Wednesday, October 20, 2021

October 2021 meeting of the Baltimore COunty Animal Services Advisory Commission

 Hi, everyone,

The October meeting was an important one. The Commission approved our annual report which will now be submitted to the Baltimore County Council; and the County Executive. The report will be included ion this post.

Here is the agenda form our meeting: 

OCTOBER 2021 AGENDA

1. Call to Order

2. Roll Call-Determination of a quorum-Members in attendance were Deborah Stone Hess, Rene Varela, Roy Plummer, Bob Swensen, Chris Shaughness, and Sarah Hardy. Also attending were Chief of Animal Services Dr. Sandra Andrulis and two members of the community: Jen Lavin and Anne George.

3. Approval of September 2021 minutes-Minutes were approved as follows:

BALTIMORE COUNTY ANIMAL SERVICES

ADVISORY COMMISSION

September 21, 2021

The fifty-ninth regular meeting of the Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission was held on Tuesday, September 21, 2021 via GoogleMeet.

Members in attendance were: Deborah Stone Hess, Chris Shaughness, Sarah Hardy, Bob Swensen, Rene Varela, and Roy Plummer.

Other attendees: Jonny Akchin, Anne George

This meeting was called to order at 6:32 p.m. by the Chair Deborah Stone Hess.

Minutes

July minutes were approved with correction that this meeting is being held virtually instead of at Drumcastle.

Old Business:

The Commission Annual Report is almost finished. Should have draft complete first week of October. The draft will be sent to Commission members as soon as it’s finished and will be voted on at the October meeting.

Deborah has finished a video for BCAS about how to Introduce a Second Cat to your home.

New Business:

Assistant Shelter Supervisor Dave Ledford and Anna Battle (Foster and Rescue Coordinator) have resigned. Lindsay Jacks is the new Volunteer Coordinator and Deb has met her. She was very impressed and has heard good things about her.

Space for “Working Cats” will be reduced from 16 to 8 cages. Jonny said that BCAS may use the Dundalk location for additional space for these cats. 

There are lots of kittens available at BCAS right now.

The County continues working on a TNR law.

Maryland's ban on the sale of puppies and kittens in pet stores has been upheld in court. Just Puppies tried to have the courts knock down the ban but was unsuccessful.

There was a discussion about the use of padlocks on kennels at BCAS. Sarah Hardy has expressed concern that they would be difficult to open in the event of an emergency like a fire. Deb called some other shelters to see what they use. Sliding locks/carabiners were favored as they can be opened quickly in the event of an emergency. This issue will be included in the Commission’s annual report.

Introduction of Anne George, visitor to this meeting. Question of how others would be able to attend/observe this meeting. Those who are interested should contact Deb for the link.

Discussion of when to resume meeting in person. At this time, meetings will continue to be virtual until January. Then we will revisit.

Next meeting scheduled virtually for October 19, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.

Adjournment at 7:00 p.m.

4. Old Business

a. TNR bill (Joy Freedman Care for Cats Act) and Work Session-

The Administration of Johnny Olsziewski introduced the Joy Freedman Care for Cats Act to the County Council. This bill would codify the current pilot TNR program at BCAS. The County Council will hold a work session where this bill will be discussed on October 26, 2021 at 4pm. Deborah and Chris Shaiughness will testify in favor of the bill as will several others. The County Council is slated to vote on the measure November 1st. We are very gratified that the Administration has taken this step as the main recommendation of the Commission's last annual report was the creation of a TNR bill. 

b. Annual Report-The Commission voted to submit our annual report. This report was compiled by Chris Shaughness, Rene Varela, and Deborah Stone Hess. The report can be found at the bottom of this post.

5. Other Business? Anne George asked if the Commission members had heard of the Haas model. She just discovered it. It’s an emerging new model of animal sheltering. She said it';s being used in pilot programs in 30 shelters across the country including some municipal shelters. 

