Volunteer Griffin Carlson, 12, of Union Bridge cares for felines in the Community Cat Room at the Humane Society of Carroll County in Westminster.
Volunteer Griffin Carlson, 12, of Union Bridge cares for felines in the Community Cat Room at the Humane Society of Carroll County in Westminster. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

There’s a 100-pound African horn tortoise in Karen Baker’s office.

And, along with that tortoise is a very energetic black dog and a cage with a mama rabbit and her just-born babies. The tortoise is a runaway. The dog, which came from the Humane Society of Carroll County (HSCC), belongs to Baker, executive director of the shelter. And the bunny was abandoned.

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It’s just another day at HSCC for Baker and her colleagues.

A 100-pound African horn tortoise is shown in at the Humane Society of Carroll County.
A 100-pound African horn tortoise is shown in at the Humane Society of Carroll County. (Courtesy photo)

As the receptacle for the lost and abandoned, abused and neglected animals in Carroll County, HSCC is met each day with the responsibility for and fate of countless animals. Once considered a “very high kill shelter,” says Baker, “we are now a progressive shelter.”

“We are saving lives," she adds.

According to HSCC, in 2018, the shelter took in 4,945 animals, 95 percent of which were live releases, meaning the animals were adopted, reclaimed by the owner or saved through other life-saving actions.

And, while events such as the Black Rock Dogs cruelty case receive lots of attention there are also the day-to-day struggles and challenges of caring for animals and meeting their needs. Behind the work of HSCC are its people, including volunteers and fosters, whose lives have been touched by the animals in their keep.

A temporary home, a second chance

Sunshine, a cat, had to have her leg amputated, the result of an injured paw. And she needed a quiet place to heal. That place would be Lydia Hoover’s home. Hoover fosters cats and kittens. But this time she was asked to take on Sunshine and her special needs.

“She had to learn to walk again,” says Hoover.

Keen to her likes and dislikes, Hoover discovered that Sunshine loved cheese. Especially Parmesan cheese. “I got her to walk a little bit more, run a little bit more and go up steps using Parmesan cheese,” she says.

Despite her busy life and work as an attorney, Hoover has made time to foster 40 cats and kittens since the HSCC program began in 2015. She has even created a special room in her home just for them. She feeds them, provides medical care if needed and socializes them.

“No matter how good a shelter is, it is a very stressful environment for cats,” says Hoover.

Hoover has four cats of her own, including Maxwell. A friendly orange cat adopted from HSCC, Maxwell had been dumped in a local cemetery while still confined in his carrier. A good Samaritan took him to the HSCC. From there he became part of Hoover’s family.

“Maxwell is a great foster cat dad,” says Hoover, smiling. “He loves kittens. He will cuddle with the kittens and groom them.”

A bond with the temporary guests is created by both Maxwell and Hoover. And saying goodbye is never easy. “I cry,”’ says Hoover.

But she takes comfort in the fact that she has done her part and cats and kittens like Sunshine move on and find families of their own. “I’m kind of that stopping point along the way,” she says. “That’s fulfilling to me.”

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Adventures with Animal Control

Cats and dogs and kangaroos?

“I thought it was a prank when I got the call,” says Mike Keiner, an animal control officer.

This kangaroo was rescued by the Humane Society of Carroll County. It took all day.
This kangaroo was rescued by the Humane Society of Carroll County. It took all day. (Courtesy photo)

Most of the calls HSCC receives involve domestic animals or wildlife. But then there are the more unusual encounters. An inhabitant of a local petting zoo, the kangaroo got out when a gate was left open. With the help of an owner from another nearby petting zoo and a 100-foot net, the ‘roo was corralled safely.

“It took us all day long,” says Keiner.

Other calls have included a squirrel in a toilet, a black snake in a toilet, an owl who flew through an open window and refused to leave the back seat of a car, a 20-foot long boa constrictor at the bottom of a freshly dug grave discovered hours before the funeral and a tarantula a woman discovered while weeding her garden.

Some of the calls involve “frequent flyers,” such as Taz, a dog who ran away so often that an officer had only to call out his name and he would trot over and jump into the vehicle.

