023.
Staff at Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter say the restart of evictions, following a few years of respite due to pandemic rental assistance and eviction moratoriums, is a leading factor in the increase.
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“Evictions not happening was a very huge help. I think that’s a lot of the rebound we’re seeing now,” said Bobbie Mammato, BARCS’ director of veterinary medicine. “We have a lot of people who are now homeless that will surrender their animals, and animal control brings in a lot of animals from evictions where people left them behind.”
Earlier this year, city staff told the city council Baltimore will exhaust its federal eviction relief money by mid-March.
With 828 animals, BARCS set a record for intake for the month of January, which officials found worrisome because intake is always highest in the spring and summer months.
BARCS isn’t the only area shelter struggling with the influx. Anne Arundel County Animal Care & Control waived adoption fees for dogs to alleviate capacity problems in late February. The Severna Park shelter is also open-admission, but it “has reached the limit of its ability to house and care for the dogs it already has,” Administrator Robin Catlett said in a news release.
The Anne Arundel shelter hasn’t needed to euthanize animals for years, “but we are currently on the brink of being forced to make those awful decisions for dogs,” Catlett said.
The BARCS shelter in Cherry Hill takes in around 10,000 animals each year, 10% are considered in need of emergency medical care and 90% are dogs and cats, said Bailey Deacon, BARCS’ communications director. Half the intake comes from city animal control while the rest are citizens surrendering their pets. The shelter generally houses around 330 animals at any given time, while more than 600 are with foster families.
In 2020 and 2021, intake dipped to around 7,000 animals, which allowed the shelter to expand access to free food, vaccines and medical services.
Alexa Jones, marketing director at the Baltimore Humane Society, also said pets surrendered by owners dropped too in 2020 and 2021. The shelter in Reisterstown is not open-admission and takes in around 1,200 pets each year.
When BARCS opened in 2004, the nonprofit replaced a city shelter with a live release rate of 2%, meaning only two of every 100 animals brought were adopted.
“When I started at the shelter there was a 5% release rate,” said Mammato, who was was hired as the shelter’s first staff veterinarian in 2007. “One hundred animals would come in and only five would leave alive. Now we are over 90%. We’re an open admission shelter. We take everyone, we say no to no one.”
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Currently the shelter has six veterinarians, 10 veterinary technicians and performs 40 surgeries each day.
But the shelter is continually challenged. An ultrasound machine donated by a local hospital recently broke and drug prices have doubled, even quadrupled in recent months.
Mammato said she has been trying to hire a seventh veterinarian for the last six months, but often can’t compete with signing bonuses and salaries offered by corporate animal hospitals.
Mammato specializes in infectious diseases and said her eyes are like a microscope. She is currently renovating a closet to serve as an isolation space for new admissions with zoonotic diseases such as Parvo or leptospirosis, which can be transmitted to humans. Generally, new admissions are unvaccinated.
“I have burned through our entire medical budget in six months. The winter is supposed to be our slow season when we can ramp up operations, but this year that never happened — never. There wasn’t a day where we weren’t overwhelmed,” Mammato said. “I don’t think you need to have a certain amount of money to love an animal and to take care of an animal. We need to get better as a community of taking care of animals.”
To volunteer, donate or adopt, visit BARCS.org or call 410-396-4695.
Capital Gazette editor Brooks DuBose contributed to this article.