The Humane Society of Harford County has a tough job.
The county’s defacto animal shelter has a mission to provide a temporary home for abandoned and stray animals while balancing that with the harsh reality that not every animal (dog, cat, bunny, hamster, etc) can be adopted.
It’s dealing with those unadopted animals that usually causes the most headache and heartache.
According to the Harford County Humane Society’s own web site:
Q: Does HSHC put animals to sleep?
A: Yes, for a variety of reasons we find ourselves in the unfortunate position to have to euthanize some animals. We are looking for people like you to help us save more and more lives so that euthanasia becomes less necessary.
There are a number of reasons for which animals might be euthanized at HSHC. We sometimes receive animals in very poor health or those that may have been abused or neglected and are simply not safe to place as pets. For these animals we provide a humane, dignified end to their suffering. Our technicians are very skilled and compassionate people, whose goal it is to save lives.
We are limited as to the number of animals we can accommodate in our facility at any one time. Space is a concern because over-crowding can lead to unsanitary conditions in which more animals become sick, requiring us to euthanize otherwise healthy animals. When we receive more animals than we can hold, we first look for foster care for appropriate animals. If we cannot find enough foster homes, we identify the animals least likely to be adopted and those are sadly put to sleep.
Pets involved in attacks on people or serious attacks on other animals are sometimes considered too dangerous to hold or handle and might be ordered euthanized by a county official, veterinarian or by HSHC.
A pet owner will sometimes bring a pet to us and ask that we put it to sleep. In almost all cases, this has been a much loved family pet, who has reached the end of a long, happy life. Public euthanasia is a service we provide, but because we are not set up to provide for the medical needs of owned pets, we can not allow owners to stay with their pet for the procedure. For this reason, we recommend that if at all possible a pet be taken to their own veterinarian where he or she will be more comfortable; less stressed and can stay with their beloved family as they say a final good-bye.
The decision to end an animal’s life is never, regardless of the reason, made arbitrarily or capriciously. It is a sad reality for us, and one, we are working very hard to change. Please let us tell you about ways you might join us and help save the lives of pets in our community.
Q: For how long do you keep animals?
A: HSHC meets State and County mandated holding periods for stray dogs and cats. These holding periods are designed so that pet owners have a reasonable amount of time to find lost pets. The stray hold periods are:10 days for dogs wearing a license, 4 days for dogs with no identification and 3 days for cats, excluding Sundays and holidays, Once the holding period is up the pet becomes the property of HSHC. HSHC then determines the best course of action, which often means making that pet available for adoption as soon as we have completed some basic medical screening, vaccinations, and whatever else the animal might need to fit this criteria.
Depending on the situation, HSHC might hold an animal longer than even our stray hold period or place them into foster care. This is particularly true of very young kittens and puppies under 8 weeks of age, and therefore not yet old enough to adopt out. We have no time limit by which animals must be adopted, as we work to adopt out every pet possible. Some animals, due to age, history, and health issues may remain in Foster or on-site until we find the right home. HSHC will continue to try as long as we feel we can safely place them into a responsible, loving new home.
The Humane Society handles the harsh truth, explaining why it has to kill puppies and kittens, about as well as can be expected, but former volunteers and staff at the animal clinic say much less care is put into the euthanization process itself.
In fact, some claim there is nothing humane at all about the way staff at the animal shelter puts down some of its dubiously-dubbed “unadoptable” animals.
The following letters were provided to The Dagger as an example of how the Humane Society of Harford County has been transformed in recent years from a “philosophy of life” to a “culture of killing.”
For those of you who do not know me. I will introduce myself, I am Bonnie Rexroad, a long time, but now sadly, former supporter of the Humane Society of Harford County. I have disassociated myself with the organization, as it is no longer a place of life and I can not support a shelter when I no longer agree with their philsophy.
I am a former volunteer and staff member of the Humane Society of Harford County. My most recent involvement was organizing and running the offsite events.
The shelter is a totally different place than it used to be just a short while ago. Below you will find 2 letters, one submitted to David Craig by me in Oct. 2007 supporting the HSHC, the second depicts the shelter today, the difference in the letters speaks volumes.
I thought you would be interested in this information, I am speaking for the animals who can not speak for themselves.
Thank you for your time,
Here is Rexroad’s first letter to Harford County Executive David Craig sent in October 2007:
Hello Mr. Craig,
This email is in reference to the Humane Society of Harford County, lately a very hot topic. I know you have recently received emails regarding the shelter.
I am a former staff member and a long time volunteer of the shelter. I have been on the topix forum and read all comments pro and con and even added some of my own, unfortunately, they fell on deaf ears. I decided to share my opinion with you, as many others have.
