Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Commission response on Oscar's death

This is an email the Commission has sent to members of the Baltimore County Council concerning Oscar's death:

     As chair of the Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission, I want to address an evolving issue involving Baltimore County Animal Services. The issue concerns the recent death of a dog named Oscar.
     This story began swirling on social media around the New Year’s holiday after a Facebook post about Oscar freezing to death in his owner’s back yard at 1135 Regina Drive.
     The case is under investigation by the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s office and a necropsy has been performed. The results of the necropsy and investigation will provide more complete answers as to what caused Oscar’s death and whether charges against the owner are warranted.
    Regardless of that outcome, the Commission is concerned with a larger issue…whether Baltimore County Animal Control responded properly after receiving a citizen’s call concerning the dog’s welfare, whether Animal Control procedures and protocols are adequate and appropriate, and, if not, whether changes will be made.
     Fred Homan has sent members of the Council a case summary about the events on Regina Drive. It shows Animal Control had a long history of complaints (21 complaints from March 3, 2009 through December 13, 2017) concerning the welfare of Oscar and another dog at the Regina Dr. address.
     The case summary doesn’t indicate whether these calls ever resulted in citations or whether the dog’s owner was required to take any action.
     But it does note the property had a functional dog door, and that the two dogs appeared healthy and had access to the home’s basement, where there was adequate food, water, and bedding.
     On Dec. 30, 2017 at 8:12 AM Animal Control received its 22nd call about the address, complaining that a dog had been left outside, perhaps all night, in the extreme cold. Temperatures were hovering in the teens, and there was snow on the ground.
     The call taker recognized the address, and called the dog’s owner, Mr. Gnanakkan, who reportedly said he would bring the dog in out of the cold.
     Unfortunately, this appears to have been impossible to accomplish, because, according to a statement from Mr. Gnanakkan’s father in the police report, Mr. Gnanakkan had left to go out of town on Dec. 28th and would not return to Baltimore until Jan. 3rd.
     The call taker apparently took Mr. Gnanakkan’s word and did not dispatch an officer. If an officer had responded, it’s difficult to know what he or she would have found. Might the dog door have been frozen shut because of the extreme temperatures or was it blocked in some way? Might Oscar have been so impaired by the cold that he could not get to the door?
     What we do know is that according to the police report, Mr. Gnanakkan’s father told police he went to the address (many hours after that morning’s citizen complaint to Animal Control) between 6 and 6:30 PM on Dec. 30th. and found the dog in the yard, unable to stand. He told police his wife “was able to push” Oscar into the basement “so he could be warm.”  They then left the residence.
     Upon returning later, the dog had its mouth open and appeared to be suffocating. Some time later the dog died.
     As an advisory commission, our task is not to conduct an investigation into Animal Control’s response. But we are tasked with asking questions, receiving answers, and acting in an advisory capacity. We believe we, and you, as members of the County Council, need to learn the answers to numerous questions:
1)     Why did Animal Control not respond to the Regina Drive address after receiving the complaint on the morning of Dec. 30th?
2)     Regardless of whether Oscar’s death was caused by exposure to the cold, was he put in harm’s way by the decision not to dispatch an officer?
3)     Did the call taker follow rules when determining not to dispatch an officer?
4)     If not, what action is Animal Services taking to ensure that officers and call takers respond properly in the future?
5)     If procedures were followed, do those procedures need to be revised?
6)     Is Animal Control staffing adequate?
7)     Is Animal Control training adequate?

