Wednesday, December 5, 2018

DECEMBER 4, 2018 MEETING OF THE BALTIMORE COUNTY ANIMAL SERVICES ADVISORY COMMISSION

The Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission met for its last meeting of 2018 on Dec. 4. There was a lot to cover. Most importantly, we have created an addendum to our most recent annual report, as we have learned of numerous other problems at BCAS.
These problems are seriously troubling, and we have hope and faith that the new Baltimore County Administration under the leadership of Johnny Olszewski will address them.
Here is what happened at our meeting.

                                  AGENDA
December 4, 2018 meeting of the Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission

1)  Call to Order
2)  Roll Call-Determination of a quorum-In attendance were Deborah Stone Hess, Joy Freedman, Janice Vincent (by phone), Julianne Zimmer, Larry Townsend, Jon Christiana, Ann Gearhart,  Roy Plummer

3)  Approval of minutes-I am waiting for an email with the final October minutes as approved and will add them here as soon as I get them.

4)  New Business
a) Changes in County Government-As everyone knows, we have a new County Executive. He ran for office promising openness and transparency, and Baltimore County Animal Services desperately needs transparency. We look forward to our new County Executive lifting the shroud of secrecy that envelopes BCAS.
Fred Homan has left County government, so he is no longer in charge of Animal Services. 
b)Plans for the Future-We hope to meet after the first of the year with a representative from the County Executive's office to discuss BCAS.
c)  Guinea Pigs-In October close to 60 guinea pigs arrived at the shelter when a woman died and her husband surrendered them to BCAS. We're told by numerous people that a decision was made to take some of the animals to a snake farm in Pennsylvania to be used as snake food. While BCAS workers was on their way to Pennsylvania with the guinea pigs, there was such an uproar among BCAS staff that those transporting the guinea pigs turned around and brought them back to BCAS. 24 of the guinea pigs were subsequently sent to rescue from BCAS. 28 were euthanized. 
There was extensive discussion at the Commission meeting about this issue, about the judgement of management that would consent to allowing owned pets to be sent to a snake farm as food, and also the decision to euthanize so many of these animals. 
Julianne Zimmer said she had contacted Chloe Waterman who has worked extensively on animal issues and is a former lobbyist for the ASPCA and a lover of guinea pigs. Chloe told her that it would surely have been possible to find rescue options for all of the guinea pigs, should BCAS management have decided to do so.
Commission member Larry Townsend asked if Deborah would submit a question to BCAS asking about what happened with the guinea pigs. Deborah promised to do so.
During this discussion, Ann Gearhart raised another issue that involved pigs in Dundalk. When several pigs suddenly showed up in a Dundalk resident's backyard, he called BCAS and was told that BCAS does not "do pigs." Neither Police nor Dept. of Natural Resources would help either. Finally the resident contacted his council member, Todd Crandall who notified County Executive Mohler and Mohler arranged for someone from the Ctr for MD Agriculture and Farm Parks to help.
Commission members wondered why BCAS would not respond.

d)Plumbing Problem-There have been ongoing plumbing issues plaguing BCAS. Several months ago, these problems left the bathroom on the public side of the shelter non-operational. At that time, volunteers were told they would have to go off-site to use a bathroom. Subsequently the bathrooms on the management side of BCAS also failed, and BCAS got a port -a -potty on-site. Volunteers were understandably offended when told they would have to drive somewhere instead of being allowed to use the bathroom on the management side of the building.
The plumbing problem has occurred once again, leaving the public restroom non-operational. Once again, volunteers were told they would have to drive off-site to do the restroom. Ultimately a workaround was created, requiring volunteers to walk outside the building to come in a side entrance to use the bathroom on the management side of the building.
Commission members cannot imagine what could be so sensitive and such a secret that the card key could not be disabled to allow volunteers to walk through management offices to use the rest room.
Apparently DOC workers are allowed to use these restrooms but volunteers are not.
Ann Gearhart said she believes that when the public restroom is not working, the shelter should be closed. There was agreement from numerous Commission members.

