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.
vietnam vet says
If I recall a new’s paper report. acouple of years ago. a new director had taken over and everything was fine. and now it’s back too who care’s.
I suppose the school’s have a large demand’ for cat’s in biology.
In reference to Scott’s letter about a “No Kill” shelter…that is never gonna happen. To be blunt, because I see no other way to be, the public is ignorant.
If the Humane Society spent time Educating the general public on the importance of spaying and neutering, the costs of owning a pet, the likely problems expressed by new pet owners and how to avoid them, etc. more than likely Fluffy would not be dropped off at the shelter for peeing on the family couch. Maybe that pit bull that has had 8 litters of puppies wouldnt be helping stack the number of dogs in the humane society. Maybe if Joe Bob didnt feel like neutering his pet was like cutting his own testicles off, there would be less runaways picked up by animal control and taken to the shelter. If Mary Jane didn’t think it would be a learning experience for her children to watch their cat have kittens instead of letting them watch Animal Planet, Fun way to die 1 and 2 might have never exsisted.
EDUCATION is always the key factor in prevention.
i used to work at the HsHc. The problem is the board of directors. there i said it. They are greedy and all they care about are numbers. Not lives.
They hire half ass kids who don’t even want to a job for the summer…so why would they care?
They used to have a man who transported the animals to vet clincs to get them fixed..he didnt even have a license. It was suspended for too many DUI’s.
There was a girl that didnt feel like feeding the dogs for about a week (if i heard correctly). She was fired. But later rehired.
i have always wanted a chance to run the shelter. i would wipe the floor with the staff who showed one ounce of unconcern. i would raise money to support the shelter itself. No one else would benefit. i would NOT charge people who want to surrender their pets for ANY reason. Who knows what they will do with them if they are that desperate to be rid of them. i would NOT have up and down prices on adoptions depending on cuteness and age. i would NOT be no kill BUT that animal would have to prove time and time again that it is not able to be placed in a home. OR i would search for someone willing to work with them.
i would hold weekly staff meetings to keep up to date on any repairs or potential issues that need to be addressed. i would demand a daily report on the health of each animal at the end of a shift. i would NOT just toss a bunch of dogs together in the same kennel so that they can fight, or become more fearful of their surroundings. i would NOT treat euthanasias as if they were just a chore.
i would have classes weekly on what to expect with adopting and how to handle common behavior problems.
My first goal would be to earn back the respect, care and loyalty of Harford County. To treat employees and volunteers like family and to keep the website updated with pictures of ONLY adoptable animals. To raise money to get the facility the HSHC really should have.
And every veterinarian in the county would want to work with the shelter.
It is time to take the trash out.
I like your views and ambition. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Audrey Warner says
Just discovered your article on Dagger, but hoping you are interested in making positive changes to HSHC. A very dedicated group has formed Advocates for Change to the Humane Society of H.C. (via facebook). Trying to get a meeting together and form a plan to better things for the animals in that awful place. Pleas join Advocates and you will be apprised of current happenings and any upcoming meeting. Thank you.
vietnam vet says
Melissa you get im. because your right. I’ve seen dog’s chained up. no attention no affection etc.I was once working’ in a local area where a dog was chained to clothes line pole. in 90+ degree heat. no shelter no water.
I took the animal some water. the owner appeared and threatened me with arrest for treaspassing. please do I advised. ken travers was working animal control at the time.
he made a quick response and removed the poor thing from it’s so called owner. and you still see this type of animal abuse.
It’s horrible this continues. What really gets me is the extremely brief amount of time these pets have before the HSHC can do whatever it wants with them. Thankfully my cats are chipped, but if they weren’t, I’d only have 3 days to track them down at the HSHC if they got lost before God knows what would happen to them.
The problem may never be completely fixed because of human ignorance, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. I’m glad to see more no-kill shelters popping up, like Luna’s House. What I’d like to see is free, or cheaper at the very least, spaying and neutering. We can’t solve the problem if it costs $80 and $120 to get a pet fixed. We need good-hearted vets willing to take trips out to areas that a lot of strays live and fix them for free. I know they need it up in Pylesville where I used to live. I just recently rescued a kitten in the woods there in November that was starving and alone. I hate thinking there are more out there just like that with no one to care for them.
In addition to my comment about mobile free spay and neuter: I know with gas prices, some people are thinking–yeah, right, why would a vet spend their own money. People in the area could donate to the cause. I know a few people who would in Pylesville. When I was living there, we fixed several female strays out of our own pocket, but that’s a lot to ask.
BTW, if HSHC management was elected, I’d vote Melissa.
Thanks Kloh! Maybe the citizens of Harford County should have a say and vote for the next person in charge of the HSHC! It is desperate need of someone who is motivated and willing to make some major changes.
As far as a “No Kill”. i wish that life were as simple as that. But it is not. The Shelter can hold so many animals. If it were No kill then can you imagine how many will be turned away and destroyed somewhere else? Or in some inhumane way?
It bothers me that we are letting the person there play God and decide who gets to live and who doesnt.
Did you read the Aegis article? The lady who makes the big decisions is an idiot.
i work as a Veterinary Nurse at a local vet. This woman….i forget her name because it is barely worth remembering…claimed that a dog they had worked with and taped a local t.v show spot for his adoption was put to death because of behavior issues that just popped up.
He was dog aggressive and got into fights through the cage wires that hold the dogs in the shelter. He even injured a couple.
