New director delighted to be running city's troubled animal shelter Experienced supervisor known for balancing concern, law enforcement

July 21, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

For 20 years, Bob Anderson dreamed of becoming director of the Baltimore Animal Shelter. And colleagues in Maryland's animal welfare community wondered why.

The city animal shelter has a reputation for long-standing problems, including high staff turnover, slow response times to citizen calls and an adoption rate of 2 percent for the 22,000 city pets discarded by their owners annually, with the rest being destroyed.

That's precisely why Anderson -- a bearded 52-year-old bear of a man -- is elated to be the city's new shelter director. He is drawn to the challenge of facing the city's unique problems.

Anderson, former shelter supervisor for the Tri-County Animal Shelter covering Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties, has spent his first three months in Baltimore getting a statistical handle on the city's pet menagerie.

In addition to monitoring up to 90,000 dogs and 70,000 cats, Anderson supervises everything from a-rabs' horses to the growing number of wild reptiles, such as snakes, that city residents adopt. "Most people still view the Baltimore Animal Shelter as the dog pound," Anderson said. "They think all we do is kill them; but we house, feed and shelter animals."

The animal welfare community welcomes Anderson's appointment. Shortly after becoming Tri-County supervisor in 1993, Anderson improved the adoption and rescue rate there from 7 percent to 37 percent. He also mended bridges between warring animal rescue groups and increased grant money obtained by his agency.

"We hold Bob Anderson in very high regard," said Laura Junkin, executive director of the William Snyder Foundation for Animals, a Baltimore philanthropic group. "He's perceived as being someone who generally cares about the animals but knows he is in the law enforcement job."

Growing up around Army bases, Anderson always owned a pet, whether it was his pit bull, Musky Malone, or his current pal, Big Al Scarbelly, a white Amazon parrot. The experience helps the father of two understand the emotional attachment most pet owners have to their animals, he said.

"They become part of the family," said Anderson, whose wife of 20 years, Liz Kirk, serves with the Animal Welfare League of Baltimore. "I'm even guilty about being emotional with my animals. There would be a void in my life if there wasn't an animal."

As shelter director, Anderson knows he must temper his compassion with a firmness in enforcing city laws, a responsibility signaled by the gold badge he wears on his white director's shirt. A nine-member panel headed by city Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson unanimously chose Anderson for his knowledge of animal laws.

"This is a guy who is no-nonsense, who will enforce the law," Beilenson said.

Anderson is creating the city's first panel on vicious dogs, which will hold hearings on repeat offenders and destroy problem animals. He is also dealing with a lawsuit filed last week against the city by a-rabs, a group of merchants who sell fruits and vegetables from horse-drawn wagons. The animal shelter cited the horse stables in March for failing to meet city codes, threatening the 150-year history of a-rabs in the city.

With a $1.7 million annual budget, Anderson is mapping a plan to improve the animal shelter, including:

Cutting response times. The city tries to respond to an animal injury within an hour and cruelty complaints within eight hours. Anderson, who supervises 13 enforcement officers, said the agency puts top priority on vicious-dog seizures.

Increasing adoption rates. Last year, 430 pets were adopted from city shelters, a woeful rate, Anderson said. At the Tri-County shelter, Anderson increased adoption rates by linking with animal rescue groups throughout the state to help find homes for discarded pets.

Computerizing the department. Anderson envisions the animal shelter operating much like a McDonald's drive-through. Dispatchers can touch the computer screen and get the history of a pet the shelter has handled, providing officers with critical information.

Over the past three years, four permanent and interim directors have run the city shelter. But Anderson doesn't expect to leave early and vowed to complete his dream job.

"On Jan. 1, 2011, at 12:01 a.m. I plan to retire from this office," he said, grinning.

Pub Date: 7/21/98

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