She will send links so we can learn more about it and there is a presentation  about the Haas model on Thursday at 2 pm. She will send a linker it as well as a link to a presentation about transparent sheltering.

6. Next Meeting Date and Time-The next Commission meeting will be held via GoogleMeet on November 16, 2021 at 6:30 PM.

7. Adjournment


Here is our annual report. Unfortunately the charts on the stats don't reproduce very well in this blog program. Feel free to reach out top me if you would like me to send you a copy of the report in its proper format.


                               Baltimore County Animal Services Advisory Commission


                                                                   2021 Annual Report


       Commission Members:

    Deborah Stone Hess (Chair)

      Maryanne Martin Bailey

                Louis Eguzo

                Sarah Hardy

                Steve Malan

                Roy Plummer

            Chris Shaughness

               Bob Swensen

             Larry Townsend 

                Rene Varela


      Table of Contents


I. Introduction Page 3

II. Statistics Pages 4,5

III. Large Animal Seizures Pages 6,7,8

IV. Staff Changes Page 9

V. Pandemic-Related Issues Page 10

VI. Program Changes Pages 11. 12, 13

VII. Volunteer Program Pages 14, 15

VIII. Fire Safety Pages 16, 17

IX. TNR Program Pages 18, 19

X. Conclusion and Recommendations Page 20



I. Introduction

   This past year has been extraordinarily challenging for Baltimore County Animal Services. In addition to coping with the ongoing pandemic, several animal seizures brought large numbers of pets into the shelter, some of which were suffering from highly contagious distemper.  

     Managing these large, unexpected intakes placed a heavy burden on shelter supervisors, staff, volunteers, and, of course, Chief of Animal Services Dr. Sandra Andrulis. 

     Nonetheless, Dr. Andrulis has managed with a steady hand through these difficulties.

    She and (now former) Deputy Chief of Animal Services Jonny Akchin worked diligently over the last year to manage problems, hire good personnel, and work for live outcomes for every adoptable animal.

     That said, there are some issues facing BCAS that warrant attention and they will be addressed in this report. 

     As for the relationship between BCAS and the Commission, all is well. There has been excellent ongoing communication. Dr. Andrulis and Mr. Akchin have regularly attended Commission meetings, have routinely made themselves available, and have provided information requested. They have always been open to discussion and new ideas. This cooperative teamwork is deeply appreciated.

     The County Administration has also communicated with the Commission. When our last annual report recommended the creation of a TNR law for Baltimore County, Administration representatives reached out and began discussing what such a law might entail.   

   In fact, the Administration has drafted a TNR bill which has been submitted to the County Council.  Along the way, the Administration encouraged our input and have shown a willingness to pursue modern-day solutions to age-old problems.

      This report will provide information on BCAS live release statistics, pandemic-related issues, the recent large animal seizures at BCAS, staffing concerns, the state of BCAS programs, and recommendations for the year ahead.

     The Commission’s members submit this report respectfully to the Baltimore County Executive and members of the Baltimore County Council.

II. Statistics

      Baltimore County Animal Services compiles quarterly statistics and submits them to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.  Our last annual report was issued before the end of the 4th quarter of 2020, so we’ll provide 4th quarter 2020 stats, as well as stats for the first three quarters of 2021.

      There are differences in ways to calculate live release rates. For the purposes of this report, we’ve calculated them by computing the percentage of intake that is euthanized (not at owner request).


      4th Quarter 2020 Statistics


Dogs Cats

Intake 395 695

Adopted 87 369

Sent to Rescue 102 251

TNR 92

Non-Owner requested Euthanasia 31 68

Live Release Percentage 92.2% 90.3%


    1st Quarter 2021 Statistics


Dogs Cats


Intake 381 453

Adopted 82 129

Redeemed by owner 105 19

Sent to rescue 107 141

TNR 56

Non-owner requested euthanasia 35 58

Live Release percentage 91% 87.2%


       2nd Quarter 2021 Statistics


Dogs Cats

Intake 570 706

Redeemed by owner 183 22

Adopted 108 295

Sent to rescue 121 106

TNR 92

Euthanasia (other than owner requested)

59 58

Live Release Percentage 89.7% 91.8%


       3rd Quarter 2021 Statistics


Dogs Cats

Intake 493 923

Redeemed by owner 135 18

Adopted 138 490

Sent to rescue 111 150

TNR 64

Euthanized (not at owner request) 79 126

Live Release rate 84% Just under 87%

      It’s important to note that the two major seizures that included animals suffering from severe illness took place at the end of the 2nd quarter and during the 3rd quarter of 2021.  

