A tale of two shelters
Still, Shenk points out that other shelters perform less euthanizations than Carroll's.
For instance, Harford County's animal shelter, operated under contract by the nonprofit Humane Society of Harford County, euthanized cats and dogs in 2013 at rates of 46 percent and 20 percent, respectively. The rates are 44 percent for cats and 9 percent for dogs excluding owner-requested euthanizations. The rates are lower than Carroll's.
But Ratliff said there are important distinctions between the two shelters.
For instance, Harford's shelter does not operate animal control services. Instead, all of the Harford shelter's 21 staff are devoted to shelter services, and certain employees have specialized tasks, such as handling volunteers and managing intake and outcome data.
Carroll's shelter, by contrast, has 11 employees, and only seven operate the humane society's shelter; the other four are animal control officers. With more than 3,000 dogs and cats coming into the shelter's door each year, the staff can get overwhelmed, Ratliff said.
And that is not the only difference.
With more funding, Harford's humane society is able to run various promotions - even opening up an adoption center at a local mall. This year, about $650,000 of Harford's funding comes from the county, and about $500,000 from fees for services, contributions and donations, said David Fang, president of the board of directors for Harford's humane society.
With $810,000 in funding this fiscal year from the county, Carroll's humane society is unable to devote as much time to promotions, let alone opening additional space for animals to be held. Carroll's humane society receives donations, but that funding can be limited.
Without the funding, Carroll's shelter does not have the same tools that other shelters do, leading to some noticeably different outcomes. For instance, Ratliff initially provided to the Times inaccurate numbers for the total canines brought to the shelter in 2013.
Part of the reason is that Ratliff has no computer software to track such data, instead accounting for animals and their outcomes by hand using paper spreadsheets. Several calls later, Ratliff produced the correct numbers.
In contrast, Fang confidently provided such data pulled from his shelter's animal tracking software.
Ratliff said she is investigating, along with IT staff in the county government, a software system that will track intake and outcome numbers.
Unfortunately for Ratliff, additional funding appears to be up in the air for next year.
The county's staff did not recommend funding a kennel expansion, a spay and neuter wellness clinic or additional storage for Carroll's shelter in their Preliminary Recommended Community Investment Plan. The plan was presented Thursday during a county commissioners meeting.
Despite the limited resources, Shenk, of Animal Advocates, said there is still more that can be done. She noted the shelter could work with other groups in the community to increase adoptions. She said adoptions also need to be promoted more aggressively, and the times that the shelter offers adoptions - 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays - should be expanded.
Ratliff said she does work with other groups in the community to save animals, including Metro Ferals, which operates a trap, neuter, return program in Carroll. She said she even works with some members of Shenk's group to help find dogs and cats a home.
As for adoption times, Ratliff would be happy to expand them, she said, if she had more staff to do so. She said she is wary of relying on volunteers to expand hours, because they can be unreliable.
Fang, of Harford's shelter, said given Carroll's shelter's level of funding and staffing, it should not be criticized. Instead, county leaders and the community at-large should work to find solutions to any problems it has.
"What Nicky needs is not people screaming at the county [commissioners] ... what she needs are people coming up with solutions and donating money so she can hire people to help her," Fang said.