e)Addendum to Commission Annual Report-Since the submission of the Commission's annual report in September 2018, Commission members have learned of new problems at BCAS. They are very disturbing, and include the manipulation of statistics to make it appear that live release numbers are higher than they actually are. 
(On a related note, because of suspicion that a sudden rise in owner requested euthanasia might be influencing the numbers, in October Deborah sent a request to BCAS for information on Owner Requested Euthanasia for 3rd quarter 2017 and 3rd quarter 2018. That information was mailed on a disk to Commission secretary Ellen Blake and Ellen gave the disk to Deborah at this meeting. Deborah will be looking at what was provided and will report on that at the next Commission meeting.)
Deborah presented a proposed addendum to the Commission's annual report detailing new information about BCAS. Commission members voted unanimously to submit it to members of the Baltimore County Council and the County Executive. That addendum has been submitted. Here it is:



                         ADDENDUM TO 2018 REPORT OF THE 
BALTIMORE COUNTY ANIMAL SERVICES ADVISORY COMMISSION 

I.     Introduction
II.   BCAS Live Release Statistics Are Not Real
III.  BCAS has Turned Trap Neuter Return into Trap Neuter Abandon
IV.  Little Enrichment for “Admin Hold” and “Rescue Only” Animals
V.    Why Can’t the Public Go Into the Stray Hold Area at BCAS?
VI.  Refusal to Pick Up Strays 
VII.Conclusions

I. Introduction 
     The Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission issued its most recent annual report in September, 2018, outlining serious problems at Baltimore County Animal Services. 
     Since then, additional BCAS employees have come forward to us, eager to share more of the truth. They have alerted us to additional problems.  
     These employees fear retribution if they should be identified, and, indeed, we have every indication their jobs would be at risk. As a result, we will keep their identities confidential.
     The new information these employees have provided reinforces our earlier conclusions, namely that BCAS managers are so preoccupied with presenting the highest possible live release numbers that best practices are not followed and animal welfare is suffering. 
     We have learned the following:
·     BCAS managers manipulate statistics to make it appear that live release numbers are higher than they really are.
·     BCAS Trap Neuter Return practices are even worse than we knew. They include returning some cats and kittens to open county property where there are no caretakers and animals are at risk of death as a result.
·     BCAS fails to provide enrichment (including daily walks) to animals deemed “Rescue Only”and those in the Administrative Hold area. Some of these animals have been at the shelter long-term.
·     Unlike other area shelters, BCAS won’t allow the public to see animals in the shelter’s stray hold room, thus preventing some owners from finding their lost pets.
·     Unlike other area shelters, BCAS will no longer pick up strays found by citizens unless citizens contact BCAS within 24 hours.  This disproportionately affects low-income people without transportation to BCAS, which is located far away from many county jurisdictions in Baldwin.

     We detail all we have learned in this addendum to the Commission’s annual report. We urgently request that appropriate steps be taken as soon as possible to remedy the many problems that plague Baltimore County Animal Services.
  
II.            BCAS Live Release Statistics Are Not Real

     BCAS is required to provide quarterly statistics to the MD Dept. of Agriculture.
     These statistics, among other things, calculate BCAS’s live release rate, or the number of animals that leave BCAS alive through reunion with owners, adoption or rescue.
     We’ve learned that BCAS managers manipulate statistics to falsely inflate live release numbers.
     Live release statistics are calculated by determining the percentage of animals taken in by BCAS that are euthanized because of very old age, serious illness, severe aggression, or lack of space.     
   There is another kind of euthanasia called “Owner Requested Euthanasia” and happens when pet owners bring in their animals that are near end of life to be humanely pout to sleep. This euthanasia does not impact live release numbers. And BCAS has found a way to move some of its euthanasia numbers into this category to create an appearance of higher live release statistics. 

     Commission members recently became suspicious when we noticed a very large increase in owner requested euthanasia at BCAS, as you’ll see in the following chart:  

                        OWNER REQUESTED EUTHANASIA BY QUARTER               

                                                                DOGS


    2015
    2016
    2017
    2018
1STQTR.
      25 
      27 

      33 

      55 

2NDQTR.
      31 

      20 

      43 

52 

3RDQTR.
      40 

      27 

      40 

81 

4THQTR.
      21 


      28 

      59 
Not available till end of December 2018


                                                                 CATS


   2015
   2016
   2017
   2018
1stQTR.

      34 

      19 

      19 

      66 

2NDQTR

      14 

     19 

      43 

52 

3RDQTR.

      34 

      60 

      41 

75 

4THQTR.