      The necessity to euthanize a number of these very sick dogs obviously had an adverse effect on dog euthanasia statistics and corresponding live release rates for the third quarter of the year. That does not indicate failure on the part of BCAS but is simply the result of so many sick animals impounded at the shelter.      

The next part of this report explains the seizures in more detail. 

III. Animal Seizures

      BCAS is an open admission animal shelter. It must accept all animals that arrive either through owner surrender or through Animal Control. It’s a fact of life in an open admission animal shelter that large numbers of animals may arrive at any given moment. When this happens, the shelter must accept the animals, create appropriate cage space or dog runs, handle additional cleaning requirements, provide food and medical care, and find either adoptive or rescue placements for as many of the animals as possible.  

      As mentioned earlier, BCAS dealt with extremely large animal intakes due to three animal seizures in recent months. 

       The First Seizure

The first seizure on March 4th was unique, not only for the kinds of animals involved but their large number as well. It resulted in impoundment of over three hundred mice, rabbits, pigs, chickens, turtles, tortoises, hamsters, geckos, bearded dragons, and fifty-nine snakes, including two anacondas, three reticulated pythons, and six Columbian red-tail boas.

      BCAS is most accustomed to caring for dogs and cats, so managing the animals from this seizure presented an unexpected challenge. 

In addition, the seizure took place while Dr. Andrulis was on vacation and Commission members have heard that the seizure created some chaos and stressful conditions in the shelter. That said, BCAS created good outcomes for many of these animals. 

All four turtles and both tortoises found new homes. 

So did four of the seven rabbits (one was euthanized and two are being held pending the outcome of court proceedings in this case.)

Three dogs were seized. One of those was rescued and two are being held subject to court outcome. Of those two, one had two puppies while in care, so BCAS is caring for four dogs from this seizure in all. 

Of three pigs seized, one was adopted, one was euthanized, and one died in foster care.

360 small mammals were rehomed, most of them pulled by rescue organizations.

The other two large seizures

      The next two seizures both took place at a rescue in Baltimore County called “Don’t Be a Bully”. 

     The first seizure on June 28th involved forty-eight dogs that were living in terrible conditions. Many were sick and one required humane euthanasia while BCAS was on site. It wasn’t known at the time that many of the dogs were infected with highly contagious and potentially deadly distemper. 

     BCAS originally housed the dogs in an area with other shelter animals, and two shelter dogs were infected with distemper as a result. Both ultimately recovered. 

The Quarantine

     When testing revealed the seized dogs were infected with distemper, Dr. Andrulis implemented quarantine procedures, ongoing testing, and treatment of infected dogs. BCAS implemented use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and disposed of all contaminated materials used in the animals’ care.

The quarantine forced BCAS to temporarily suspend owner surrenders, spay/neuter, TNR services, and vaccination clinics. 

     Next BCAS needed to protect new arrivals from infection, so staff moved stray dog intake and redemption to the BCAS Dundalk facility, which, before COVID, was used as a spay/neuter location. Having this location was helpful but not ideal, as Dundalk was equipped with cages but no runs for the dogs. 

     Then came the second chapter in this story. The “Don’t Be a Bully” rescue’s operators acquired more animals after the seizure. BCAS returned to their premises on August 3rd and brought forty-four more dogs to the shelter. 

      BCAS knew these newly seized dogs presented contagion risk and immediately created a quarantine area in a storage room at the shelter. 

