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Baltimore County Council Sniffing Around Claims of Neglect at Animal Shelter

Dogs at the Baltimore County animal shelter
Dogs at the Baltimore County animal shelter
Dogs at the Baltimore County animal shelter
Dogs at the Baltimore County animal shelter

When you walk into the room where the dogs are kept at the Baltimore County Animal Shelter, be prepared for a boisterous greeting.

Dogs in cages on either side of a long room bark, howl and yip, vying for your attention. They look well cared for and ready for adoption. Their cages are clean. But animal rights advocates recently told the County Council things aren’t what they seem. Beth Gibbs, who volunteers at the shelter, said the problems “seem to be systemic,” and that they run “pretty deep” and are “to some extent quite scary,” Gibbs said. “Particularly when you’re there and you’re seeing them over and over.” The critics claim the shelter euthanizes 80 percent of its animals. They argue in a lawsuit that the animals aren’t getting the basics, like good food and water, clean cages, exercise and basic veterinary care.

Councilman Wade Kach didn’t mince words when he heard that. “I mean, it’s an embarrassment, this is 2015, this isn’t 1950,” he said. But Laura Culbertson, the Acting Chief of the Animal Services Division, says the accusations are not true. She says the euthanization rate is not as high as 80 percent. However, county officials can’t provide the exact percentage. Culbertson says that perhaps the critics of the shelter don’t know the whole story of the care being provided, and jump to conclusions when they see a dog in a bad way. “We have dogs all the time that are neglected,” Culbertson said. “They’re very thin looking. They look like they’re neglected. They have been neglected.” Culbertson says those animals are being fed special food to help them get well. She says there are veterinarians on staff, and that animals are getting exercise and professional care.

So which is it? A dysfunctional animal shelter or a shelter being criticized by people who don't really understand what’s going on? That’s what the Baltimore County Council wants to know. All seven Council members support a bill to create an Animal Services Advisory Commission. “There are so many rumors and so many people telling us so many different things that it’s very difficult to figure out what really is going on,” said Councilwoman Vicki Almond, the sponsor. “So we need this advisory committee to really find out the truth of what’s going on and then come up with some solutions.” County Executive Kevin Kamenetz says there’s no need for a new commission. The county already has an Animal Hearing Board. County officials also say the shelter is running just fine. However, according to a spokesman, Kamenetz will not oppose Council’s plan.

In the meantime, work continues on building a new county animal shelter. It should open later this year. Monique Lyle with Baltimore County Health and Human Services says the current building is old, and harkens back to a different time, when the mission was only about animal management and public health.

Lyle says, “We were not created for the nice warm and fuzzy adoption center, which is what we would love to have and which we will have in the coming future.” Councilwoman Almond says down the road she wants government out of the business of running the animal shelter. She likes the set up in Baltimore City, where the shelter is run by a non-profit, while animal control is handled by the government. But a spokesman for Kamenetz says the administration has no interest in pursuing that.

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John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County.