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Staffing shakeup at Balt. Co. Animal Services amid report on pet care concerns

Posted at 10:15 PM, Mar 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-21 08:09:54-04

TOWSON, Md. — Four top employees with the Baltimore County Animal Services will no longer be working with the organization amid a recent report on the care and treatment of animals at their facility, according to the Director and Health officer of Baltimore County.

"It just feels like a weight has been lifted off," said BCAS volunteer Amy McGuirk said.

News of the changes in leadership comes around the same time a report was released by Baltimore County from an internal Operational Excellence group, also known as OpEx, on the state of the animal shelter's operation and care of animals in their custody. But according to Baltimore County Press Secretary T.J. Smith, the report and the personnel changes in the organization have nothing to do with one another.

Officials say Baltimore County Executive Olszewski ordered the performance audit of BCAS earlier this year because he shares the concerns about the general work environment and safety of employees and animals. The OpEx team was requested to review six key things at the shelter comprised of performance of animal care, services, the accuracy of raised concerns, improvements, their response to animal issues, and the treatment of animals.

During the team's 30-day findings, one of the community complaints raised from the report was that the facility managers were allegedly manipulating live release statistics. The complaint goes on to say, "managers were forcing staff members to pressure people surrendering animals to request their animals are euthanized," suggesting the shelter was making their statistics show an improvement in live release data.

BCAS then followed up with the complaint by saying the improvement in their stats was due to additional resources provided to surrendering owners such as surrender prevention programs, low-cost vet care, and rescue options.

"The focus unfortunately has gone from the focus being on the animals, their safety, the community's safety and their welfare to these live release numbers," said volunteer Jennifer Pruitt. "Instead of trying to have a safe haven for animals and then match the right animal with the adopters, it's more about getting the animals through the door and that puts a lot of things at risk. It puts the animal at risk, the community at risk. It's been very disheartening at the shelter."

Data shows BCAS had an average requested euthanasia standing with other Maryland counties from 2015 to the summer of 2017, but took an increase in rate after that time. The report says the increase overtime started when the BCAS leadership was appointed. It says they implemented changes to the intake interview process and made a point to have 'frank conversations' about euthanasia with surrendering pet owners in cases which they felt the health of the animal will make adoption difficult. They say this was an effort to have realistic expectations with surrendering pet owners on the outcome of their animal.

BCAS clarified that they do not euthanize more animals in total, and customer complaints is a reflection of their intake process procedures.

The OpEx team later identified the many complaints that people felt pressured to request euthanasia during the intake process and the facility's overall customer service as a communication problem that they have recommended to fix.

Volunteers with BCAS hope the change in leadership and recommendations made by the OpEx team will bring a new perspective to the shelter.

"It’s been a very depressing place, BCAS in recent months, and hopefully we can have a proactive place where the community can be involved and the animals can feel safe and volunteers can find enjoyment in things again," said Pruitt. "I’m very excited about the change and thinking about the future for the animals and people alike."

"We will now have transparency and a welcoming, happy, open environment where the staff is valued and the animals are valued," said McGuirk.

Baltimore County reports that Dr. Lucia Donatelli will assume the overall administrative responsibilities of the Division.