     Unfortunately, despite many months of close collaboration and trust between Animal Services and the Commission, open communication between us has broken down.
     The Commission’s liaison committee normally meets with shelter representatives and Fred Homan each month, but when we asked to schedule a time, we were told that no one was available for a meeting.
     Through email, we have requested specific information to help us better understand what took place. Only some of that information has been provided.
     Without open communication, we are unable to fulfill the Commission’s advisory mission.
     In the Commission’s two annual reports, we’ve maintained the need for the county to be transparent in its shelter operations. The handling of this issue is an indication that transparency is still sorely lacking.
     The county was not open about what was happening in this case as it unfolded. Instead it quickly issued a statement that “These allegations have been investigated by Baltimore County Animal Services and the Police Department and there was no evidence of animal mistreatment and no cause to charge anyone. It was determined that the 15 year-old Chow-Chow died of natural causes and that a family member was caring for the dog when it died. Upon the dog’s death, the family member took the dog’s remains to an emergency veterinarian to be cremated.”
     In fact, at the time that statement was issued
·       The police investigation appeared incomplete, as the dog’s owner was out of town and had not yet been interviewed in person.  In phone conversations with police officers, he had provided contradictory information.
·      A necropsy had not been conducted to determine the cause of Oscar’s death.
·      The case summary says BCAS did not even know the State’s Attorney’s office had opened an investigation, had taken the dog’s body, and was waiting for necropsy results.
     The Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission has been a loud and proud champion for the county’s animal shelter over the last two years. There has been enormous progress, as well as tremendous success in improving live release rates.
     In the last quarter of 2017, those live release rates were above 90% for both dogs and cats. This is a wonderful achievement.
      This latest incident does not un-do any of those accomplishments.
     But there is clearly a need for answers here. And again, it’s imperative that there is more transparency with the Commission and the public.
     When things are hidden, it creates the appearance of wrongdoing. That perception quickly feeds a storm of anger that then erupts on social media.
     This, in turn, can only hurt the shelter and its caring administrators and staff, who are working so diligently to save lives.
     We ask that you move to address these issues, intervene on the Commission’s behalf in our effort to work with the shelter and resurrect the relationship of cooperation that previously existed, and obtain answers to the questions outlined above.
Deborah Stone Hess
Chair, Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Jan. 16, 2018 Meeting of the Baltimore County Animal Svcs. Advisory Commission

Here's what happened at the Commission's latest meeting:

                      AGENDA FOR  JANUARY, 2018
          Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory
1) Call to Order
2) Roll Call-Determination of a quorum
In attendance were Deborah Stone-Hess, Joy Freedman, Julianne Zimmer, Roy Plummer, and Jon Christiana and Janice Vincent by phone
3) Approval of minutes-Here are the minutes as approved:
October 18, 2017

The twenty-fourth regular meeting of the Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission was held on Tuesday, October 18, 2017 in the Main Conference Room of the Drumcastle Government Center. This meeting was called to order at 6:41 pm.
By the Chair Deborah Stone-Hess. Members in attendance were: Deborah Stone-Hess, Maryanne Bailey (by phone), Jon Christiana (by phone), Jamie DeRita Rodriguez (by phone), Joy Freedman and Julianne Zimmer.


Minutes from the September 26, 2017 meeting were motioned and approved as submitted.

Motion –

Motioned by:  Joy Freeman
Second by:  Julianne Zimmer
Decision: Approved

Commission Member Resignation

Lavinia Ringgold has resigned. There is no news on her replacement at this time.

New business

Commission Report Submitted

The Commission Report has been submitted to the County Council and the County Executive.

Third Quarter Statistics

Third Quarter Statistics were shared as well as the comparison of third quarter statistics of 2016 and 2017. Here are the statistics of 2017:

Dogs Cats
Intake 498 1097
Euthanized 40 127
Went to Rescue 140 199
Adopted 104 392

Bathroom Issue

At BCAS there are major problems with pipes and as a result bathrooms have been non-operational. On some days, the public rest room has been non-operational while the administrative bathrooms were working. On other days, all bathrooms were not working. On days when only public restroom was not working, volunteers were told that they could not use the administrative bathroom and would have to drive to a public restroom. A portable bathroom is now onsite while construction is completed on the property. Commission members agreed that this is insulting to volunteers and could damage the goodwill that has been built through the volunteer program. Deborah Stone has drafted a letter to send to the County Attorney to ask about the legality of refusing volunteers and the public bathroom access when there is a working bathroom onsite. She has also drafted a letter to BCAS Administration, Baltimore County Health Officer and Baltimore County Administrator, expressing concerns over this issue.

Motion to send the letter:

Motion by Joy Freedman
Second by Julianne Zimmer
Motion approved.

When November 21st was mentioned as the next meeting date, Julianne and Deborah suggested moving the November meeting of the Commission to Tuesday, November 14th, so that it does not conflict with the Thanksgiving Holiday. Deborah will send emails to Commission members and scribe will check for room availability.

Liaison Committee Meeting Summary

The summary was presented but not discussed. Please see the summary below:

Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission
Liaison Committee Meeting Summary
1. We talked about the emergency preparedness issue and the fact that Joy and Maryanne want to put together a one page sheet that could be in veterinarians’ offices about issues concerning BCAS and storm preparedness. The County Administrator is putting Joy in touch with Mark Hubbard who is the County Emergency Preparedness Director.
2. TNR Update – The County has performed 951 TNRs since it began its program in October of 2016. The County is still having a lot of difficulty getting people to agree to let cats back onto their property after they have been altered and vaccinated.
3. West side spay/neuter clinic – This is another area where the County continues to encounter difficulty. People on the west side seem disinterested in getting their pets spayed and neutered and efforts to encourage them to do so are proving unsuccessful. That includes the gift card program where people would receive a twenty dollar gift card in exchange for utilizing the clinic. The County is considering its options to determine whether the facility could be better used for other purposes, including TNR.
4. Mobile Adoption Vehicle – The new target date for getting the new vehicle is the end of November.
5. Vehicle to Libraries – Anne Gearhart expressed interest in having the vehicle come to county libraries. The shelter will consider that, although if Saturdays are the preferred time for this and other bigger events are taking place on Saturdays (as they often do) the County wants to go where they can reach the most people. So we don’t know if libraries will prove a viable option. Heidi is going to create an event calendar for the vehicle. Ann, contact her to discuss.
6. TNR of Friendly Cats – Deborah received a message on Facebook from someone concerned about friendly cats being returned after being altered. This is indeed part of the program as there is not enough room at the shelter to take in friendly cats through the TNR program. Kitten season continues and the adoption room is consistently running full. As long as cats appear to be healthy and have a reliable food source, they will be returned to their colonies whether they are feral or friendly. This offers the greatest likelihood of a live outcome for as many cats as possible.

Announcement of Next Meeting Date and Location
November 21, 2017 at Drumcastle Government Center, 6401 York Road, 3rd floor, Main Conference Room

Motion to adjourn
Motion by Julianne Zimmer
Second by Joy Freeman
Motion approved.

Adjourned at 7:25 p.m.

4) Old Business
a) Cuddle Shuttle-The shelter's new mobile adoption van, the Cuddle Shuttle is up and running and looks amazing.

b) Bathroom issue-The plumbing problems at thew shelter appear to be resolved.

5) New Business
a) BCAS Statistics for 4th quarter-Here are the stats:

Activity for Reporting Quarter: October-December, 2017
A. Live Animal Count at Beginning of Qtr
B. Stray/At Large
C. Relinquished by Owner
D. Owner Requested Euthanasia
E. Transferred in from another Agency
F. Other Live Intakes (impounds, births, animals placed in foster care, brought in for TNR, etc)
H. Adoption
I. Returned to Owner
J. Transferred to another Agency
K. Other Live Outcome (includes TNRs released)
L. Died/Lost in Care
M. Euthanasia- at Owner’s Request
N. Euthanasia-All other than owner request
P. Live Animal Count at End of QTR (includes Fosters). (A+G - O)
In order to better understand to what degree unowned cats are a source of intake and euthanasia, we need your help. To the best of your abilities, please indicate what percent and/or how much of CAT intake would you consider unowned (i.e. feral, or community cats) animals:
How many of the euthanized cats would you guess are unowned:
1/Pursuant to section 2-1602(H) of the Agriculture Article which states: “Beginning January 14,2014, each county and municipal animal control shelter and each organization that contracts with a county or municipality for animal control shall report quarterly to the Department on a form prescribed by the Department describing for the previous 3 months: (1) The number of cats and dogs taken in; (2) The number of cats and dogs disposed of, broken down by method of disposal, including euthanasia; and (3) Any other relevant data the Department requires.”Please return completed survey by email attachment to mda.spayandneuter@maryland.gov or by mail to Maryland Department of Agriculture, Marketing Department (Spay and Neuter Program), 50 Harry S Truman Parkway, Annapolis, MD 21401. Questions call Jane Mallory 410-481-5766 email: Jane.Mallory@maryland.gov .
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Here's a summary of the stats as compared with 4th quarter 2016:
                   4TH QTR. 2017 VS. 4TH QTR. 2016

              2017                                                         2016
Dogs     486                                                             509
Cats      1043         846

Dogs     121 (24.8%)                                            160 (31.4%)
Cats      292 (27.9%)                                             377 (44.5%)

                             TRANSFERRED TO RESCUE
Dogs     128  (26.3%)                                           156 (30.6%)
Cats      257   (24.6%)                                           220 (26%)

Cats          424                                                            177

                   (OTHER THAN OWNER REQUESTED)

Dogs        42 (8.6%)                                                47 (9.2%)
Cats        107(10%)                                                152 (17.9%)

b) Oscar’s Death-There was an extensive discussion of the death of Oscar. This matter is being investigated by the Baltimore County States Attorneys office. The Commission approved wording of an email to be sent to Fred Homan requesting information. It
s not up to the Commission to investigate the facts of the case. The issue of concern for the Commission is whether Animal Control responded appropriately, whether protocols were followed, etc.
6) Announcement of next meeting location and time-The next Commission meeting will take place on Feb. 20, 2017on the 3rd floor of the Drumcastle Building.
7) Adjournment