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Baltimore County Animal Services leadership overhauled, officials say

Baltimore County Animal Services’ top leadership is being overhauled, according to an internal email sent to staff Wednesday.

Four top employees will “no longer be working at Baltimore County Animal Services,” according to the email from Health and Human Services director Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch.

The move comes after a commission tasked with advising animal services alleged the agency was manipulating statistics “to make it appear that live release numbers are higher than they really are."

The Animal Services director, Dr. Melissa Jones, will be leaving the department. Also leaving are management analyst Gary Klunk — described by shelter employees and advocates as Jones’ second-in-command — shelter supervisor Lauren Pavlik, and behavior and enrichment coordinator Will Webster.

Dr. Lucia Donatelli, a Health and Human Services bureau director who oversees Animal Services, will be taking over administration of the department in an “interim situation,” according to health department spokeswoman Stacie Burgess.

Burgess, as well as County Executive Johnny Olszewski’s spokesman T.J. Smith, both declined to comment on the decision, citing personnel matters.

The move comes amid intense scrutiny for the department that intensified after a dog named Oscar died in Arbutus due to alleged animal cruelty at the start of 2018.

Animal advocates, led by the county’s Animal Services Advisory Commission, said the department was failing to protect animals and called for a change in leadership. Earlier this year, the commission accused Animal Services of “manipulating” euthanasia statistics to inflate progress on kill rates at the shelter.

Commission chairwoman Deborah Hess said in a text message that she and the other commission members are “grateful.”

“Needless to say, we are very gratified that there is going to be new management and hopefully that this represents the start of a new day for Baltimore County animal services,” Hess said.

asolomon@baltsun.com

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