A group of animal rights advocates is complaining that shortened hours at the Howard County Animal Shelter have led to an increase in euthanasia and a decrease in adoptions.
The shelter, which is run by the Howard County Police Department, decreased its hours in December as a result of a staff shortage. According to police, adoptions decreased 29 percent and euthanasia increased 30 percent in December compared with December 1998.
"We are just hoping that all of us Howard Countians, activists and police can come together and come up with a resolution right away," said Ann Selnick, a member of Animal Advocates of Howard County, a community group that volunteers at the shelter. "Something needs to be done."
She added: "For us personally, it's very discouraging when we go in there. We were open on Dec. 18 and we had 31 adoptions that day. We know that if you offer the hours people will come and adopt."
Howard County police Chief Wayne Livesay said adoption figures are typically lower during December because of a policy that seeks to prevent pets from being adopted as Christmas presents and later returned. Livesay said records show that no animals have been destroyed because of the shorter schedule and that officials made the decision to close earlier during the week because shelter employees were overworked.
"We lost some employees and we made the decision collectively that something had to give," Livesay said. "We gave up four hours a week, and we were adamant about keeping the Saturdays."
At the heart of the dispute is whether Howard County is budgeting enough money for the center and whether it should be under the jurisdiction of the Police Department. The kennel is open from 10 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m. Monday through Friday, but it had been open longer than that on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It's also open from 9 a.m. to 2: 30 p.m. the first and third Saturdays of the month. With a budget of more than $769,000, the shelter has 12 full-time employees. Livesay said the staff has two vacancies.
"It seems a little odd to have [the shelter] under the Police Department, but if you think about it, there is an investigative aspect to animal control with complaints of animal bites and cases of animal cruelty," Livesay said. "I have a permanent group of contingency workers, and we have added 15 or 20 additional volunteers."
Livesay attributes the lower adoption figures to several factors, including dangerous animals that are seized and not eligible for adoption. "The numbers just fluctuate so much," Livesay said. "I specifically asked for information on whether any of the animals had been destroyed because of the change in hours, and I was told there had been none."
Missy Zane, founder of the Howard County Cat Club, said she believes that many more residents would volunteer if it meant keeping the shelter open longer to promote more adoptions. More money should be allocated to the shelter, and police should focus on educating the public in addition to animal control, Zane said.
"I'm outraged and I am heartbroken by what's going on, and I think that anyone who loves animals would be," Zane said. "They need to spend more money and get more staff in there."
Aileen Gabbey, executive director of the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Baltimore, said her group does most of its adoptions Saturdays and that having extended weekend hours is essential.
"It's a huge disservice not to offer that to the public," said Gabbey, whose shelter on Falls Road relies on private donations and had a budget of $900,000 last year. "It's money well spent to be open on the weekends because it gets the animals adopted."
Dr. Joan Colfer, director of Baltimore County's Bureau of Disease Control, which oversees an animal shelter on Manor Road, said that facility is open six days a week, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and has animal control officers on call 24 hours a day. "Ours is a pretty big operation," Colfer said. "We spent almost $1 million for animal control last year."
Livesay said officials will re-evaluate the shortened hours and decide whether adjustments are needed. And though more volunteers have come forward offering to work so the shelter could stay open, Livesay said he cannot run an all-volunteer-staffed facility because of regulations.
Selnick, of Animal Advocates, said that with the coming county budget hearings, she hopes the shelter will get increased funding and better hours: "We really are committed to saving lives."