Tuesday, April 24, 2018

April 17, 2018 Meeting of the Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission

This meeting was chock-full of information.
Here's a summary:

April 17, 2018

I. Call to Order
II. Roll Call – Determination of a Quorum-In attendance were Deborah Stone Hess, Joy Freedman, Julianne Zimmer, Janice Vincent, Roy Plummer, Maryanne Bailey, Larry Townsend
III. Approval of March Minutes-Here are the minutes as approved:

IV. Change to February Minutes-There was a sentence in the February minutes we approved that should not have been there. The sentence was removed after the March meeting. This was a vote to approve the removal of the extraneous sentence.

V. County Executive Candidate Q and A-The Commission has invited all candidates for the County Executive seat to come to a Commission meeting to answer questions about their views and plans concerning Animal Services. At this meeting, Democratic Senator Jim Brochin and Democrat John Olsziewski, Jr. attended.

a. Here is a summary of the remarks by Sen. Jim Brochin who is currently serving in his 4th term in the Maryland State Senate, representing Maryland's District 42 in Baltimore County.
Brochin said he has supported a wide array of legislation concerning animals like puppy mill legislation and tethering laws.
     His understanding of issues that are important concerning BCAS is that volunteers need to feel they are wanted and needed which he says is not happening now.
     He believes the shelter should not be micromanaged by Towson but rather decentralized and managed by a corps of committed volunteers and specialists that make up an oversight committee or advisory board. In his opinion, the less micromanaging the better. 
     He says he thinks we should decentralize it under a corps of committed volunteers and specialists that make up an oversight committee or advisory board and says the less micromanaging the better.
     He believes the shelter should be run by the county with citizen oversight where citizens make up the majority of those making decisions about the animals. 
     In speaking about the events concerning Oscar, the dog that froze to death in December 2017, he said he believes the situation could have been handled a lot better internally and gotten a better result with a lot more transparency which was lacking.
     In answering a question about whether the shelter and Animal Control should be operated separately, he said yes and doesn't think they should remain under the Health Dept. because he says he doesn't know what the Health Dept. has to do with issues involving BCAS.
     He says if he is elected he would plan to sit down with members of the Animal Svcs. Advisory Commission to figure out a structure, and would support an oversight committee of committed volunteers and specialists in the field.
     He says he has a strong belief in transparency, and that when issues come up they should be out on the table for discussion. He says otherwise, you lose the confidence of the people.
He said when problems occur, everybody who’s involved in decision-making from the County Executive’s Chief of Staff on down should sit down, go thru the issue and goes thru different areas where we may have failed, get an action plan to move forward, and get buy in from everybody.
     He promises to stay transparent and open
     When asked whether he would be open to an audit of animal services, he said yes and that could be number one agenda item.

b. Here is a summary of the comments made by democrat John Olsziewski, Jr who is a former teacher and also spent nine years representing eastern Baltimore County in the House of Delegates.
     He says he is interested in making Balto County govt open and accessible and that he and his team want to partner with the Commission and other animal advocates.
     In his time in the General Assembly he says he promoted spay/neuter programs, helped go after puppy mills, was lead sponsor of legislation that created pet trusts for older ppl who wanted to leave a trust to care for their pets after they died.
     His dog is a rescue.
     He wants to encourage an environment where volunteers are welcome seven days a week.
     Looking beyond sheltering he would like to create programs partnering in the community, 
making more animal friendly spaces, investing more in dog parks and building on the progress of what’s been done.
     He does not yet have a position on whether the operation of the shelter and Animal Control should be separated but promised the decision will be based on feedback from the Commission and other advocates.and believes we should have meaningful citizen input and oversight on all we do including with BCAS.
     He believes strongly in transparency saying it’s important that people have confidence in the decisions made and the best way to do that is to be transparent.

VI. New Commission Member-Deborah somehow forgot to introduce the Commission's newest member. This was.a major oversight that will be corrected at the next meeting. Our newest Commission member is Larry Townsend who is the husband of former Commission member, Veterinarian Jean Townsend. We are thrilled to have him on the Commission! And we wish Jean the best.

