Animal shelter backers speak out

Executive hears pleas for additional funding

March 14, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Residents concerned about the county animal shelter's limited evening and weekend hours crowded into Howard County Executive James N. Robey's annual budget hearing last night.

About a quarter of the 55 people who signed up to speak and about half the more than 150 people in attendance were there to support improvements at the animal center.

Other residents addressed such subjects as school band uniforms and the number of horse trails.

Brent Loveless of North Laurel was the only resident who got satisfaction immediately.

After Loveless spent several minutes saying why it was a bad idea to spend $1.8 million to install a left-turn lane on Whiskey Bottom Road near U.S. 1 in his neighborhood, Robey made a short announcement.

"I met with the director of public works today, and that project will not go forward," Robey said.

Loveless, who has worked for months to defeat the proposal, was besieged by happy neighbors shaking his hand.

Supporters of the animal shelter are seeking a $500,000 increase in funding to hire handlers and clerks and to expand hours of operation.

Less than $1 million of the county's $685 million budget for this year is allocated to the animal shelter.

"This is a community where passions run very high," said David Tayman, a Columbia veterinarian. "If your pet was lost and you could only visit the animal shelter when you would normally be working, how would you feel?"

Robey was presented with petitions containing 2,000 signatures and heard testimony from sixth-graders, Girl Scouts, the directors of the Frederick County animal shelter and the Baltimore County Humane Society and the chairman of Howard County's Animal Matters Hearing Board.

The shelter, they said, is too small and has a leaky roof, poor health facilities and inadequate computer software for record-keeping.

Many of the shelter's supporters wore badges with pictures of dogs and cats that have been put to death at the facility since December when the hours of opening were cut.

"We see each animal as life unto itself," said veterinarian Scott B. Sanderson of Columbia. "The issue cannot just be about money."

The county Police Department, which supervises the animal shelter on Davis Avenue off Route 108, eliminated Tuesday and Thursday evening hours last year because of budgetary constraints.

The shelter is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 2: 30 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of each month. It did not open on Saturdays in January because of holidays, Police Chief Wayne Livesay said.

Animal Advocates, a private, nonprofit group, has helped organize a campaign to get the county to expand service at the shelter, which is partly staffed by volunteers. The five County Council members joined that effort last month and sent a letter to Livesay, urging increased staffing and hours.

Supporters of the shelter said the shorter hours led to a 29 percent drop in the adoption of animals in December and a 30 percent increase in the number of animals that were euthanized.

According to police, 1,238 animals were adopted and 1,649 were put to death in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1999.

Livesay has said he is waiting for a detailed analysis of the center's operations before deciding what changes to make, but he has asked for more money to increase staffing for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Robey, who has vowed not to raise property taxes, has gotten about $63 million in requests for new spending, but has only $40 million in new revenues.

County schools have requested a $35 million increase in spending, and the Police Department $9 million to add 61 employees.

Robey will present his proposed budget to the council next month.

The council must adopt a new budget and adjust the property tax rate by June 1.

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