      23 

     23 

      40 
Not available till end of December, 2018

     We have learned one reason for the increase. BCAS staff has been directed to pressure some citizens surrendering pets to sign a form requesting euthanasia of their animals.  
     This happens when the animal is one that staff suspects will be difficult to place through adoption or rescue (animals that have a bite history or medical problem.) 
     When BCAS staff is unsuccessful in efforts to get a citizen to sign the form that requests euthanasia, they are required to get a supervisor who will then exert more pressure.

     Managers also employ another practice to make it appear that live release rates are better than they really are. They give intake numbers to cats brought in for TNR (Trap Neuter Return) as if they are being brought into the shelter to be impounded. This is, of course, untrue. These animals are not impounded. They’re brought in merely for the TNR service and released. 
     As a result, BCAS takes “credit” for these animals twice, in both numbers for TNR and live release. It would be like giving intake numbers to personal pets brought in by their owners for spay/neuter surgery. 

      When the public cannot trust BCAS to provide accurate data, what can they trust?

III.          BCAS has turned Trap Neuter Return into Trap Neuter Abandon

     The Commission’s annual report outlines serious problems in Baltimore County’s TNR program. 
     In that report, we explained that best practices require that TNR’d cats are returned within 300 feet of where they were trapped, to ensure they can find their source of food, water, and shelter.
     In Baltimore City, failure to return a cat to where it was trapped is considered abandonment.
     In our annual report, we explained that Baltimore County Animal Services returns cats as far as ½ mile away from the trapping point.
     Now we have learned BCAS sometimes returns TNR’d cats a mile away or more from the trapping point,sometimes on open county property, where there are no caretakers.These cats/kittens find themselves in completely unfamiliar territory where they can die from lack of food, water and shelter or be killed in traffic or by unfamiliar natural predators.
     The whole point of TNR is to provide a way for community cats to live out their lives as healthfully as possible, while reducing the overall population of these cats. BCAS practices are a perversion of the concept of Trap Neuter Return, turning it into Trap Neuter Abandon.

IV.          Little Enrichment for Rescue Only Pets and Those On Adminstrative Hold 

     Enrichment is a critical piece of the puzzle in keeping animals physically and mentally healthy in the stressful environment of an animal shelter.
     Enrichment includes toys, walks, play time…anything that provides mental and physical stimulation, stress relief, and fun. 
     We have learned that there is little enrichment for those that are not in the adoptable room of the shelter.
     These include animals that are eligible only for rescue and those in Administrative Hold (because of legal proceedings involving these animals.) 
     Staff is allowed to walk Rescue Only Animals, but volunteers are not and very often these animals get no walks at all. 
   The same is true for dogs in Administrative Hold, including those that are being held in cruelty cases. In this regard, these animals are being victimized again. 
     Some of these animals are at BCAS for extended periods of time. 

      Without enrichment, animals suffer. This is not what sheltering should be about.

V.            Why Can’t the Public Go Into the Stray Hold Area at BCAS?

      Baltimore County Animal Services has numerous areas where the public is not allowed. One of them is the stray hold room, where animals stay for three days before they go into the adoptable area of BCAS.
      This policy can prevent the reunion of owners and missing pets.

     Case in point:
     A Baltimore County citizen (we’ll identify by her initials C.E.) owns a Rottweiler named Shug. In October, 2018, Shug got out of her yard. 
     C.E. saw a Rottweiler on the BCAS website the morning after Shug went missing. It had been found in her neighborhood and matched Shug’s description. But the dog’s picture didn’t look like Shug.
     It turned out that BCAS had accidentally posted the wrong photo and Shug wasat BCAS. C.E> called BCAS several times, asking to see that Rottweiler at the shelter. She was not allowed to do so. 
     A week later, a BCAS volunteer saw Shug described on a Lost and Found website and contacted C.E., saying she thought that Shug was at BCAS, and had been moved to the adoptable room.
     C.E. called BCAS again. Someone finally paid attention, allowing C.E. to send a picture of Shug, and confirmed that yes, Shug was at BCAS. Luckily the dog had not been adopted. 
     C.E. was reunited with her dog a full week after Shug went missing, 
     All of this was unnecessary. If C.E. had been allowed to see the dog in stray hold, she could have identified Shug from the start.
     Other shelters including BARCS, Anne Arundel Animal Control, and Howard County Animal Control allow the public to see animals that are on stray hold.
     As one shelter director explained in a text, “We walk them through EVERY room to see EVERY animal for that species.”
      