Then there are the more disturbing calls. Keiner remembers going to check on the welfare of some dogs. “They were in kennels laying in their own feces and urine,” he recalls.

If that wasn’t concerning enough, “then I looked down the hall. I thought what is wrong with this picture? Why are there bars on this door and kids inside? Something is wrong here.”

The authorities were notified, and the children removed from the home.

Animal control officer Dawn Kinna gets to know a dog in the line of duty.
Animal control officer Dawn Kinna gets to know a dog in the line of duty. (Courtesy photo)

Besides going on calls and attending to animals in need, the officers enforce laws involving animals, are well-versed in disaster preparedness and check up on animals in visiting rodeos and circuses such as elephants and camels, among other responsibilities.

“We are not just dog catchers,” says Dawn Kinna, an animal control officer. “We do so much more.”

Including corralling the occasional kangaroo.

A room of their own

Nancy Ervin didn’t start out as a cat lover. But that changed. She and her husband took an interest in cats by way of a grandchild who adored them, eventually acquiring several cats of their own. “We love them dearly,” she says.

Once retired, Ervin decided to volunteer with HSCC where her now-acquired love for cats further blossomed. And she is especially focused on the community cat room at HSCC where up to a dozen cats roam freely and happily and interact with visitors.

Nancy Ervin volunteers at the Humane Society of Carroll County with a special focus on the cat room.
Nancy Ervin volunteers at the Humane Society of Carroll County with a special focus on the cat room. (courtesy photo)

“It’s sort of my pet project,” says Ervin who during her time as a volunteer has cleaned her share of cages but also has overseen orientations for new volunteers and transports animals, among many other responsibilities. She has become so dedicated to HSCC that she studied to be a vet assistant. Not to go out and work as one, but to have better knowledge and understanding in dealing with the animals at the shelter.

Describing the community cat room as “rather austere,” when she first began volunteering, she set out to change that. Ervin purchased cat towers and painted walls. But she still pondered, “how could we get people to like this room a little bit more? I wanted it to be homier.”

And in considering the human visitors and hoping to encourage them to come and linger, she placed a settee in the room “to make it more comfortable to sit in there,” and a table “to set down your coffee or other drink,” and books. Lots of books about cats, from children’s books to educational books.

“People can come in and sit and read to a cat if they want to,” she says.

She hopes in doing all of this, others will also learn to love what she loves best which is “just interacting with the cats to help them socialize better,” says Ervin.

As Ervin sits in the cat community room which has come to mean so much to her, a tortoiseshell cat named Penny climbs onto her lap. The cat begins to purr and snuggles contently against Ervin.

Ervin looks down at the cat, smiles and says, “This is my happy place.”

Penny’s too.

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Welcome to the family, the pack

Chaya didn’t walk when she first came to HSCC, she crawled, cowering all the while and avoiding eye contact. And she tugged at Ed Smith’s heart.

“Chaya came to us extremely emaciated and in horrible condition,” says Smith, an animal control officer. “But she was just the sweetest thing.”

Chaya was a stray. And as the shelter held her waiting the required time for her to be claimed, Smith would often have her in his office with him. Then, “one day she laid her head on my foot,” he says.

The two had made a connection. Chaya was going home with Smith.

Throughout his work as an animal control officer during the last eight years, Smith has in fact taken in three dogs.

Wilbur was the product of a puppy mill and had a heart defect. “The young woman who had him wasn’t going to be able to afford his care,” recalls Smith.

Smith took him, providing the care he needed. “We were told he would maybe live two years,” says Smith. “That was eight years ago.”

Samson belonged to a soldier who was being deployed and had to leave his much-loved dog behind. Smith took the dog in and promised to care for him until the solider could reclaim him. Later, even after the soldier returned, it was decided that it would be better to let Samson continue living with his new family.

“He didn’t want to disrupt Samson’s life again,” says Smith. “We were glad to have him.”

Now there is Chaya. “She loves to give what I call hugs,” says Smith.

He sees the three dogs as success stories. But Smith is always mindful of the other animals who need a home. “They should all be success stories,” he says.

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