A group of ex-employees and former volunteers yesterday accused the managers of a northern Baltimore County animal shelter of killing adoptable animals while accepting donations to keep them and lying about a "no kill" policy.
About 15 people stood in the rain outside the Defenders of Animal Rights property, in the 14000 block of Old York Road, calling for a change of management and an end to what they said is the systematic killing of animals.
But Mary Jo Kovic, president of the animal shelter, said the protest is the result of a few disgruntled employees joining forces with friends who were volunteers to organize a picket line out of spite.
Among the picketers were four former employees of the organization who said they had been fired for insubordination after they objected to the killing of adoptable animals.
Ms. Kovic, however, said the employees were fired or left for other reasons.
Addressing the protesters' other allegations, Ms. Kovic said her shelter kills far fewer animals than does the county animal shelter, which euthanizes over 6,000 animals each year. Her organization, she said, kills around 500, and they are usually sick or have behavioral problems.
She noted that the shelter is registered with the state Department of Agriculture and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, which means it must account for how it applies every cubic centimeter of sodium pentobarbital, the drug used to kill animals.
"We can't euthanize 16 animals and tell you eight, because we have to justify how we used this medicine," she said.
But protesters said that shelter manager and Vice President James Kovic, Ms. Kovic's ex-husband, routinely entered information in the ledger documenting the killing of animals that did not match the number of animals they had seen killed.
They said they had seen him kill 40 cats and dogs every week, but that the reports indicated the shelter had killed cows, pigs or injured deer -- larger animals that would require larger amounts of the drug -- to cover the discrepancy.
They also said that reports of animal behavioral problems, such as biting or jumping fences, were entered without foundation in fact to justify killing adoptable pets. And they said the center only recently began telling people who brought in animals that the shelter was full and the animal would have to be killed.
"He killed at least five animals every Friday, just from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. when I worked," said Tamara Stickler, who has volunteered at the shelter since May.
The protesters also said they worried about the shelter's management of funds. Those who were former employees said they had never been asked to fill out tax forms, that files were disorganized and there was no documentation of adoptions.
Ms. Kovic said all the claims are unfounded. She said the shelter keeps records of all its adoptions and even checks back with people who have adopted animals to see how the new pet is adjusting.
According to an independent auditor's report, the organization claimed to have spent over $100,000 in humane education last year and to have a contribution pension plan that covers "substantially all employees."
Ms. Kovic said the organization pays for the production of an educational newsletter, bumper stickers and coloring books that visitors are given when they tour the shelter.
The protesters said the shelter's newsletter is nothing but a solicitation for donations.
They also said that none of the employees they knew was ever informed of eligibility for the organization's pension plan, upon which the shelter claimed to have spent over $14,000 in expenses last year.
"We don't want to close the shelter," said former volunteer Rhonda Cipollone. "We just want compassionate management."