VII. Administrative Appointment-The Administration had made an appointment to replace Jamie DeRita Rodriguez, but it is unclear whether that appointment may have to be changed.

VIII. New Shelter Adoption and Volunteer Hours-As many people have heard, BCAS plans to expand its adoption schedule to 7 days a week. This is something the Commission has advocated since its inception. We are thrilled to see this change which is scheduled to go into effect in September.

IX. Oscar’s Law-Julianne Zimmer and Joy Freedman discussed the Baltimore County Council's April 16th  passage of Oscar's Law which outlaws leaving pets outdoors for extended periods of time in extreme temperatures. It's hoped that this law will help prevent the death of other animals like Oscar. 

X. Police Animal Abuse Unit-The unit is not operational yet. Deborah spoke with Police Captain Mike Cortes who will be leading the unit who said he hopes to have it up and running by May 1st. Once the unit is operational, the Commission will ask representatives from the unit to come speak to Commission members to explain their mission and how they will carry it out.

XI. Quarterly Statistics-Here are BCAS statistics from the first quarter of 2018:

            1ST QUARTER 2018 STATS SUMMARY

DOGS         CATS
439            568

89 (20%)        32 (5.6%)

118 (26.8%)     152 (26.7%)


19 (4.3%)     49 (8.6%)

95.7%         91.4%

Here is a comparison of 1st quarter 2017 stats with 1st quarter 2018 stats:


INTAKE 2018         INTAKE 2017
DOGS: 439                                                                    491
CATS: 568                                                                    709

ADOPTION 2018                   ADOPTION 2017
DOGS: 89 (20.2%)                                                   138 (28%)            
CATS: 132 (23%)                                                     137 (19%)

RESCUE 2018             RESCUE 2017
DOGS: 118 (26.8%)                                                141  (28.7%)              
CATS: 152 (26.7%)                                                 225 (31.7%)

TNR 2018                         TNR 2017
144                                                                                     236

DOGS: 19 (4.3%)                                                             33 (6.7%)                                                   
CATS: 49 (8.6%)                56 (7.8%)

XII. Fred Homan/Gary Klunk Q and A-After Oscar died, Fred Homan terminated the Commission's monthly liaison committee meetings at the shelter. So, this was the first opportunity the Commission has had to ask questions since the Oscar incident. 

Here is a summary of the Q and A with Fred Homan and Gary Klunk:
1) Will you commit to coming to every Commission meeting to answer questions?
Fred: yes.

2) Why were Liaison Committee meetings terminated?
     Fred said that it was because it was clear the liaison committee wanted to ask about Oscar and he is not at liberty to discuss anything concerning the Oscar case because it involves criminal charges. In addition, several BCAS employees have been subpoenaed. 
Commission members said it would have been helpful if he had shared this information with the liaison committee prior to this. 
     Fred gave no indication as to why he would not allow liaison committee meetings to discuss issues other than the Oscar case. He said only that he thought it would be better to meet with the whole Commission to answer questions.
     The Commission has maintained that this was a punitive action after the Commission raised questions about the county's handling of the case. The Commission has requested the resumption of liaison committee meetings numerous times and have been refused. 

3) Who wrote the initial statement that said Oscar had died of natural causes and there had been no wrongdoing in his death?
     Fred did not answer that question but said those who wrote it felt it was justified at the time.
In an apparent effort to indicate why they felt it was justified, Fred indicated that the necropsy report said the cause of Oscar's death was undetermined, and that there was no microscopic evidence of frostbite, but that the doctor who solicited the necropsy gave her opinion that the cause of death was hypothermia. Fred promised to send us the full report.  

4) Animal Control received 22 complaints from citizens concerned about Oscar since 2009. Did Animal Control visit the home every time it received one of those complaints and was Oscar's owner ever given a citation by Animal Control?
     Fred said no to both questions. The Commission asked how many times Animal Control had actually visited the home? Fred did not know but said typically when numerous repeated complaints come in about one address, Animal Control might visit the first several times, then maybe one out of every three or four times. The Commission will request documents showing how many times the county did respond to complaints by actually visiting the address.