     The arrival of these last animals added to a heavy and stressful workload for shelter staff and volunteers and brought important issues to the fore:

The need for better coordination between Animal Control (which carried out the seizure and brought the animals to BCAS) and those working at the shelter, as well as the need for a designated authority on site to smoothly handle intake of large numbers of animals.

The need for protocols when animals in a seizure are sick so that illness does not spread to the general shelter population.

Lessons Learned

    Dr. Andrulis has put systems in place for future seizures, designating herself and the veterinary medical supervisor on staff as Incident Commanders to coordinate the intake process. In addition, a new policy prevents sick animals from being placed with the general population, with a specific storage room to be used to house animals from seizures. 

     The shelter’s hard work during this time paid off in lives saved.

In the two seizures from Don’t Be a Bully”: 

Two dogs died.

Twenty-seven had to be euthanized due to severe illness.

Thirty-seven went to rescue. 

Eighteen were adopted.

Seven are in foster care being treated for heartworm.

One is still in shelter care.  

So many lives saved! This is an important accomplishment.

     Still, it became very clear that sudden large intakes at BCAS create stress and heavy workloads for administrators, shelter employees and volunteers. 

     Unfortunately, this is just one more layer on top of what is already a stressful working environment; one where animals’ lives are at stake, and where the proverbial “faucet” of incoming pets never stops running. It’s common knowledge that burnout is a problem in the shelter and rescue world. 

     The Commission recommends a Health Department discussion about how to better enable shelter staff to cope with highly increased workloads after large animal intakes. 

     Psychological and emotional support may be warranted to equip employees with additional coping tools and the knowledge that their mental health is valued. 

     This may be an important ingredient to help staff remain motivated and productive and to prevent burnout. 

IV. Staff Changes and Challenges

     There have been numerous staff changes at BCAS in recent months. The Volunteer Coordinator resigned. Many of the volunteers were not happy with her leadership, and so, this gave BCAS an opportunity to find someone more suited to the position.

      In late September, Deputy Chief of Animal Services Jonny Akchin was reassigned to a new position in the Health Department. 

     In addition to these changes, two resignations reverberated loudly within the shelter. 

The Assistant Shelter Supervisor and the longtime Foster and Rescue Coordinator chose to leave. Both were very well-respected, well-liked, and hardworking, and it was widely believed that they contributed greatly to the success of BCAS. 

     We don’t think it’s appropriate for the Commission to insert itself in personnel issues. However, it seems warranted to register concern, as these two resignations happened within a short period of time. 

     BCAS is not unique among area shelters in its loss of valued staff members but maintaining good staff is an important concern and one that should always be a high priority.

     Therefore, the Commission recommends that the Health Department examine: 

what led these employees to resign 

whether any changes in policies, procedures, salaries, or workplace environment are warranted/ feasible to prevent future staff losses.

whether new efforts toward team building could make the staff more cohesive.

     As mentioned earlier in this report, burnout is a significant issue in the animal welfare field. Perhaps psychological support could be a helpful tool in reducing burnout and stress and therefore help in maintaining valuable staff.

There is one more staff issue of concern. BCAS currently has only a part-time behavior expert. Shelter dogs frequently arrive with behavior issues. These animals need help in resolving these problems if they are to become more adoptable.  

     We recognize there are always fiscal concerns, but the Commission believes BCAS needs a full-time behavior expert on staff.

V. Pandemic-Related Issues

     Over the course of the pandemic, BCAS has worked to keep operations functioning as normally as possible. 

     For a period in 2020, the public was not allowed in the Baldwin shelter facility. All meet-and-greets between adoptable dogs and potential adopters took place outside the shelter, and cat meet-and -greets were moved temporarily to the Cuddle Shuttle vehicle.

     The Dundalk satellite facility, where BCAS performed many Trap Neuter Return (TNR) surgeries, was closed. 

