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County hears residents' concerns on animal control services

A group of residents spoke to three members of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners Monday night to air its concerns about the service provided by the nonprofit running the county's animal control services.

Critics said the county's animal control shelter does not do all it can to ensure that animals are not euthanized at its facilities. Animal control services are run by the Humane Society of Carroll County Inc., located on Littlestown Pike in Westminster. The county's humane society is independent of the Humane Society of the United States.

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County Commissioners Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, Haven Shoemaker, R-District 2, and Doug Howard, R-District 5, attended the listening session, which allowed residents to speak their minds on the issue. The listening session was held in the Ronald Reagan Meeting Room at the county office building.

More than 40 people attended the session, many of whom were critics of the shelter, some who worked for the humane society and others who defended their work.

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A common complaint from critics focused on the hours of adoption at the shelter, which run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays.

"We don't think the hours really meet the need," said Laura Shenk, founder of Animal Advocates of Carroll County, who spoke at the meeting.

Others with Animal Advocates said they would prefer a "no-kill" shelter in the county or at least to see the humane society use practices that lead to less euthanasia of animals. Other ideas included setting up low-cost spay and neuter services at the shelter, creating a better location for the shelter, further promotion of adoption services or doing more to prevent pet owners from giving up their animals.

Employees and defenders of the humane society agreed with some of the recommendations, but virtually all said a no-kill shelter would not meet the county's needs. They claimed personal attacks had ramped up against the 12 employees at the shelter, which they said needed to stop.

Of the 1,066 dogs brought to the humane society from January to the end of November, 32 percent were euthanized, according to Carolyn Ratliff, executive director of the humane society. For the 2,232 cats brought in during the same period, 60 percent were euthanized, Ratliff said, who did not attend the meeting but spoke to the Times beforehand.

Those numbers do not include the 197 dogs and 260 cats that were brought to the shelter in the same period by their owners for humane euthanasia, she said. Most of these animals are brought in because the owners cannot afford to take them to their veterinarian, she said.

There is no reliable data for national or state rates of euthanasia for cats and dogs at animal shelters.

However, an informal email survey conducted by the Professional Animal Workers of Maryland, Inc. on major shelters in the state found that 10,677 dogs and 34,860 cats are euthanized in shelters in the state, according to a state task force report released in December 2012.

At the meeting, Edward Smith, an animal control officer for the humane society, said he did not think no-kill shelters work, based on his research.

Smith cited the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has refused to support the no-kill shelter approach. PETA's website alleges there are problems with such shelters hoarding too many cats and dogs. The website also claims many animals are turned away by them.

However, Smith said he agreed that low-cost spay and neuter services may be a good option to consider at the shelter, along with other measures.

"Another location down in the southern part of the county, I think, is absolutely vital," Smith said, who is also a New Windsor town councilman. "Extended hours? Absolutely. Can it be done for a very small or at no additional costs to the taxpayers? I believe that can be done."

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Commisoner Shoemaker asked how many members of the audience would be interested in being on a task force or committee to help adopt a plan to reduce euthanasia at the shelter. Several people raised their hands.

The humane society's budget is based mostly on county funds, and some donations. The county funded the shelter to the tune of $810,390 this fiscal year for its operating budget. However, if one includes the funding that goes toward benefits for humane society employees, the total cost to the county is $883,370 for Fiscal Year 2014.

Ratliff, with the humane society, did not know how much in donations have come in so far this fiscal year.

According to the shelter's 990 tax filing for 2012, the amount of donations that came in was $87,003 for last fiscal year, with more than $90,000 of other revenue coming in from program fees and investments.

Commisoner Howard said in an interview after the session that he thought concerned residents and those with the society should adopt a plan - including how to fund it - to reduce euthanasia at the shelter. He said he would be comfortable with allocating additional county money for the humane society if there was a solid plan in place.

"Let's come up with a plan and goal and we can work backwards to get the resources for how to do it," Howard said.

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