5) The day Oscar died, when a citizen called to complain out of concern for the dog, no Animal Control officer went to the address. Instead, Oscar's owner was called. Is this common protocol?      
     Fred said he couldn't say specifically but that Animal Control does receive repeated calls to the same address on many occasions and they do develop familiarity with dog owners involved. He said it's up to the discretion of the individual assigned at the time whether to visit or call. 

6) Oscar was in poor physical condition and was not even up to date on his rabies vaccinations. Did Animal Control handle this case properly in retrospect?
     Fred said he didn't know if the protocol would be to ask if a rabies vaccination was up to date. 
Several Commission members suggested it would seem to be a good idea to do so since the county is so concerned with rabies vaccinations and regularly offers rabies clinics. It would seem to be the perfect opportunity to provide information about these clinics.

7) Why was no officer sent the day that Oscar died.
     Fred refused to talk about it.

8) Who makes the call as to whether an officer is sent when a complaint comes in?
Apparently it depends on the time of day that calls come in, there's an officer on call every night, the officer picks up the call and makes the judgement call as to whether to respond in person. 

9) How many Animal Control Officers are on the street at any given time?
 Monday through Friday,...usually 4-6, weekends there are 2 during the day, on holidays just one. There is an officer on call every night.

10) Doesn't your system indicate whether a dog about which you receive a call is licensed? 
Fred said he didn't know the answer to that.
      He said the county's goal is to increase the number of animals that are vaccinated against rabies and talked about the success of the county's rabies clinics. He lamented that he had not been successful in getting legislation that would have required veterinarians to report to the county which pets were vaccinated and which were not. 
Some on the Commission questioned when an Animal Control officer gets a complaint, why wouldn't the officer ask a pet owner whether the animal is vaccinated against rabies? 
The county appears to be adverse to the idea of issuing citations because the county has no recourse if a citizen does not pay a fine associated with the citation. 
Joy Freedman said that in the city there is followup and enforcement when animals are found to be unlicensed and not up to date on rabies vaccinations. She said she hoped there would be some way to enforce county codes and said that often in the city some of these minor code violation followups have led authorities to learn about fighting rings and other major crimes.
Fred said the county tries to focus on dangerous and menacing animals and that fees are not an ideal way to get people to comply with the law. 

11) Fred answered questions concerning the new Police Animal Anti-Abuse unit.
He said plans for this had been in the works for some time. He said the unit was created to streamline communication in cases involving animal abuse. He said that he sees BCAS's mission as more about adoption and TNR than a public safety organization.
He said the plan now is for the Animal Abuse unit to include four officers and one civilian...that it will be up to the abuse unit to determine when to work with the State's Attorney's office to pursue an investigation. 
Animal Services and the Health Department have a public health role and that role does not include enforcement activities. The Police Dept. and State's Attorney work together on law enforcement and that's why they created the unit.

12) There was supposedly another dog owned by Oscar's owner. Where is the other dog? Could it be in danger?
Fred said the only thing he remembered is that when investigators arrived there was not another dog in the yard. He said it's believed the other dog liked to stay inside while Oscar liked to be outside.

13) What is BCAS’s relationship with the Animal Abuse unit of the State’s Atty’s office?
     Fred: Yes, there's a relationship. Three years ago when Dr. Jones was hired, the county had too many animals held at our facility unable to get out (presumably he was referring to animals being held as evidence in abuse and neglect cases) and the State's Attorney forced us to do that. We made everyone aware we were going to follow the law. It made no sense to hold the animal as evidence. We move them out (through adoption and rescue) as long as there is not a replevin filed. (A replevin is an action by the owner requesting that the animal be returned to them.)  

14) Without talking about the Oscar case itself, can you understand why the community was upset by what they were told and hearing the full story-do you understand that concern? Do you feel there’s a responsibility to be transparent to the extent that people believe that 22 calls means 22 violations?
Fred:I  understand that. Its impossible to explain to the public in all the areas the county is involved when the county investigates a situation and finds what we found. Our history was not a problem with the owner. How would we communicate there had been no problem?
I understand it. I understand how that would be a concern given the ultimate situation.

