The Baltimore County Council is considering creation of an advisory commission to offer oversight of the county's animal shelter, which has come under fire in recent months from animal advocates.
Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Democrat from Reisterstown, introduced a bill at Monday night's council meeting to create the commission, which will offer recommendations for how to best run the county's shelter in Baldwin.
"We're really a little unclear at the moment about what's going on at the shelter," Almond said. "There have been so many accusations and so many rumors, so we feel this group would be able to put a very honest, detailed report together for all of us."
All seven council members cosponsored the bill, which will come up for a vote Feb. 2.
Ellen Kobler, a spokeswoman for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said the commission is not necessary because the county already has an Animal Hearing Board that, in addition to hearing appeals of animal control citations, can make recommendations on animal issues.
"It also appears to be an overreaction to a small group of advocates who are part of a national movement demanding that the county and all public shelters release wild feral cats into our neighborhoods," Kobler said in a statement.
Animal advocates have criticized the county's shelter, alleging poor management, substandard conditions for animals, a lack of effort to adopt as many animals as possible and poor relationships with volunteers.
Last week, three county residents filed a lawsuit in Baltimore County Circuit Court in an attempt to compel the county to change the shelter's practices. They alleged the county is violating its own code by not providing fresh food, clean water and proper medical care to animals at the shelter.
In the fall, the American Civil Liberties Union alleged that the First Amendment rights of shelter volunteers had been violated when they were told they could not take pictures in the shelter. The volunteers have said they want to take pictures of adoptable animals to promote them on social media.
County officials have defended animal control practices and noted that a new animal shelter will open later this year on the grounds of the existing shelter, which officials have acknowledged is old and undersized.
The new $6 million facility will include a "meet and greet" room for potential adopters to check out adoptable pets, a surgical room, a cat observatory and socialization room, more offices, a quarantine area for sick animals and two dog parks — one for shelter dogs and one for the general public.
Almond's bill — which she said has been in the works for months — would create an 11-member Animal Services Advisory Commission, with seven members appointed by the council and four appointed by Kamenetz.
They would be required to meet at least quarterly, inspect the shelter and produce annual recommendations on budgets and policies for the county's Animal Services Division. Almond hopes the commission also would discuss the feasibility of having a nonprofit run the shelter, similar to the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter in Baltimore City.
Almond's bill also would require the county to keep records of the number of animals that come into the shelter and how many are adopted and euthanized each year. Almond said she's received incomplete data from the county.
"We would like to have a more detailed report on a regular basis," Almond said.
A few dozen animal advocates attended Monday's council meeting. Donna Bernstein, an advocate from Pikesville, said she hopes Almond's bill "is a first step in a short journey, and not a long journey."
Beth Gibbs, a shelter volunteer from Parkville, said advocates were gratified council members have listened to them.
"Clearly you heard our frustration," she said.