Starting in May, animal lovers will be able to take healthy pets home from the county animal shelter immediately instead of having to wait 10 days as they do now.
Immediate adoption -- the centerpiece of a bill unanimously approved by the County Council last night -- applies only to pets taken to the shelter by owners who no longer want them or can no longer care for them.
Cats picked up as strays may be adopted after three days, and dogs picked up as strays may be adopted after five days. The waiting period now for all animals is 10 days -- the longest in the state.
The shelter will still be required to keep healthy, unadopted animals for 10 days before destroying them. But animals that are seriously injured, sick with a contagious disease or deemed dangerous to people or other animals may be destroyed immediately.
The council accepted the advice of Brenda Purvis, the county animal control officer, in allowing stray cats to be adopted sooner than stray dogs. Ms. Purvis had told the council that cats -- especially kittens -- are more susceptible to disease.
"Upper respiratory diseases are very common among cats," she told council members last week. "When one cat sneezes, it infects the whole population."
Allowing stray kittens to be adopted quickly would cut down on the risk of infection, she said.
Ms. Purvis had asked the council to shorten the current 10-day holding requirement to make pets available for adoption more quickly. Nearly 200 adoptable animals were "euthanized" last year because the available space was often taken up by nonadoptable animals, Ms. Purvis told council members at a public hearing and work session on the bill.
Altogether, more than half of the 3,261 animals brought to the shelter last year were destroyed, most for medical or behavioral reasons, Ms. Purvis said. Included in that number were 364 dogs and 1,181 cats.
Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-2nd, whose amendments were approved last night, said the bill now does exactly what Ms. Purvis wanted. It makes adoptions possible sooner and at the same time protects healthy animals for at least 10 days.
Council Chairman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, was not so sure. "I'm going to support the bill but I don't like it," he said. "This is better than what we are doing now, but we need to have the courage to change it if it doesn't work."
Also last night, the council approved legislation calling for construction of a $5.4 million regional composting facility scheduled to process a minimum of 30,000 tons of yard debris annually for Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.
Until last year, leaves, brush and grass clippings were buried in county landfills. But the state outlawed that practice Oct. 1, 1994.
Since then, representatives of the three counties have been developing plans for a jointly owned composting facility that would be built on a 54-acre site near Dorsey Road in the Howard County portion of Jessup under the auspices of the Maryland Environmental Service.
Earlier attempts by area counties to cooperate on a disposal venture ended in failure because no jurisdiction was willing to accept what other counties were trying to get rid of.
Mr. Gray asked his colleagues to postpone action on the compost facility, saying the project planned in his district is too expensive and that he needed more time to study it.
When they refused, Mr. Gray blocked an agenda change that would have allowed the council to consider last night a multiyear agreement with Anne Arundel under which the two counties would jointly operate Tipton Airfield at Fort Meade as a civilian airport.
Mr. Gray said after the meeting that he will vote Friday to put the airport on the agenda for Friday's special legislative session.