     Until COVID, inmates from the County Dept. of Correction (DOC) participated in a work program at BCAS and performed many cleaning duties at the shelter. That program was suspended because of the pandemic, and, because of issues within the DOC, it has not resumed. 

     Some temporary employees have been hired to assist in cleaning duties.  

     Hopefully, the DOC program will soon recommence. 

     Pet surrender policies were also affected by the pandemic. BCAS implemented an appointment policy for those wanting to surrender pets, making exceptions when pet owners were in crisis.

     This policy continues and, because of its success, likely will become standard even when the pandemic is no longer a factor.

     Over the summer months, with COVID numbers dropping, BCAS operations resumed some sense of normalcy, but the COVID Delta variant brought new county government mask mandates, as well as requirements for vaccination or weekly routine testing for county employees slated to begin on October 15, 2021.  

     For now, the pandemic continues to cause problems for everyone, but BCAS is managing the situation as best as possible.

VI. Program Changes 

Due to continued restrictions from COVID and the recent large seizures, expansion of programs was challenging over the past year. Below is a summary of the achievements and enhancements to shelter programs during this period.

1. Rescue 

     BCAS partnered with over 100 approved rescue organizations in 2020. 

In the last quarter of 2020 and in the first three quarters of this year, 441 dogs, 648 cats, resulting in more than and at least 200 exotics were pulled by rescue organizations.  

2. Foster

     The foster program has grown steadily since it was created in 2016, and consistently sends more animals to foster each year than the previous year. The majority of animals in foster care are underage kittens. They continue to present the most need. 

     BCAS has expanded the foster program to include dogs and exotics. At this writing, animals in foster include seven dogs being treated for heartworm, two puppies, and thirty-three exotics (many of which are being held as part of an administrative case pending court proceedings).

     BCAS has begun a pilot “alternative placement” program for dogs. These are dogs that, have behavior or medical issues. Because of these problems, they previously would have been available only to a rescue organization, not to adopters.  

     This program allows these dogs to go to adoptive homes but involves screening and extra adoption counseling to ensure that they’re a good fit and that the adopters are fully aware of the pet’s behavior or medical issues and can handle them.

     Additionally, BCAS has initiated a foster-to-adopt program for heartworm-positive dogs. These dogs would also have previously been designated “rescue only”. The dogs are treated while living with their adopters, but the adoption is not finalized until after heartworm treatment is successfully completed.

     BCAS also piloted a program to place FeLV (Feline Leukemia) positive cats in homes. Previously these cats would have been euthanized or sent to rescue, although even rescue placements were challenging.  A decision was made to pilot a program because shelters in other parts of the country have been successfully able to adopt Leukemia cats to the public.  

This is not a foster-to-adopt program. The cats stay in foster and are on the BCAS website until a suitable adopter is found. The length of stay is very long so BCAS can only accommodate one Leukemia cat at a time.      

This program’s existence is contingent on being able to find fosters willing to take a cat with leukemia.

3. Medical Programs

     Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions, BCAS cancelled its rabies clinics that were held in public parks. 

     Instead, the public could schedule appointments online for Wednesdays and Thursdays where a veterinarian, technician, and office assistant provided rabies vaccinations, microchips, and county license applications/renewals.

     Spay/neuter surgery appointments were closed for several months. When BCAS was able to reopen, these surgery appointment numbers were increased to almost double that of prior capacity.  

     However, due to an increase in animal intake, the number of public appointments was adjusted to avoid over-booking the surgical staff.

4. Trap Neuter Return (TNR)

     In September 2020, BCAS began TNR walk-in clinics every Friday. 304 cats were TNRd during the 4th quarter of 2020 and through the third quarter of 2021. 

     Due to COVID restrictions, surgery intake and discharge were changed to curbside, with customers remaining in their cars, which proved to be safer and more efficient. 

     These public TNR clinics have been well-utilized by County residents and have kept pace with the yearly surgeries required by a Department of Agriculture grant. That grant has been renewed for another 600 cats.

