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County cops go to the dogs

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Published on: Thursday, July 25, 2013

By Holden Wilen

Although the Montgomery County Humane Society has run the county’s animal shelter since 1958, the police department will run the new shelter instead when it opens in the fall.

The new $20 million facility located at the corner of Muncaster Mill Road and Airpark Road is slated to open Nov. 1.

Susan Farag, a legislative analyst for the county, said police plan to take over all adoption and shelter services currently performed by the humane society, and police plan to hire a civilian as the shelter director at the new facility by Aug. 1. Chief of Police J. Thomas Manger said he thinks officials are being kind when they call the current shelter deficient, and the new facility will be a vast improvement.

“[The new shelter] is going to allow us to revamp our licensing program, to enhance our adoption and rescue programs, and enhance our volunteer core, make improvements in service to the public and perhaps more importantly our service to the animals and care of the animals,” Manger said. “We envision much improved veterinary care. There are going to be more technical things like the IT infrastructure that is going to allow us to provide better service.”

Paul Hibler, deputy director of the police department’s animal services division, said one of the main reasons the county decided to take over shelter services is to come more in line with industry standards. Typically, he said, the county either runs all animal services operations or relies on contractors entirely.

Today, police perform field work, such as picking up strays, dealing with incidents of pets being hit by cars and investigating animal cruelty. The county has contracted with the humane society to perform shelter services. According to Farag, the shelter provides care for more than 9,000 animals each year.

“Montgomery County has kind of done it in an unusual way over the years in having the county do some parts of the animal services program and then contracting some parts out,” Hibler said.

One of the advantages to making all operations internal, Hibler said, is management of programs and personnel becomes a lot easier. When operating through a contract, he said, the county has to deal with contract issues, and any time it wants to make a change with programs or personnel, it has to make a contract amendment.

“When you are dealing with contracts, it tends to be a very complex issue,” Hibler said. “When it is run by the county, you are dealing with county personnel. I think it is much easier to establish policy and procedure and to enforce that policy and procedure.”

Cris Bombaugh, president and CEO of the humane society, said despite the county’s decision to handle operations internally, the humane society remains dedicated to helping homeless animals.

The humane society received $1.6 million in 2013 from the county for shelter and adoption services, Bombaugh said, but that is only half the organization’s budget. The humane society receives private funding for the other half of its budget to conduct programs that are irrespective of the animal shelter, such as foster care, private rescues and medical care to animals with special needs. The organization also conducts pet behavior seminars to help promote humane education.

Bombaugh said communication between the humane society and the county is still ongoing. There have been discussions about how operations will continue in the new shelter, but the humane society’s role moving forward is to be determined.  The organization is still developing a plan on how exactly to operate when the current shelter closes down, she said, but the organization will continue to provide support for animals as long as it still receives private funding from supporters.

“The impact, there really is not any,” Bombaugh said. “We are in a wonderful position to have a lot of public support. We will be able to carry on just as we are.”

Manger and Hilbert said the new shelter will help improve the issue of pet licensing. According to the county executive’s office, only 7 percent of the estimated 400,000 pets in the county are licensed.

Assistant Chief Betsy Davis said at the County Council public safety committee’s July 18 meeting that the process for getting a pet licensed should be made as simple as possible by making applications accessible online and simplifying the fee structure.

“We want to make [the process] very easy,” Davis said. “[Pet owners] should not have to jump through all the hoops they are jumping through now. I am hopeful that we are going to get there. If you look at this fee structure, I am even confused when you try to figure it out.”

Bombaugh said the humane society now manages pet licensing for the county, but it has only been doing so for the past 20 months. In that time, she said that although compliance still rests at only 7 percent, the humane society has increased compliance by more than 24 percent to reach that level.

Overall, county officials are excited about the opening of the new shelter in November. Councilman Marc Elrich, a member of the county’s public safety committee, said the new shelter has been a long time coming, and he likes the approach the police department is taking in operating the new shelter. Councilman Phil Andrews, the chair of the public safety committee, said he looks forward to the opening of the new shelter as well.

“It will be a huge improvement over the current one, which has had its deficiencies for a long time,” Andrews said. “It is going to be a big improvement.”

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