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Animal shelter, pressed over practices, halts euthanasia work pending audit


The Sun on Thursday incorrectly reported the number of unaccounted-for cats in a lawsuit filed by a pet owner against Defenders of Animal Rights Inc. The suit alleged that the shelter could not account for one of the four cats the pet owner left.

The Sun regrets the error.

Defenders of Animal Rights Inc., which has been picketed by former employees and volunteers concerned about its practices, has suspended its use of euthanasia pending the results of an independent audit.

According to a statement issued by the company's lawyer, the action was "taken as an immediate response to the concerns raised" at a county hearing on animal welfare.

Former employees and volunteers of the shelter, who had brought their complaints against the company to the Animal Hearing Board on Tuesday, gave little credence to the company's statement. Yesterday, the group filed a police report alleging cruelty to animals by the shelter and its manager, James Kovic. The group also plans to take its complaints to the state's attorney's office.

Last week, the group started picketing the shelter, located in the block of Old York Road in Phoenix. They claim that the shelter's manager routinely accepts donations for animals he says will be adopted, then destroys the animals. They also say the shelter's shoddy record-keeping makes it impossible to know which animals have died, been killed or adopted.

The company's statement said the audit will be performed by a "prominent Baltimore accounting firm." John Gontrom, representing the company, said an auditing firm will be selected by week's end.

The statement also notes that the Maryland State Department of Agriculture inspected the shelter Aug. 14 and found it "to be in full compliance with all Maryland regulations." The agency monitors the use of sodium pentobarbital, the drug used to destroy animals.

Former employees have alleged that Mr. Kovic kills far more animals than he reports, and that he falsifies the records reviewed by the department by reporting that he has destroyed deer, horses and other large animals, which would require larger doses of the drug than house pets.

Dr. Roger Olson, assistant state veterinarian for the Department of Agriculture, said his inspector found no evidence of violations relating to the use of the drug.

Shelters and veterinary offices that use the drug for euthanasia are inspected at least once a year by the department, Dr. Olson said.

The protesters are to meet with representatives of a Towson law firm tomorrow in hopes of furthering ef forts to prompt an investigation of the shelter and its practices.

"I just want to talk to these people and direct them," said Dickee Howard, a member of the law firm who previously donated money to Defenders of Animal Rights. "If these allegations are true, I am appalled."

Last week, a pet owner who left four cats and $800 with the shelter filed suit in Towson District Court, charging that the shelter could not tell her what had become of three of the four animals.

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