I began volunteering in the summer of 2002, just walking dogs for the most part. At that time, it was very hard to even become a volunteer. I filled out the application, emailed about a dozen times, then was finally sent a one line email telling me to be at the shelter the next night for a meeting. I went, boom, you’re a volunteer. No classes, no introduction on how to volunteer, what to do, nothing. I went to the shelter on weekends and walked dogs and had a great time. Made a few mistakes, in the beginning, not sure where to go in and out with dogs, etc. But in general, really loved being there.
In October of 2004, I had some personal problems arise, and was unable to volunteer for a while.
After sorting everything out, I wanted to volunteer again, but it had been a while since I was there.
I contacted the shelter in the early summer of 2005 to volunteer again. I was told I had to fill out another volunteer application, which was really not a big deal. At this time, I attended a volunteer orientation, had a tour of the shelter, was given a handbook explaining the rules of being a volunteer.
I attended an animal handling class. Night and day from my experience of 2002. There were regular volunteer meetings, so much progress had been made. I even emailed the volunteer coordinator at the time, Shelley Archer and told her how much things had improved since the last time I began volunteering. I found out later, a new administration had taken over. The improvements were evident.
In December of 2005, I became a part time adoptions counselor. I worked a few nights a week, and weekends for about a year and resigned in January of 2007. I resigned for personal reasons, was engaged and wanted to spend more time with family. I didn’t resign because I was upset at the shelter for any reason.
In March of 2007, I began working with the offsite adoption events. I am still learning new things every time, but feel they are coming along nicely.
As you can easily see, I have a lot of experience with the HSHC. I apologize for the lengthy introduction, but wanted you to realize just how much I have seen at the shelter as an employee and volunteer.
The HSHC is truly a great place. They give every animal possible the opportunity for a 2nd chance for happiness, or even 1st chance of true happiness for some of them. I have experienced some true miracles for some of these older animals, happy endings we hoped and prayed for, and they became true.
Not just the older ones, but some animals just need extra TLC, and they are granted this by the staff, they gain trust and love, and later become loving pets for an adopter.
Animals of certain breeds, of certain age, etc are not considered adoptable by a lot of other shelters, that is ridiculous. I am proud of the HSHC for everything they do for every animal, their record of adoptions is outstanding.
2 of my favorite dogs went home this past weekend, they were there since May and had to be adopted together.
They were 6 and 7 year old labs, a hard adoption, but HSHC stood firm, never gave up, andthey foundtheir forever home last weekend.
The HSHC administration and staff should be recognized for their compassion and integrity. They truly save lives everyday, and I am proud to be a volunteer for this organization.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Bonnie J. Rexroad
This second letter, and more recently penned, letter from Rexroad claims to expose some of the negligence displayed by some volunteers and staff at the Humane Society.
What is going on at the Humane Society of Harford County?
If I saw these as license plates, I would scratch my head. I would think the person who came up with the idea might even be a little dangerous. But these were the names given to two cats that were put to death at the Humane Society of Harford County just a little while ago. The names were given to these cats BY THE STAFF; who were responsible for ensuring their kind and compassionate care.
This is a graphic depiction of the pervasive problems recently found at the Humane Society of Harford County. Not the usual problems of space or facilities, but of philosophy. A shelter should embrace a philosophy of life but this shelter has instead backslid into a culture of killing for convenience, so prevalent before the turn of the millenium. After all the progress that has been made, HSHC can’t afford to return to the Dark Ages.
How about the woman coming to the shelter seeking a solution. She believed she had no option but to surrender her beloved pet for behavior problems. Rather than offering simple guidance for a correctible problem, such as a FREE behavior consultation with the trainer, or obedience classes taught at the shelter, the adoption manager offered NONE of these solutions, instead cheerfully taking the dog into custody. The adoption manager told the distraught, tearful woman, “her dog would be fine.” When later asked by a witness to the event if the dog truly would be fine, the adoption manager replied, “yes, he’ll be fine. In the freezer.”
A pure bred boxer was stolen while the shelter was open and fully staffed. Where was the staff when the theft occurred? The staff, sitting in the lobby text messaging their friends, refused to get up and check when it was brought to their attention that the dog was missing. When later they verified that the emaciated, intact male Boxer, was indeed missing, and presumed stolen, the police were NOT alerted or called to help find the missing animal.
In the month of May 2008 of the many dogs whose lives were taken at the shelter, four: Naykee, Tom, Tigeress and Ricco, were listed as “adopted” on the shelter’s website — even though they were actually killed by lethal injection. As the staff, administration, and Board well know, many volunteers and supporters regularly check the website to celebrate the new lives of the animals that are adopted. Why are we being lied to? If there are sound reasons for these euthanasia decisions, why the need for this deception?
What else is the shelter lying about?
Would you trust your animal to their care?
What is going on at the Humane Society of Harford County?
