Maryland court gives residents of Baltimore County the right to sue animal shelter for wasting taxpayer dollars

A ruling from the Maryland State Court of Appeals has given the residents of Baltimore County the right to sue the county for wasting taxpayer dollars in the alleged mismanagement of the animal shelter. The shelter stands accused of not providing proper care of the animals.

First amendment and animal shelters

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Anne George, the lead plaintiff in the case, says the lawsuit is about change, not money. George stated in an interview with Baltimore CBS Local 

“This suit bears out exactly what Johnny Olszewski found when he got in there, that there’s a lot of money that was being wasted. This suit was filed on the basis that taxpayers have rights in terms of how the government should spend their money and that when we see waste, we can do something about it.”

Reformers in the lawsuit allege that animals are killed even though rescue groups have expressed interest in saving those animals, shoddy policies allow disease to spread at the facility, animals get sick because they don’t receive appropriate vaccinations when they get to the shelter, and employees don’t make reasonable efforts to locate and notify owners of impounded animals.

The Advisory Council for Baltimore County wrote in a 2018 report that “every employee and former employee with whom we spoke described a toxic working atmosphere created by management at BCAS, where employees constantly fear for their jobs.”

The numbers aren’t what they seem

According to The Towson Times and The Baltimore Sun

In an addendum to its annual report, the Animal Services Advisory Commission alleges that Animal Services “manipulate statistics to make it appear that live release numbers are higher than they really are.”

At first, Animal Services Advisory Commission chairwoman Deborah Stone Hess was pleased with the numbers until she started paying attention to the owner requested euthanasia rates.

Officials issued press releases praising Baltimore County Animal Services’ progress since more than 90 percent of cats and dogs were leaving the shelter alive each quarter.

Hess then noticed that a lot of euthanasia consent forms first had the ‘do not euthanize’ block checked then crossed out and the ‘euthanize’ block checked.

euthanasia chart
euthanasia chart for Baltimore County

Sometime in the past few years, the department’s leadership told employees to pressure owners surrendering animals at the shelter to sign a form requesting that they are euthanized.  When an animal is killed at the owner’s request, it does not count against the shelter’s official live release rate.

If the employee was unsuccessful in getting the owner to check that box, Hess said they were instructed to notify a supervisor, who also would try to convince the animal owner. Current and former employees of Animal Services, under the condition of anonymity, confirmed the policy Hess described to the Towson Times.

The live release rate for dogs was about 87 percent in 2014; for cats, it was just 56 percent.

By 2018, 72 percent of dogs euthanized at the shelter were done at the owner’s request. The actual number stayed the same but the requests for euthanasia more than doubled.

The number of owner euthanasia requests for cats went up more than 277 percent, jumping from 92 in 2015 to 255 in 2018.

From 2015 to 2018 the euth rates went from 26 percent to 41 percent for dogs, and from 12 percent to 32 percent for cats. In raw numbers, owner requests for euthanasia doubled for dogs and tripled for cats over a three year period.

What the shelter says

Dr. Melissa Jones, a veterinarian, declined an interview. Stacy Burgess, spokeswoman for the shelter said about the euthanasia rates

“the increase in resources available to pet owners. With surrender prevention programs, low-cost veterinary care and private rescue options, more families are able to keep their pets in their homes when the barriers are small. This means that the animals being surrendered to the open-admission shelters are those with serious concerns. BCAS takes very seriously its role to educate owners regarding the best decisions for their pets, which may include euthanasia.”


This article is condensed and much more information is available at the news sources above. Nathan Winograd also has a lot of information (including links to several sources) available on his Facebook community page.

Please feel free to add additional information in the comment section.

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The First Amendment and Animal Shelters

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