     We don’t know why the public would be kept from seeing animals in stray hold. 
     This is an absurd policy that doesn’t benefit citizens or animals. 

VI.          BCAS refuses topick up strays from citizens after 24 hours

     If a citizen finds a stray pet, BCAS will pick it up only if the citizen requests pickup within 24 hours after the pet is found. After 24 hours, it’s up to the citizen to bring the animal to the shelter.
     This is not a policy at Baltimore Animal Control, Anne Arundel Animal Control or Howard County Animal Control, and it should not be the policy of BCAS.
     With BCAS located in Baldwin, very far from many county residents, and with no public transportation access, this policy no doubt results in many strays never going to BCAS, even though that’s required by Baltimore County law. As a result, they will never be found by their owners.
     
     
     Refusing to pick up strays is yet another way that BCAS fails to meet the needs of its citizens, particularly those who are low-incomeand do not have transportation to get to BCAS in Baldwin.

VII.        Conclusions

     Here is a summary of what the Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission has learnedsince we issued our annual report in September, 2018:
·     BCAS managers manipulate statistics to make it appear that live release numbers are higher than they actually are. They do this by coercing citizens surrendering animals into signing a form requesting euthanasia. They also double count TNR cats by giving them intake numbers, when, in fact, they aren’t impounded. These cats should be counted merely as animals receiving a service.
·     Trap Neuter Return protocols at BCAS include abandoning animals on random county property where there are no caretakers.
·     BCAS does not provide adequate enrichment to animals that are not available for adoption. 
·     Members of the public are sometimes unable to find their lost pets because BCAS won’t allow them to see animals in the stray hold room. Other shelters in our area allow citizens to see animals on stray hold. 
·     If a citizen finds a stray animal, BCAS will not pick it up if the citizen waits more than 24 hours to request pickup. 

     Prior to providing this addendumCommission members already knew there were serious problems at BCAS, that it had dismantled its Animal Control Division and transferred almost all its duties to police, that the BCAS TNR program was not following best practices, that management salaries were unusually high, that the work environment at BCAS was toxic, and that employees were severely unhappy.
     And yet we find ourselves even more disturbed now that we have learned of these additional problems.
      We recognize that many members of the BCAS staff are caring, dedicated employees. These failures are not their fault. They deserve to work in an environment where management places animal welfare first on the list of priorities. 
  
     We respectfully submit this report addendum to members of the Baltimore County Council and County Executive Johnny Olszewski.


There was extensive Commission discussion about the findings detailed in the addendum. Commission members are disturbed by what is happening at BCAS, and have faith in the new Administration to take action to correct it. 

5)  Any other business?
Numerous BCAS volunteers attended this meeting of the Commission. One provided an email that had been sent by the volunteers to BCAS management on November 29, 2018. Here is that letter:
Dear ________,

This letter is a collective letter from the majority of the volunteers.  We know that animal adoptions are only a small part of what you do however it is a large part of what we do and we have a  few ideas that might improve that process:

1. It would be wonderful if an animal arrived in the adoptable room with some back ground.  Using Logan as an example, had we known that he was left in a house with no food or water for 3 days, we might have been able to work with him.  For sure, we could have explained to his adopters that he was bound to have some separation anxiety and why.
2. In the same vein, a weight would be very helpful, especially for social media postings.  We are asked that question a lot.
3. In the past few months the DOC seems to be slacking.  The animals cages are dirty, they are without water and they are fed late in the day.  We are unsure if there are guidelines of care and a set schedule of chores but if not, would that be possible?   Also, can the DOC be tasked with taking the dogs out, especially on holidays when volunteers are not allowed at the shelter?
4. Speaking of guidelines, would it be possible to have guidelines about who is able to handle animals at offsites?  It seems that many of the volunteers just do offsites (which is wonderful) but they don’t know the animals and many times are ill-equipped to handle them.  
5. Would it be possible to have some volunteer involvement with “rescue only” animals?  We are ready and willing to help here!  Be it exercising, training, even possibly raising money to try and help.
6. Would it be possible for volunteers to help out on holidays?


