I want to take this opportunity to expand upon the recent stories in The Herald-Mail concerning the aspects of what we do for the community. The Humane Society of Washington County has two major operational components: Animal Control and Humane Society services.
Past administration decided to accept a contract with Washington County government to provide animal control services pursuant to the Washington County Animal Control Ordinance. Animal control ordinances historically are designed to protect the community’s citizens from animals and their undesirable behaviors, unlike cruelty laws that were designed to protect animals from people’s abusive and/or neglectful behavior toward them.
Animal control historically was — and still is — a government function usually funded by taxpayers’ dollars. The prevention of cruelty fell — and still falls — to humane societies, SPCAs and other nonprofit organizations. Some governments opt to contract with a nonprofit organization and/or a for-profit company in lieu of undertaking the responsibility of directly providing field and sheltering services to their constituents.
When a third party like ourselves opts to provide these services, we do so often at less of an expense to the county than if they did it themselves. Our employee pay, salaries and benefits pale in comparison to what an equivalent position in government would offer.
But it often comes at a price to the agency, either through the financial subsidizing of the government services and/or the ethical and moral dilemmas created by contract responsibilities, such as the enforcement of laws that limit ownership numbers, trapping and euthanasia of feral feline populations, the often impossible challenge to appease both sides in most animal control issues, and the public inability to control the actions of animals owned by irresponsible animal owners.
Unlike our governmental counterpart, we do not have the many support functions or resources built in that are necessary to operate and maintain a safe and lawful business in today’s world. Resources such as a personnel department, safety or risk management, printing, information technologies services, legal department, budget and finance, emergency services, public relations, maintenance, etc., are all services we must attempt to handle with existing personnel and/or pay for out of the payment each year for animal control services.
Animal control services are divided into two categories: field services and shelter services.
Field services refers to the personnel and equipment needed to respond to complaints from citizens concerning the unwanted behavior of animals — usually animals belonging to their neighbors. These would include barking; running at large; bites; vicious/dangerous dogs; county license; rabies vaccinations for dogs, cats & ferrets; limit laws; public nuisance, sick and injured animals; licensing of kennels; rabies control and preparation of an animal for rabies testing. Field service officers must be available to respond to emergency incidents on nights, weekends and holidays. All of these are after normal working hours and are often after they have already worked a full eight-hour day. They must also be prepared to defend their actions before the Washington County Animal Control Authority when a citizen objects to the action taken against them.
Shelter services refers to the personnel and equipment that are needed at our shelter facility to house those animals impounded by our field service officers and/or those animals brought to us by the public, which include animals found at large or that are simply no longer wanted. Sheltering is a broad term that includes daily cleaning of a summer population that can reach 350 animals ranging from dogs and cats to reptiles, small livestock, fowl, fish, ferrets, hamsters, guinea pigs, snakes, etc. It includes the exam of every animal brought in, administering of vaccinations for disease prevention, feeding, grooming, adoptions, lost/found animals, treating sick/injured animals and euthanasia. It also entails overseeing the dog license program, exercising and socializing the animals, customer service for the more than 26,000 clients that walk through our doors each year, behavioral assessments, transporting animals to and from veterinary clinics, trap loans, answering phones, dispatching calls to field service officers and returning lost animals to owners. Pursuant to Maryland law, all animal care staff and field service officers must attend training and be certified before they perform euthanasia.
So what does that leave for humane services? How about cruelty investigations, public assistance programs such as the pet food bank, spay and neuter programs, off-site adoptions, numerous pet of the week promotions, rescues, volunteers, humane education, humane summer camp, medical assistance funds for owners who are financially challenged, fundraisers and special events, appearances at community events, sponsoring of 4-H trophies and media alerts concerning extreme weather conditions, product recalls and animal legislation.
As we struggle to wear two hats, we understand that it can be frustrating when a citizen has to wait for service, or calls us multiple times, or is told we aren’t able to resolve their problem. We are serving myriad functions, and take each one seriously. We are bound by laws, time and resources, and we do the best we are able with each and every one of our responsibilities.
We appreciate that, as a whole, we enjoy a tremendous amount of community support. In the end, the citizens and animals of Washington County all benefit from that — and that’s what really matters.
Paul F. Miller is executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County.