New animal shelter deal focuses on accountability

Changes intended to make staffers more responsive to concerns of pet owners and adopters

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Montgomery County is requiring improvements in services and accountability at the county’s animal shelter.

The changes are written into new terms of the contract under which the Montgomery County Humane Society runs the shelter.

That three-year contract is up for renewal next year and is subject to annual updates by the county.

Under terms that would go into effect July 1, the Humane Society would be required to begin holding Sunday hours (in exchange for closing one weekday) and to ensure that three attendants are answering phones at all times.

The contract also requires the Humane Society to base lost-and-found information on factual data rather than subjective descriptions. It requires staffers to tell anyone who calls looking for a lost animal to visit the shelter to make sure the animal is not there, said David Falcinelli, the county police captain who oversees the shelter.

The changes are intended to make it easier for potential adopters to visit the shelter, to improve service and to ensure that owners do not miss a chance to recover lost pets.

Some pets have been adopted or not returned to their owners because of miscommunications about whether they were held at the shelter.

The Humane Society also would have to inform the county about complaints and actions it takes to remedy problems.

The contract also requires the Humane Society — which has been criticized for not ensuring that animals are spayed or neutered before they are adopted — to make sure adopters have their new pets sterilized.

The Humane Society, at its expense, recently began offering free spaying and neutering for cats who have been at the shelter a long time without being adopted.

The new terms also require the shelter’s euthanasia policy to be reviewed annually, published on the Internet and made available on request.

An advisory group, rather than one or two MCHS employees, would make euthanasia decisions, and the county animal control director would be allowed to extend the holding period for an animal longer than the 72-hour minimum required by law.

Falcinelli, the county’s animal control director, said most of the new requirements were based on suggestions from the community.

The Humane Society also must provide quarterly financial reports so that items charged against the contract can be reviewed, said Falcinelli, who is also a certified public accountant.

Before, the Humane Society simply had to stay within its budget.

MCHS President JC Crist, who has been working at the shelter as volunteer chief executive officer, said he expects his group to accept most of the changes. He said he is excited about improvements being made at the shelter.

‘‘We are seeing positive change,” Falcinelli said.

Crist confirmed that Sharon Kessler, who had been running shelter operations as MCHS executive director, has retired.

Life4Animals, a dissident group that would like to take over the shelter contract, has been critical of how MCHS ran the shelter under Kessler.

Volunteers working for the county are also developing listservs to notify interested residents when a stray animal comes into the shelter from their neighborhood.