5. Working Cat Program 

     The Working Cat program is an alternative placement program for cats that aren’t suited for traditional adoption. 

These cats are semi-friendly or are friendly cats with behavior concerns. 

     They can be well-suited to living in non-traditional adoption settings, like barns or businesses and often provide a natural solution for rodent control. Some working cats are best suited to live outdoors or be indoor/outdoor, while others are best suited to live indoors only, with cat-savvy adopters (who are experienced working with cats with behavior concerns, using positive reinforcement techniques and patience.)

Cats selected for the Working Cat program have had excellent live results. 

     Of 272 cats categorized as Working Cats, only ten did not have live outcomes (nine were euthanized and one died while in care). 

     Of the 272 cats, 193 were adopted as working cats, seventy-seven were placed in rescues, and two were returned to the field. 

     Staffing for the TNR and Working Cat program consists of just a single coordinator and a dedicated group of active volunteers and volunteer cat trappers. A significant amount of coordination time is required, especially with helping caretakers negotiate issues with county animal control codes and neighbor disputes over free-roaming cats. 

     Next year, the shelter plans to seek separate physical space in the shelter for working cat enclosures. This would free up space in the adoptable cat room. 

     Working Cats also could benefit from a more socially conducive space which would facilitate needed behavioral improvements. 

     The Commission recommends that efforts be made to accommodate the growth of this program and the designation of additional space to house “Working Cats.” There are many cats that don’t quite fit the definition of adoptable but can lead healthy, happy lives and can enrich the lives of their adopters. BCAS must do all it can to help them find placement.

6. Play

BCAS has a number of staff and volunteers signed up for dog playgroup training with the Shelter Playgroup Alliance. This is expected to happen over the next few months and will mark the first time BCAS has begun a process to implement playgroups for dogs. This is huge. Play can provide so much enrichment while dogs are in the shelter, and enrichment is critical to their mental health and well-being. A dog with good mental health is a dog that is likely to be adopted!

 The Commission recommends that BCAS move forward with training and implementation of dog playgroups. 

VII. Volunteer Program 

  A dedicated team of volunteers has spent approximately 6100 hours at BCAS this year performing myriad duties including:

Clean/reset cages and feed cats in the Adoptable Cat Room

Walk adoptable dogs 

Help with Friday TNR clinics 

Dishes and laundry

Cleaning dog kennels

Preparing food for the dogs

     Historically, BCAS has struggled to grow its volunteer program, and the pandemic has certainly made things more difficult.  

     While 2021 saw a continuation of COVID-19 and all its associated challenges, the volunteer program managed to maintain ninety-seven active volunteers, forty-two trainees, and twenty-five applicants. Eighteen volunteers remained inactive. 

     During this year, the program received eighty-nine new applications (up from seventeen in 2020), thirty-one of which became active and fully trained to a specific role. Thirty-three remain trainees, and twenty-five applicants are awaiting orientation. 

     Deborah Stone created a series of volunteer training videos to assist BCAS in making training more uniform. 

     Naturally, with the continuing pandemic, indoor capacities were intentionally kept minimal, but as COVID vaccination expanded, so did permission for increasing indoor work for the volunteers. 

     Of special note is the way volunteers supported BCAS during its quarantine to prevent the spread of distemper in the shelter.  

     Numerous volunteers stepped into roles for “Dundalk Dog Service”, feeding and walking the stray dog population at the Dundalk facility, while also tending to cleaning areas where the most recently seized animals were housed. It was quite an accomplishment.

     In addition, volunteers bought flowers and supplied many meals and treats to the staff to help with stress during this time. They also helped raise funds for some of the sick puppies to help rescue organizations that pulled those puppies from the shelter.

     Yet some volunteers have expressed dissatisfaction with the way the Volunteer Program has been managed at BCAS.

     The arrival of a new Volunteer and Events Coordinator has raised great hopes for the program.

     The new Coordinator, Lindsay Jacks, has served as Volunteer Coordinator at Baltimore Center Stage. She has a degree from Towson University in Animal Behavior and spent years as a bird keeper at Baltimore-DC zoos and aquariums. 

