WESTMINSTER - More than 3,100 cats and 1,700 dogs were taken in by the Humane Society of Carroll County in 1989.
Of those 3,183 cats and 1,713 dogs, 139 cats were later adopted and nine returned to their owners; 223 dogs found new homes and 264 were claimed by their owners. The rest -- 4,261 -- were put to death.
"There are worse things than death," said Carolyn "Nicky" Ratliff, Humane Society director. "If an animal can't have a good quality of life, death is the best alternative."
It is more humane, she said, to euthanize an animal than to let it run free to go hungry and sick, be hit by a vehicle or cause a traffic accident, breed uncontrollably, or attack other animals or people.
"I've got four animal-control officers, 456 square miles to cover, 30,000 dogs to try and control and 40,000 cats to control," Ratliff said.
Putting animals to sleep is not the main function of the Humane Society.
Rather, it is a shelter for unwanted, stray or abused animals; the enforcement agency of animal-protection laws; and an adoption agency for animals, as well as a host of other things.
The facility on Littlestown Pike can house only so many animals at a time, so it is up to Ratliff and her workers to decide which animals should be put up for adoption and which put to sleep.
If there is reason to believe an animal belongs to someone, the shelter tries to locate the owner by advertising in the newspapers. To find homes for as many animals as possible, the shelter also keeps a list of people who are looking for a specific pet.
People who adopt animals must fill out a preadoption questionnaire, which is for the animal's protection.
"I don't want a spontaneous taking," Ratliff said. "I want somebody who knows they want a pet and what kind, who has discussed it with their family, landlord, etc., who'll keep the animal to live out its life with that family."
Those who adopt also must sign a contract promising to get the animal spayed or neutered and pay a deposit fee, which is returned upon proof the procedure has been performed.
"The whole idea is to put a stop to the overpopulation," Ratliff said.
"Ten million to 13 million dogs and cats are destroyed in this country every year, and it's criminal (we let that happen)."
Cats are a bigger problem than dogs, because of the way they breed, Ratliff said. While dogs go into heat only twice a year, a female cat can go into heat year-round, but does not ovulate until it mates, then becomes pregnant.
Thus, two breeding cats could produce 382 cats after three years (two litters per year, two to eight surviving kittens per litter), and almost 14 million after nine years, she said.
Besides trying to control the population, the Humane Society does such things as sell dog licenses, investigates complaints of animal cruelty, assists the public with catching nuisance animals with traps, visits schools and civic groups with education programs, and licenses and inspects kennels, grooming shops and animal exhibits and acts.
The Humane Society will have an open house 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 21.
The staff will be available to talk with the public, and animal-control vehicles will be on display. Hot dogs, soft drinks and chips will be offered to visitors.
"It's a good time for people to come in and see the facility when we're not busy with law enforcement," Ratliff said.
Information: 848-4810 or 875-5379.