The response by Don Mohler, chief of staff for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, to the ACLU's lawsuit concerning photography at the Baltimore County animal shelter is disingenuous at best ("ACLU says Balto. Co. has squelched criticism of animal shelter," Oct. 19).
The great majority of people who want to photograph animals are looking to reduce the 70 percent euthanasia rate at the county shelter. This is the worst euthanasia rate in Maryland. Until recently, county personnel did not take photographs, so community-generated photographs, posted on the Internet, were the only outreach available to citizens who had lost pets.
Under duress, the county employees are photographing again, but the animals are often photographed behind wire in crates and cages and are sometimes so blurry as to be unrecognizable as a dog or a cat. Furthermore, cat photographs feature terrified animals looking just as "wild" as Mr. Mohler would lead you to believe they are. These photos generate no adoption interest. Professional photos have been proven to be effective adoption tools in other Baltimore area shelters, but the county will not permit their implementation.
Mr. Mohler states that volunteers with ulterior motives were taking opportunistic photographs. It is possible. However, since those photos were published, cleanliness as well as access to fresh water and food have improved for the pets housed in the shelter. A few pets have been adopted, and some have returned home. Would that have come about without the photos? I doubt it. But Mr. Mohler should know something about staged photographs. Last spring, after the conditions at the shelter garnered public attention, the county spruced up one corner of the shelter with fresh paint and detergent and then invited the press to visit. They did not tour the entire shelter. The administrative hold animals in particular are still seriously wanting for better care and conditions.
Mr. Mohler also chooses to blame citizens who want to see TNR (Trap, Neuter and Return for cats) for the interest in photographing animals, in spite of the fact that this additional issue has no bearing on the lawsuit or Baltimore County citizens' First Amendment rights. Sadly Mr. Mohler takes this opportunity to divert attention from citizens' rights in order to mischaracterize the TNR issue as one of crazies "releasing cats in the wild." Data from other American municipalities proves that TNR works to reduce homeless cat populations. Advocates are not looking to "release cats into the wild" but to return them, neutered and vaccinated, to supervised cat colonies located in the setting in which they were caught. The cat colonies are fed and monitored by citizens with no cost to Baltimore County residents.
Joanne Wigod, Baltimore