Renovated shelter opens with more room and programs for pets and their people

Animals get their space

December 22, 2006|By Allison Baker | Allison Baker,sun reporter

With twice its former space to house and nurture homeless animals, the Howard County Animal Shelter appears to be thriving in its newly renovated building in Columbia.

Having launched new programs that encourage strong bonds between owners and their animals, shelter officials want to make Howard County a pet-safe environment.

Recently, Kristen and Reese Emery adopted their third dog, Nina, from the shelter. As volunteers, they got to know the 75-pound, 7-year-old rottweiler-chow mix who was left an orphan after her owner died in a car accident.

"Her personality ... was perfect for our other dogs and us," Kristen Emery said.

Though the renovation seems to benefit the pets of Howard County and their potential owners, animal shelter advocates are worried the public will perceive the renovation as an invitation to give up their animals rather than care for them.

Deborah Baracco, the Howard County animal-control administrator, had bittersweet views about the renovation of the old animal-control facility on Davis Road off Route 108. "I think it's sad shelters have to exist at all," she said. But she added that because of the number of animals without homes in Howard County she is glad the county decided to complete the project.

Ann Selnick, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County, who lobbied the county for the renovation, shared similar sentiments. "Sadly, the facility had to be enlarged because in the community ... people consider animals to be disposable," she said. "Shelters were established to take in strays only. They were not places for people to dump their animals when they had problems."

Baracco said the shelter building was old and in desperate need of updating. With the population of the county increasing, the shelter needed more room for an increasing numbers of homeless animals. "We've had a lot of support from the county government, the Police Department and the citizens of Howard County," she said.

On the cat side of the facility, the expanded structure has a housing room, visiting and play area, quarantine area and isolation room. On the dog side, there are similar facilities, as well as 10 additional dog runs. A space also was added for domestic animals that could not be housed in the cat or dog areas. The facility can hold twice as many animals as it could before the renovation. The county policy is to give every animal a chance to be adopted. Caregivers at the facility are reluctant to euthanize animals.

The county and Selnick's group encourage families to keep their pets and have developed programs at the shelter to enable families to form lasting bonds with them. These include dog-obedience classes, weekly rabies-vaccination sessions, and pet-safe programs that provide victims of domestic violence a place to house their animals in emergencies.

The county encourages families to adopt animals from the shelter instead of buying them, noting that all a potential owner would have to do to take a pet home is reimburse the facility for medical expenses.

"Never consider buying a pet," Selnick said. "Adoption should be the only option." She advised potential pet owners not to buy animals as gifts for the holidays, adding that "owning a pet is a lifetime commitment, and the whole family should be involved in its selection."

The Emerys believe a dog adoption doesn't require a puppy.

Kristen Emery said it takes longer for an older animal to be adopted, but they still have many good years to live.

"Look past the age" and realize how much an older pet "appreciates a stable home," Kristen said.

At the shelter, Kristen is caring for an Australian cattle dog named Billabong, whose owners had to give him up because they were called overseas for military duty, and she is trying to find him a loving home.

The renovation has not brought about an expected increase in adoptions in the county.

"There are so many rescue groups and Internet adoptions that are popping up," Selnick said. She added that she believes the proliferation of such groups is "hurting animal adoption around the United States."

Selnick said the online pet adoption facilitator Pet Finder.com lists more than 193 rescue groups in Maryland alone.

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