Commission on animal abuse faults city for inaction

A mayoral commission has issued a highly critical report challenging Baltimore's commitment to eradicating violence against dogs and cats, citing a lack of police investigation and poor conditions for captured strays.

And five members of the Anti-Animal Abuse Commission, including chairman Caroline Griffin, have resigned in protest because of the city's inaction, Griffin said.

"City Hall has failed to recognize or endorse this report," Griffin said. "By failing to recognize the problems, it's impossible to fix the problems."

The commission was created in 2009 after a pit bull, later named Phoenix, was soaked with gasoline and set on fire in West Baltimore. The city released the report Friday in response to a request from The Baltimore Sun.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is reviewing the report closely and will urge city agencies to address the concerns raised, spokesman Ian Brennan said.

"The city does not tolerate animal abuse, and will do everything reasonable and what it can to stop it, including raising public awareness in our communities," Brennan said. "This administration will not give up trying to reduce animal abuse in Baltimore."

He said that since taking office, the mayor has urged relevant city agencies to work together to protect animals and noted that city has launched a "Show Your Softer Side" public-awareness campaign.

Griffin, however, said Baltimore has lost significant ground in the last year in its effort to curb animal abuse. Both the health and police departments allowed cases to go untracked and uninvestigated, while city government continued to underfund abuse prevention efforts, she said.  

Griffin, a lawyer, said she and some other commission members concluded that they can achieve more progress through advocacy outside City Hall rather than working within the confines of what they say is an apathetic city government.

"Our work on this commission was becoming an exercise in futility," she said. The commission had about 30 members.

The panel's report said the Baltimore City Office of Animal Control is "chronically underfunded and understaffed," calling the agency the "neglected step-child" of the Baltimore City Health Department.

"Over the past year, we have witnessed a decline in the quality of cases investigated," it said.

In 2012, animal control received 24,132 calls for service, including 4,071 in which animals were in jeopardy. The commission said the city's decision to employ just one animal control officer overnight was "unacceptable."

Ann Gearhart of the nonprofit Snyder Foundation for Animals, who remains a member of the commission, said Friday that she is "enormously disheartened" at the resignations. She said the commission lacked the cooperation of several city departments, including juvenile services, social services and health. Gearhart said many city representatives on the panel haven't attended meetings in months.

"Our hands have been tied," Gearhart said. "Having said that, I am hoping this is just a stumbling block and that the mayor is going to take very seriously the work we have commissioned."

Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater and Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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