Woman's effort to save dog fails; county shelter puts animal to death


A stray chow chow dog was one of three animals put to death late yesterday at the Howard County Animal Shelter, despite the frantic efforts of a Bethesda woman to save the reddish brown female.

Corrine Lerman says she called Democratic Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski and Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. "If I could call President Bush, I would call him for this. It's illogical," said Lerman about the county's refusal to allow inspection of the dog by a private chow rescue group to see whether its hostile behavior was deeply ingrained or could have been changed with loving care.

Lerman also tried in the last two hours to get a Circuit Court order to stop the shelter from acting, but Judge Lenore Gelfman determined the court has no jurisdiction.

When the dog died about 4:40 p.m., Lerman and shelter administrator Deborah Baracco were in tears.

"Oh, my god!" Lerman exclaimed. "I can't believe this."

Baracco said she was upset, as well.

"It's always hard to take an animal's life even though it's justified," Baracco said, adding that the controversy made her job more difficult than usual.

County Councilman David A. Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat whom Lerman persuaded to see the dog, also was upset.

"I think that was heartless," he said.

Lerman contended the county stubbornly stuck to unfeeling bureaucratic policies instead of giving the dog a chance. But county officials said they often go out of their way to save animals and find them new homes, but felt this dog was not suitable for adoption.

"I understand that people are very passionate about animals," Baracco said, adding, however, that she was "very comfortable" with her decision in the chow's case. She noted that the county shelter has 30 other animals, including dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters available for adoption, and that a dozen dogs and cats were adopted Saturday.

Last year, the Howard County Animal Shelter killed 1,371 animals, including 233 brought in by owners expressly to be put down, 158 injured wild creatures, and 248 feral animals - mostly cats, Baracco said.

The chow chow's demise was delayed for nearly a week because of Lerman's efforts to save it, but county police Maj. Jeff Spaulding, who oversees the shelter, said he would rely on the workers' professional judgment that the dog was not a good adoption candidate.

Chows, a Chinese breed used for hunting, herding and home protection, tend to be very independent and aloof, according to a description on the American Kennel Club Web site, but advocates say the notion that the breed is temperamental is inaccurate.

The dog was found March 8 wandering without a collar or other identification near U.S. 29 and Route 175 in Columbia. A veterinarian's examination found no injuries or diseases and at first, county animal shelter workers thought the dog was friendly and could be adopted.

But the chow's demeanor changed after a day or two, according to officials, and it began growling and baring its teeth, especially toward men.

Officials said last week that it could not be safely adopted and would be put to death if the owner didn't turn up.

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