Well…whoop de doo lady. i see dog aggressive dogs that must be muzzled by their owners before they walk in our clinic. These owners KNOW the consequence of their dog being close to others and handle it because they love their pet. The dogs that are human aggressive (to everyone but the owners) also come in for annual vaccinations with a muzzle and a tight leash.
So dont give me that crap that you couldnt adopt out a dog who fights with other dogs. There are PLENTY of 1 dog owners out there who are capable of dealing with that.
If the dogs are fighting through the kennel fences…then build ones that have a concrete wall so that they can’t torture each other. Duh.
To reply to the volunteering of vets theory to fix pets for free to control the population…in this economy i see where that will fail. It is hard to run a business when everyone is suffering and cutting corners…including vet visits.
This is where someone in charge needs to really push ahead and gain the trust and respect of our local veterinarians. The problem is that there are SO many problems at the shelter….some doctors prefer to stay away from it.
i would promise incentives for their help. Not bribes…but reason to contribute. My shelter would be so awesome that everyone would want to help!!
Hi, my name’s Kate, I live in Harford County and stop by the Humane Society on occassion to give the animals a little TLC, and on my most reccent visit I fell in love with a puppy cagged in the lobby …
I would like to share my personal experience in adopting my dog from HCHS this May 2008 when it was extremely crowded … I felt like I needed to give my first born in order to adopt my puppy … I understand that the shelter is having problems and screening is important; however, this was out of control. I had to renew my puppy’s adoption three times, or they were going to “give him away,” who by the way had mange, was malnourished, and had some sort of cold.
I wanted to take him home ASAP so I could give him the care he needed and bring him to the vet … what an ordeal it was to adopt him, one would think they would want a kind animal lover with a large backyard to take home the “mangey mutt, with a cold or something” one of the volunteers called him because he had patches of hair missing on his head and throughout his coat.
Anyway, in order to bring him home and get him the medical attention he needed which they clearly did NOT provide I had to do the following: bring a family member to the Humane Society, bring my boyfriend, my boyfriend’s mother and oh yes even his dad had to leave work and come to the shelter. Mind you I am a 25 year old woman, not a small child who rode their big wheel to the shelter, I found their adoption policies rather odd and certain staff members very unhelpful.
I would like you to know after about a month my puppy, who was an absolute mess, is a wonderful dog and in good health, playful, and happy but it took time and cost a lot of money; something really needs to be changed there because it is the animals who are truly suffering and only true animal lovers should work at shelters.
vietnam vet says
Thanks kate for the update.we the people have been duped again in to thinking everything was well and happy’ at animal control. well apparently it’s not. I can assure you there are alot of animal lovers in harford county.
who are not going to be happy too here this.
UGH! Kudos to you Kate for enduring the long and hard adoption process. Prior to the family meeting the adoptable pet in question, they used to just let you take them. i find comfort in the fact that they want the people living in the household o meet and greet with the pet prior to it being adopted. However, if you are 25 and live on your own with your boyfriend, then they went overboard by wanting everyone there.
You have to understand…as loving as some people are, there are others who just want to have a pet to have a pet. For example, when they stopped screening families prior to adoption, there were cases of animals biting children in the household, fighting with the other pets, or another member of the house just plain out not liking or wanting the pet.
It is neccessary for them to ensure that a family is ready and willing and all able to adopt. How many hoops should you jump through to save a life? Only the hoops that are reasonable and important for the pet to find a forever home.
Glad to hear he is much better!
Ps. i am no way taking the HSHC side on this. They suck. But pre-screening is vital. 🙂
i just gave animal control a cat i use to own it came back from whoever then new owner was i wanted to keep it but couldnt landlord said no at one time he said yes but for some reason he denys it why i dont know so anyways it was either giving the cat away if not we would of got evicted i have 2 daughters and a 5month old grandson not much of a choice so i had to give up the cat.lady told me she looks heathy and nice and all so she looks adoptable.i was told they changed and take care of animals and put lots more effort of finding them homes then i read this .please if u know someone who would love and save a cat please do shes a tortis shell color part calico her name is sassy i didnt tell them that should of kept her but then risking us all to be homeless i hate myself i didnt want her to die so please help me get her a home i dont know what they will name her and she prob.hates me cause i gave her to mean people which i didnt know guess animal control will sent her to hshc so please pass on maybe someone willl come for her i really hope and pray bad thing i`ll prob never know what happens to her.well please help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
if someone takes a heart and save the cat i mentoned please let me know i am so worried now.:(
In A.D. 2101
War was beginning.
Captain: What happen ?
Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
Operator: We get signal.
Captain: What !
Operator: Main screen turn on.
Captain: It’s you !!
CATS: How are you gentlemen !!
CATS: All your base are belong to us.
CATS: You are on the way to destruction.
Captain: What you say !!
CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time.
CATS: Ha ha ha ha ….
Operator: Captain !! *
Captain: Take off every ‘ZIG’!!
Captain: You know what you doing.
Captain: Move ‘ZIG’.
Captain: For great justice.
Steve..what in the hell is happening?
i thought turtles were gonna be in charge in the future. i have 10 in training now. Dag.
I don’t trust cats. Dogs are reliable, smart, trainable, and predictable. You just never know what cats are thinking…
Just a quick update to make people aware that the above situations have not changed they are just hiding it better. If anything there are even more sick and twisted things being done at the shelter and no one cares.
Jenny, Would you mind ellaborating on your comment? Nothing can be done if we don’t know what is going on.
Jenny sure is right. Check out my Facebook posting.
Joan Neidhardt says
Erika, there is nothing at this link or your privacy settings don’t allow public access.