What should the term “unadoptable” mean? What does it mean at this
To shelters mired in killing, an “unadoptable” animal is interpreted very broadly. Some shelters, for example, consider unconfirmed behavior issues or easily treatable skin problems to be enough to be “unadoptable”. Good shelters finda better way. The mission of ANY good shelter should be to consistently find ways to REDUCE the circle of animals they feel the need to kill. This shelter, in a very short time, has instead chosen to GROW that circle of death, exponentially.
A good shelter does not consider convenience as a measure of animal’s adoptability.
Ace is a dog that will be appearing on the next installment of Comcast onDemand. He was described as very cooperative, cute and sweet. Yet he was put to death only a week after the show taping because of “temperament” issues — before the segment even aired. Did this dog really have temperament issues, or is this another lie? Was there a temperament test or evaluation done and if so who did it? Are they qualified to make a determination about an animal’s behavior, or simply looking for any excuse to fail a dog? What is considered a temperament flaw so severe that it results in the death of the animal? Simple kennel frustration, or shyness, or a dog so afraid of being in the shelter that she’s just not being happy-go-lucky? These are no reasons to fail a dog for temperament . These are easily correctable, often with no more than moving a dog to a different kennel, or TLC and attention.
How do you think your dog would do in an environment so different from the home she has always known; no longer with the people she knows, loves and depends upon? Would your pet be labeled as a “temperament” problem simply because she was afraid?
Would your pet make it out of HSHC alive?
For the first time in perhaps a full decade, the adoption rate at HSHC has gone down and euthanasia rate has gone up. In the past six months, while the staff and administration have congratulated themselves on a job well done, the performance of the shelter has declined dramatically. From December 1, 2007 through June 1, 2008, nearly 300 FEWER animals found forever homes (i.e., were adopted) as compared to the same dates last year. Additionally, nearly 300 MORE animals have been killed at the shelter during this same period than the year previous. The volunteers, as compassionate and caring as ever, want to see better things in place for the animals. While there are much needed and welcome improvements happening at the shelter, these are largely cosmetic and the result of the energy, enthusiasm and skills of volunteers hoping to improve the temporary shelter lives of the animals so desperately awaiting their forever homes.
Unfortunately, the philosophy of the organization is no longer one of life, in keeping with the work of the volunteers and desires of the community, but one of convenience.
The shelter had one of its most difficult years ever last year. Thousands of cats came in not only to the Harford shelter, but to shelters all over the region. Last year, efforts included increasing adoptions, new adoption venues, finding foster families for kittens and adult cats, working closely with rescues, and doing whatever was possible to care for as many animals as they could until they could find homes. Last year, the solutions were life-saving. This year, the solution is sodium pentobarbital.
Some have the said in the past, the shelter kept too many animals, resulting in more animals sick or even dying in the shelter. However, in reviewing the numbers, more animals died in the shelter or were euthanized for medical reasons in the past six months than the same time last year.
Every single category for “euthanasia” has increased resulting in 275 MORE deaths at the hands of the shelter than the previous year. The most dramatic of these unfortunate increases is for temperament. Has this term become the catch-all category for “just because”?
Even tried and proven events like Harford Live, the area’s largest Home andGarden show, where the Humane Society has had a prime booth for two years, is treated with apathy by the shelter. The volunteers, did what they could, but without committed staff support only one animal founda home this year as compared to last year when 14 grateful pets found their forever homes in one day.
How did this happen? After years of improving programs, outreach and community interest and participation, it all seems to have been rejected by the H SHC. Who in this community was not proud to learn that Harford County had become the safest place in Maryland for animals? Who is not equally saddened as that is no longer the case.
There is talk of compassion, but where is the expectation? Our shelter now makes excuses and lies about the killing. It is no longer the honest, place of life we have worked so hard to support. Who is responsible for this and how do we fix it?
For those who believe public safety is the driving force behind the increase in dog killings, the numbers prove otherwise. Of the thousands of adoptions in recent years, very few dogs are ever a problem in their community. 96% of all the dogs entering the shelter in 2007 were evaluated as adoptable, or suitable for adoption after some minor remediation.
And to go back to the heartlessly named cats callously called “Fun Way to Die 1 and 2”. These were homeless creatures, who were killed by lethal injection in the shelter, the lifeless bodies placed first in a trash bag, then in a freezer until picked up by a cremation company. Never given a chance, their last moments were ones of fear and confusion.
Why would a shelter employee think such a thing is fun?
In another letter, dashed off this week to the Board of Directors of the Humane Society of Harford County, the animal clinic’s management and the Harford County Council, a different animal shelter volunteer makes a plea for the Humane Society to adopt a “No-Kill philosophy.”
Erin Scott argues that the success of an animal shelter can only be measured by animals that leave alive and that any staff who feel otherwise should by given the boot – so their salary can be used to house and save more pets.
“The people of Harford County want to save lives! We do NOT want to help you kill animals!” Scott writes.