     She arrived with great enthusiasm and a friendly demeanor.

     The excitement of this new beginning is matched with an urgency of getting the new Volunteer Coordinator quickly up to speed, accelerating volunteer orientations, instituting a higher training requirement for expert dog walking, fostering more community and in-person interactions, and adding regular appreciation events. 

     Additionally, BCAS is exploring the addition of a new Assistant Volunteer/Event Coordinator position. 

The Commission supports that staff expansion. 

     While the future can never be certain, there is reason for great optimism with the BCAS volunteer program. 

VIII. Fire Safety

  One of the Commission members who is a volunteer at BCAS raised the issue of fire safety at a recent Commission meeting. She was concerned that the dog cages are padlocked at night and would be difficult to open in the event of a fire. We checked with four other local shelters to find out their policies on locking dog kennels and learned the following:

1. BARCS

BARCS does not lock its cages because of concern about accessibility in case of fire.

BARCS uses slide locks on the cage doors. Some dogs jump against the cage door so much they can push these open. In these cases, BARCS uses carabiners for this purpose because they can be opened more easily and more quickly than padlocks.  Below is a picture of a carabiner.

2. MD SPCA

The MD SPCA also uses carabiners on its dog enclosures and keeps the enclosures locked with carabiners at night. 

3. Baltimore Humane Society 

They do not lock the cages at night. There is a combination lock at the main entrance to the kennel area and everyone knows the combination. 

4. Harford Humane

The Humane Society of Harford County uses padlocks but does not lock the dog cages at night.

     Fire, of course, is everyone’s worst nightmare. 

     Since many other shelters do not lock cages at night, the Commission recommends a discussion about whether BCAS should adopt the same protocol if it might be lifesaving in the event of fire. In addition, would carabiners be a better alternative than padlocks? 

     These are questions to be examined.

IX. TNR Program  

BCAS has conducted TNR under the auspices of a pilot program since 2015. The major recommendation of the Commission’s 2020 annual report was the creation of a Trap Neuter Return (TNR) law in Baltimore County to codify that TNR pilot program.  

Shortly after our report’s release, members of County Executive Johnny Olszewski’s staff reached out to us to discuss the issue. 

 Over the next several months, the Administration drafted a TNR law which was introduced at a meeting of the Baltimore County Council on October 4, 2021 with a vote scheduled for November 1, 2021.

  The law is named the “Joy Freedman Care for Cats Act” in honor of one of our Commission’s original members, Joy Freedman, who died this year. It’s a tribute to the memory of a woman who worked tirelessly for animal welfare.

  Commission members are thrilled to see this legislation and to know that it honors Joy.

Here’s a quick recap on TNR  and the reasons why so many support Trap Neuter Return as the best solution for free-roaming cats.

     What is TNR?

TNRd cats are trapped, sterilized, given vaccinations against rabies and FVRCP (to protect against feline herpes and feline distemper), and returned to the neighborhoods from which they came. 

 With these cats unable to reproduce, cat colonies begin to dwindle in size and eventually die out.

Are there other benefits of TNR?

Yes! TNR benefits people. Because the cats are vaccinated against rabies, TNR protects human health as well as that of the cats. 

      Another benefit is that, over time, TNR programs can reduce the number of cats entering animal shelters.

How widely used is TNR?

 TNR is used in many communities. These include conservative jurisdictions like Colorado Springs, Colorado as well as in liberal ones like Berkeley, California. They include large areas like New York City and Cook County, Illinois, as well as tiny Elko New Market, Minnesota with only fifteen hundred residents.

 Numerous major organizations support TNR including the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).     

What about the concerns of those who oppose TNR because cats kill many birds?

It’s true, cats can prey on birds. But these cats exist, regardless of whether they are TNRd or not. At least with TNR, the number of cats will diminish.

Are there any other options for getting rid of free-roaming cats?

