A stray dog found wandering without a collar on U.S. 29 in Columbia has become the unwitting prize in a tug of war between a would-be rescuer and the Howard County Animal Shelter.
The reddish-brown, fuzzy-haired, female chow chow found hiding under a car March 8 has been classified not suitable for adoption - a death sentence at the Howard pound - because, although she seemed friendly at first, she later changed, growling and baring her teeth, according to county police Maj. Jeff Spaulding, who oversees the shelter.
"We're going to accept that professional judgment. There's no way to identify the owner of the dog," Spaulding said. If the owner doesn't appear by Monday, the dog will be put to death.
But Corrine Lerman, a Bethesda woman who runs a fund that helps pay spaying costs for pets, said Howard County is being rigid and overly bureaucratic and might kill a dog that could become someone's pet.
"To me, if an animal is vicious, it's vicious - not just vicious to you. This has become a complete disaster," she said.
Lerman has been lobbying county politicians to let a chow rescue group evaluate the dog to determine if just being at the shelter has caused the animal's demeanor to change. She persuaded County Councilman David A. Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat, to visit the chow Tuesday. Rakes said the dog, now kept with other animals slated for euthanasia, backed up and growled at him.
He knows, he said, that shelter officials don't want to begin allowing outsiders to routinely second-guess their judgment. But he said he favors allowing an expert to come in and evaluate the reddish-brown chow. "It seems to me they should be willing to save a dog's life," he said.
Chow chows are medium-sized dogs whose breed originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. They were used for herding, hunting, pulling and protection, although now they are mainly pets, according to an American Kennel Club description.
They are intelligent, independent-minded, have "an aura of aloofness" and are reserved with strangers, the club's Web site says. A reputation for being temperamental and sometimes aggressive is unfair, said Jerry McBee, who runs Chow Rescue of Northern Virginia and has been denied access to the Howard County stray.
"That's a horrible misconception about chows," she said, adding that some are abused or not properly socialized.
Ann Selnick, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County, said she recalls an incident in 1999 when the county shelter kept a chow chow for months while working to find it a new home. Since then, she said, no reliable chow rescue groups have come forward.
"We're really looking for a chow rescue group approved by the shelter to help us out" in other cases, she said.
Decisions about killing animals are "gut-wrenching," Selnick said. She wonders why someone who valued a pet would allow it out without a collar or an embedded computer chip for identification, she said.
Police said they got a call March 8 about 1 p.m. from a motorist who saw the dog and feared it might be hit in traffic. A responding police officer found the chow hiding under a car near Route 175. Lerman said a friend who also saw the dog called her the same day.
Animal control took the chow to a veterinarian, who determined the dog was not injured. Two days in quarantine revealed no diseases, and Spaulding said the chow was deemed "suitable for adoption."
Lerman said she spoke with a shelter officer who said the chow was an affectionate, loving dog. But Spaulding said the animal later became aggressive, baring its teeth and growling, and was judged unsuitable for adoption.
"They take in and adopt out hundreds of animals," he said of shelter workers. "I'm comfortable" that if the staff said the dog is not suitable for adoption, it's not.