That said, we would also like to ask you what we can do to help you and the animals.   We are happy to help in any way we can.  We really do not want to make your job harder but better communication between us all could help us all??

Thanks for listening,

Your cat and dog volunteers



There has yet to be a response from management to this letter. This is difficult to understand. The logical response would be to reach out to the volunteers and discuss what is in this letter. The volunteers are doing everything they can to be helpful. They raised some very good points. They were polite and respectful.  Why would management not respond? Unfortunately, we have been told by both staff members and volunteers that upper management at BCAS does not value the volunteers. These people give their own time with no financial benefit just to make shelter animals' lives better. We appreciate their work and greatly value their contributions and efforts. BCAS should do the same.
6)  Announcement of Next Meeting Date and Location-The Commission's next meeting will be held Jan. 15, 2019 at 6:30 on the third floor of the drumcastle Building.
7)  Adjournment


11 comments:

  1. I adopted my loving dog 8 years ago for there never again. I have since adopted from BARCS. Taking him to my personal vet the report was that he was in perfect condition. These animals cannot speak for themselves someone must help.

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  2. 1. Closing b/c the bathrooms are broken means less animals having an opportunity to be adopted. Just to think of the other side of the coin on that issue. 2. This is not the only shelter fudging numbers, I can guarantee that. One thing you could ask about is why BAWA designates FIV cats as UU. But I have seen first hand that they are not the only ones doing it, and doing it against what is best for the animal. Open and lax adoption policies give people who are not equipped to handle certain medical needs an animal they cannot possibly afford. People dump their animals in parking lots and permitted to adopt again. There's lots of things in lots of places that happen just to get an animal out the door, no matter what the consequences. 3. Owner request euthanasia is not just for end of life issues - some people ask for it b/c they just don't want their animal. The shelter should be assessing each animal individually to determine if that is the best outcome or not. 4. Also not the only shelter doing stats wrong. I know the foster stats I provided were not correctly tallied and was continually ignored by management.

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  3. Reading this report has brought me to tears. As a former volunteer at this shelter, both the old and the new shelter, I almost feel like the old shelter did a much better job. I was allowed to walk and work with the Admn. pups in the old shelter. I was allowed to take a dog home for the weekend who I ultimately adopted the following Monday morning. We were allowed to take the pups off the property on some weekends for long walks and exposure on the NCR trail under the direction of a wonderful "volunteer" Volunteer Coordinator. Shiny new shelter does not mean things have gotten better, not by a long shot! Maybe the current high salaries and what seems to be a good old buddy, I know you so you get the job, mentality needs to change.

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    Replies
    1. we all know it needs to change, the question is HOW do we bring about that change? What will it take? More dead guinea pigs, more good staff quitting because the place is toxic, it's not compassion fatigue, it's fatigue from upper management. It's been going on for way too long!

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  4. Please, Deb Stone and fellow commission members, tell us what we, the public can do. We all feel so helpless, like those poor guinea pigs that were almost put in a tank with snakes to die a horrific death. We don't know how to help you. Please post an addendum about what the public can do for you. You have all worked so hard bringing this to light, but nothing seems to change, month after month these notes get worse and worse, but those in upper management are still in their jobs, still doing more harm than good. We want to help you, tell us HOW!

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    Replies
    1. two months later, to the day and here we are....

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  5. Thank you so much for your comment and the important question you raise. Right now the most important thing you can do is to contact your county council representative and the Baltimore county executive’s office
    to let them know how concerned you are about these problems and how you would like to see them addressed as soon as possible. Don’t forget, our county executive just took office this past week. No doubt he has quite a full plate of problems to handle. We believe that he will address these issues. We will keep at it. Thank you again for taking the time to read the blog, and for your concern about Baltimore County’s animals!

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  6. Wow, this is absolutely heartbreaking. Thank you for keeping us updated. These meeting aren't open to the public, are they?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, our meetings are open to the public. Meetings are almost always held on the 3rd Tuesday of the month at 6:30 pm on the 3rd floor of the Drumcastle Bldg. which is located at 6401 York Rd.
      Locational he we hold meetings on a different day of the month because of holidays, etc. Our next meeting will be held on Jan. 15th.

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  7. Hi Deborah,
    Is the only way to attend these meetings in-person? Is there a way for county residents to call in to listen? Thank you for all you do!

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