No. There is no real alternative to TNR. For many years, communities (including Baltimore County) tried trapping and killing cats. Besides being inhumane, it was ineffective.

Trapping and euthanizing (besides being inhumane) cannot get rid of the enormous number of free-roaming cats that are constantly reproducing. 

How many cats does BCAS TNR? 

Since the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2020 through the third quarter of this year, BCAS has TNRd 1114 cats. This is great, but those numbers need to be vastly increased if we are to see a real reduction in free-roaming cats, as well as fewer cats coming into the shelter. The Commission recommends examining ways to augment the TNR program. 

     In addition, some residents complain about free-roaming cats that come onto their property. BCAS used to offer deterrents to help solve the problem.

     Deterrents included a motion-activated sprinkler and a device that emits an ultrasonic sound that cats don’t like (and humans cannot hear). 

     Unfortunately BCAS no longer has funds to provide these devices.

     The Commission recommends finding a source of funding for this, as it will aid in the community’s acceptance of TNR.

 What difficulties does the TNR program face?             

BCAS cannot go onto private property to return a TNRd cat if a property owner refuses to sign a form allowing them to do so. Without a property owner’s permission, BCAS attempts to reach out to people close to the trapping location to ask for their permission to return the TNRd cat on their property. If this is unsuccessful, BCAS is forced to identify county property (usually within a quarter mile) where they can release the cats. This is not ideal because at this distance, there’s no guarantee a cat will find its way back to its source of food, water and shelter.  

Another problem occurs when cat caretakers find themselves in conflict with neighbors who consider the animals a nuisance. BCAS offers guidance in resolving disputes by offering ways to deter cats from roaming onto a particular property. 

     The Commission recommends County Council passage of the Joy Freedman Care for Cats Act which will lay the groundwork for resolving some of the difficulties faced by the TNR program at BCAS.

     In addition, the Commission is concerned that the BCAS TNR department is made up of only one staff member. There is no one to assist citizens in trapping or transport of TNR cats to BCAS.

      The Commission highly recommends the increase of BCAS TNR staff. 

X. Conclusion and Recommendations

Baltimore County Animal Services has accomplished a great deal over the course of the last year.

We are indeed lucky to have Dr. Andrulis as Chief of Animal Services. She has proven to be a competent and caring leader who has worked diligently under very difficult circumstances created by the pandemic, three large animal seizures, and the outbreak of a potentially deadly illness at the shelter.

   

      Each year brings new opportunities to grow and improve. The Commission recommends the following as we move ahead.

1. Further discussion about how best to handle large animal intakes, as well as how to provide support to staff when large intakes occur.

2. An examination of what led to the resignation of two of the most respected members of the BCAS staff and a determination of whether changes should be made to help ensure staff retention.

3. Efforts to accommodate the continuation of the Working Cat program. 

4. Implement plans for dog playgroups. 

5. Continued growth in the volunteer program. 

6. The addition of a new Assistant Volunteer/Event Coordinator position. 

7. Turning the current part-time Behavior Expert position into a full-time position.

8. Examination of locks and locking policies for dog kennels, particularly at night.

9. Growing the BCAS TNR program. This should include the addition of more staff positions for TNR to assist the public in trapping and transport of cats for TNR. 

It should also include finding a source of funding for cat deterrents to provide to citizens who complain about free-roaming cats on their property. 

10. County Council approval of the TNR bill created by the Olszewski Administration as well as approval of regulations to accompany this law.

      The Commission recognizes fiscal constraints in Baltimore County that may preclude the staff additions that we recommend in this report.

     This is a reality that we face. But as we move forward and funding becomes available, we hope that Baltimore County will provide additional funds to BCAS. 

     In summary, this past year has been challenging, but BCAS is weathering the storm with many positive advances and a passion for saving lives.

     Staff is working diligently under the leadership of a caring and dedicated leader. 

     We look forward to BCAS meeting the challenges in the coming year while growing its programs and continuing its lifesaving mission.



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