Council asks longer hours at shelter

Police chief urged to increase staffing for animal facility

`It's quite important'

Adoption of pets reduced by limited hours, critics say

March 03, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Responding to what one member called "probably the hottest issue this year," all five Howard County Council members are asking Police Chief Wayne Livesay to beef up staffing at the county animal shelter to increase hours and reduce the number of animals killed there.

The five signed a letter sent to Livesay on Monday asking that one new position be added immediately, and that a plan be developed to replace temporary workers with permanent ones and fill all vacancies as soon as possible.

"I think it's quite important that the issue be dealt with," said council Chairwoman Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat.

Livesay said yesterdaythat he is trying to fill vacancies and replace temporary workers at the shelter, which is run by the Howard County Police Department. He said he will request more staff members in his budget for next year, but he would not say how many more. He has no money to add a new position immediately.

"We're doing a review of the entire operation," Livesay said, adding that he expects to decide in about three weeks what changes must be made at the shelter. "We have to live within our means," he said, adding that other government functions also are priorities. "Where's the balance?"

The problem, the critics agree, is that the shelter is not open frequently enough evenings and weekends. The shelter is open from 10 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 2: 30 p.m. the first and third Saturdays each month.

Late last year, the shelter eliminated Tuesday and Thursday evening hours. Critics say that with the shelter open fewer hours, there are fewer opportunities for adoptions. The result, they say, is more animals killed.

In December, adoptions were down 29 percent while euthanasia was up 30 percent compared with December 1998. In January, Livesay said, the shelter was closed every Saturday because of holidays.

The Saturday hours are another problem, the council members said.

"It wasn't just that there were four less hours," Lorsung said. "If mom is out taking a kid to soccer and dad and another kid stop by the shelter to see if there's an animal they may want and they find one, by the time soccer is over, the shelter is closed."

If the family can't get back on a weekday, the animal might have been adopted by someone else or killed, she said.

Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon -- who said the shelter is the "hottest issue" facing the council -- called the limited hours "a pain. We've gone there a lot of times that it's been closed. Most people do their pet shopping on Saturdays."

County Executive James N. Robey Jr. said he has spoken to the council members and Livesay about the issue and is backing the police chief.

"He's working with the folks, looking at schedules. I'm supportive," said Robey, who was police chief for seven years.

Robey refused to endorse the council request for one new position at the shelter immediately.

"We have to be reasonable in our requests," he said, noting that he sent two people to the shelter recently to adopt pets, and they found only five available to choose from. "It's up to the chief to tell me he needs that," Robey said about the other council requests.

Livesay said most cages are empty at the shelter, on Davis Avenue, off Route 108. And the county is not quick to kill animals, he said.

Martha Gagnon, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County, a private group, said that if the shelter were open more, animals would be adopted more quickly, rather than languishing in cages.

"If animals are left in cages for a long time, they may become nervous and unadoptable. What comes first, the chicken or the egg?" she said.

On Saturdays, six of the group's volunteers run the shelter, since only two county employees are on duty, she said. Livesay said the two county workers are being paid overtime to work Saturdays.

Gagnon said Howard County is lagging behind the national trend of shelters becoming education and adoption centers for animals, rather than euthanasia factories.

"The ball is in Mr. Livesay's court. We are very optimistic because we have all five County Council members with us. The time is right, and I do believe he's going to do the right thing," she said.

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