15) The necropsy on Oscar was performed at Tufts University. Fred says the State's Attorney is working with the Animal Abuse unit to find a pathologist locally that can perform necropsies.

16) Why is the police anti-abuse unit being created?
Fred: We believe that a criminal investigation is more appropriately conducted by police working with the State's Attorney. It's what they do with other criminal activity. We see ourtselves as a public entity not as a criminal justice entity.
Menacing and dangerous dogs will continue to be handled by BCAS.

17) A couple of months ago there was a plumbing problem. Why weren't volunteers allowed to use working restrooms?
Gary Klunk: That's an area of the building where volunteers don't have access. That's why. 
It was a secure portion of the building. There are 75 vols. 
Gary said he would not be responsible for escorting 75 volunteers to the other part of the building to use the restroom.
Many on the Commission said clearly 75 volunteers are never at the shelter at once, and asked asked how many volunteers are in the building at any given time? Gary said he didn't know.
Fred: We had a serious plumbing issue in the building. we have spent a lot of money to resolve that matter. 
He added that there were also problems with the bathrooms in the secure part of the facility and when that happened even the employees had to leave the building to use restroom facilities and Gary said within a day of that there was a port a potty on site.

18) How will the new police animal unit receive calls? They will come thru 911 and also through a direct line to the unit.

19) Will the unit work directly with the States Attorney's office? Yes.

20) Fred seemed to indicate that in abuse and neglect cases, as long as owners don't file a replevin action to gt their animal back, animals will not be kept at the shelter but will rather go to rescue or adopters as soon as BCAS takes photos to document injuries, etc. and then nurse the animal back to health.

21) How long does it take for Animal Control to respond in a complaint about neglect? Deborah mentioned she knows someone in her neighborhood who called BCAS several weeks before about a neighbor who left her dog out in the cold rain all night and this woman took the dog in till morning, apparently trying to reach her neighbor by home phone and cell several times that night with no success. She called BCAS and she never received any indication that they responded. According to Fred and Gary, she must fill out an affidavit to complain about the issue before Animal Control will respond. 
A few days after the meeting, Deborah sent detailed info on this case to Fred and Gary. Gary responded with an email that said an officer did respond and he attached the officer's report which said that upon arrival, the officer left a note and a copy of the laws on the front door. The officer later received a phone call from the occupant of the home who advised that her dog got out by accident and she never stays out for any length of time.The occupant was also told she needed to license her dog.
The officer never talked to the complainant.

22) Do all Animal Control officers attend training at the East Coast Training Academy? No. Some have. But the main training they get is by riding with other ACO's for 2-4 months.

23) Is there ongoing training for officers? Yes. Gary said he had recently gone with three officers to a training in Anne Arundel County on the use of asp batons.

24) How many employees are there at BCAS? 
     Answer: 59. Everyone is now cross trained. They work one month in the shelter and one month in the field. Two shelter attendants have opted not to participate in cross-training. Every employee is now an Animal Service Officer (ASO)
Fred said this was done in part to give everyone an understanding and respect for others' jobs. 

25) A request was made for the budget for BCAS. Fred said he would send it.

26) A request was made for a chart listing the salaiures of those who work for BCAS. Fred said he would send it.

27) A request was made for BCAS Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's). Fred said he would send them. 

28) What happened with the plan to seek a change in county laws to make it easier to seize animals deemed dangerous until their owners comply with necessary corrective steps? That has not happened yet. The timing was deemed not right to move forward with this.
It is still under discussion as to how and when to move forward.

29) How long will BCAS keep animals' bodies in its freezer in cases under investigation?
Fred: It's impractical to do this if you're going to preserve a chain of evidence in an investigation. He said employees go in and out of the freezer and there's a possibility that something could happen that shouldn't happen. The Animal Abuse unit is working this out.

30) In a recent case, Animal Control was called by a citizen who believed a neighbor had thrown the body of his dog into the woods. She was told by BCAS to drag the body to the road side. Is this common practice? Yes.

XIII. Next Meeting Date and Location
a. Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at 6:30 p.m.
b. 6401 York Road, Third floor Main Conference room, Baltimore, MD 21212
XIV. Adjournment