Operations extended for animal shelter

Open every Saturday

sheriff to improve records, seek workers

March 30, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

After weeks of complaints, Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay will open the county's animal shelter every Saturday, starting this week, he announced yesterday.

The shelter's hours will be 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, Livesay said, instead of the former twice-a-month schedule.

In addition, Livesay said he is upgrading the shelter's record-keeping system and has requested two more full-time employees for next fiscal year.

The chief also is asking for $200,000 in capital budget funds to plan a two-year improvement program, including replacement of a leaky roof and a ventilation system that some say contributes to animal respiratory illnesses. Another $660,000 in construction funds has been requested for fiscal 2002.

"We were one of the few agencies not open every Saturday. We feel we'll accomplish more adoptions on Saturdays," the chief said.

Martha Gagnon, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County, a private group whose members volunteer at the shelter, applauded Livesay's decision.

"I think that's adequate," she said, explaining that Animal Advocates members will return to the shelter Saturdays instead of bringing shelter animals to a commercial pet food store seeking adoptive owners. "I'm very happy to see a start."

Gagnon and several County Council members said they also would like to see evening hours restored, but County Executive James N. Robey said he thinks evenings aren't nearly as productive as Saturdays for adoptions.

Reaction to cutbacks

Criticism of shelter operations erupted in January. The Police Department, which runs the shelter, cut Tuesday and Thursday evening hours in December.

All five council members sent a letter to Livesay last month urging him to increase hours of operation and reduce the number of animals killed there.

In December, advocates said, adoptions dropped 29 percent and the number of animals killed rose 30 percent. Police said 1,238 animals were adopted in the fiscal year that ended June 30, compared with 1,649 killed.

"Now it's spring," Gagnon said, "and the animals are pouring into that shelter. They're full. When the shelter is full, animals are euthanized."

But Livesay said he is proceeding cautiously, based on available finances and an inspection report on the facility that his staff prepared.

The next step, he said, is to improve the record-keeping at the shelter, which is on Davis Avenue, off Route 108. Most records are kept on paper, and shelter computers aren't linked with county government or Police Department computers. Livesay said he is working to upgrade the system.

"We need better tools in place that enable our staff to more accurately identify and distinguish adoptable animals," he said.

It is misleading, Livesay said, to list all euthanized animals in one category. Some are old or sick and owners have requested they be put to sleep. Others are dangerous or wild and cannot be adopted.

"We're not adopting out skunks," he said, giving an example. "No matter what we do, I'm not sure we can satisfy everyone."

And though volunteers have been doing valuable work, he said, they need more training so their roles at the shelter are more clearly defined.

Ann Selnick, another volunteer, said, "The real heroes of this situation are the volunteers. They are determined to stop senseless killing of the animals at that shelter."

Council members generally praised the chief's moves. Chairman Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat, called it "very responsive."

"I think it's probably a good start," said western county Republican Allan H. Kittleman.

Democrats C. Vernon Gray of east Columbia and Guy J. Guzzone of North Laurel/Savage agreed, but they said they want the shelter open on weekday evenings. It is now open from 10 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m. weekdays.

Appeal for evenings

Sylvia Bloch, another Animal Advocates member, said being open at least one evening a week is important because families that want to adopt a pet must return within two days of making their decision to confirm it.

But Robey said he thinks "evenings are difficult. They're not the best use of our time. This is what he's [Livesay] recommended, and I'm going to support it. It's a tremendous step in the right direction."

Gagnon said her group isn't interested in comparing euthanasia rates with those of other counties' shelters.

"As long as there is one animal that goes in that shelter that could be adopted but isn't and is killed -- that's too much," she said. "I don't care if there's one -- it's too many."

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