Getting response to animal control issues is frustrating residents
Humane Society of Washington County field service supervisor Evelyn Garrett removes a kitten from a downtown apartment Thursday. Garrett's job includes picking up stray animals and responding to complaints about animal welfare. (By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer)
Concerned the dog might harm others, Eckel said, she called the health department and was referred to the Humane Society of Washington County, but was disappointed with the response.
"I didn't feel like there was any satisfying conclusion," she said. "They (said they) would send someone out to see the owner. I was sort of out of the loop."
Eckel is one of many area residents who have said efforts to seek help with animal issues have left them confused, frustrated or feeling left on their own.
Michelle Carbaugh, who lives east of Hagerstown, said she recently spotted a large snapping turtle crawling toward the road on Jefferson Boulevard near Antietam Creek on her way to work.
Carbaugh was concerned the turtle would be hit or could cause a crash, but didn't have the strength or the protection needed to move it. Calls to the Humane Society and the Washington County Sheriff's Office yielded no rescue for the animal, which she discovered dead on the road on her way home.
Another Hagerstown woman said when her neighbor's dog burrowed under her fence and threatened her elderly dog, the Humane Society told her they couldn't help unless she caught the dog.
Some residents say situations like these are evidence that the Humane Society isn't responsive to the community. Some even say that the agency's response, or lack of it, puts people at risk.
Paul Miller, the agency's executive director, said the Humane Society of Washington County's vision is to be the area's leading resource for animal-related issues, but that doesn't mean it will be able to send someone out to help with every call.
Sometimes, that's because of limited resources; sometimes it's due to restrictions in the organization's contract with the county or the animal control ordinance; and sometimes the matter is the jurisdiction of another agency, such as police or the Department of Natural Resources, he said.
"What we're trying to do is be the resource," Miller said. "If we can't help you, we can direct you to someone who can or should be able to."
The Humane Society is a private nonprofit organization contracted by Washington County to serve as the county's official animal control agency and enforce the county's animal control ordinance. As an organization, its mission is "to improve the quality of life for all animals," Miller said. Beyond that, its contracted responsibilities come from the ordinance and relate to issues such as licensing, kennel inspections, animals "at large," public nuisance animals, vicious and dangerous dogs, and control of rabies.
One of the limiting factors in responding to calls is manpower, Miller said.
"We get calls, 'We found stray dogs,' 'I saw a dog run down the street,' you name it — it goes on and on," Miller said. "It's not that I don't want to go on them ... but I don't have enough officers."
When fully-staffed, the Humane Society has three animal-control officers to cover six days' worth of shifts and after-hours on-call duties for emergencies, Miller said. In a typical year, they collectively respond to between 1,000 and 1,100 calls, he said.
Right now, with one position vacant and one officer injured and on light duty, the agency has only one animal-control officer on the road, Miller said.
"So, you know, we just try to do the best we can," he said.
That means being choosy about calls such as the turtle in the road, which he said the agency will help with if it can on a case-by-case basis.
Sometimes, Miller said the Humane Society is limited by complainants' unwillingness to sign an affidavit about an attack or other violation of the ordinance. Officers will talk to the pet owner and give advice, but unless officers witness a violation or get a signed statement, they are powerless to issue a citation, he said.