- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2001

The Washington Humane Society pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court yesterday to mishandling and in the overwhelming majority of cases killing nearly 900 federally protected birds in the last four years.
Judge Ricardo Urbina of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia accepted the plea agreement, which includes a $50 fine and a one-year probation, during which humane society workers who handle and care for birds will attend a comprehensive training program.
Chris Brong, who investigated the case for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told The Washington Times yesterday, "Its a case of great concern because you have a public organization thats authorized by a government agency to do a certain type of public service, and they have not been following the laws and regulations for a number of years."
The Washington Humane Society has been under fire recently after The Washington Times last month detailed complaints about humane society workers releasing rats and bats while animals brought into its shelters were being destroyed. Critics have accused the society of excessive killing.
The investigation into the killing of the birds began last summer after reports that two adult northern mockingbirds were diving too close to pedestrians near the State Department. Court documents say humane society officials were called to the scene on Aug.1 last year and recovered a nest of three baby mockingbirds. The humane society officials took the birds to the animal shelter on New York Avenue NE, where the birds were killed that evening.
Further investigation by Mr. Brong unearthed documents pointing to nearly 900 cases in the last four years in which federally protected migratory birds had been seized illegally by the humane society. The agent also found that the humane society did not have the required permits for handling migratory birds. By law, the humane society should have handed the birds over to a licensed bird-rescue group.
A humane society statement dated March 30 acknowledging the plea agreement said, "In the course of performing animal control services for the District of Columbia pursuant to its contract with the Department of Health, WHS inadvertently and unintentionally violated the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by taking possession of and euthanizing, without prior approval, sick or injured federally protected migratory birds without a valid permit to do so."
Mary Healey, executive director of the humane society, offered no further comment yesterday.
But Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Chris Tollefson said, "I think its fair to say that when youre in that line of work you have a responsibility to understand the relevant laws and comply with them."
Mr. Tollefson said the most important thing is that the humane society understand and comply with the law. Still, he agreed the case was highly unusual and said the fact that charges were brought at all should demonstrate its seriousness.
"We dont bring cases lightly to the U.S. attorney, " he said. "We try to focus our attention on cases and issues that have a broad impact and where significant violations are occurring."
The 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, one of the nations oldest federal conservation laws, includes prohibitions and restrictions on collecting and handling the more than 830 bird species that migrate through the United States, Mexico, Canada, Japan and Russia. The Fish and Wildlife Service has primary responsibility for ensuring compliance with this law.
The service has now issued the appropriate permit to the Districts Department of Health for the humane society to continue its contractual work.
The permit allows temporary possession and care of sick or injured migratory birds, but does not allow healthy birds to be collected, nor does it allow the humane society to kill birds.
The Washington Humane Society was chartered by Congress in 1870 to enforce the citys animal cruelty laws. It runs its private activities out of a shelter on Georgia Avenue NW.
In 1980, WHS was awarded the contract by the D.C. health department to oversee the citys animal disease control operations. For all but four months of that time, the humane society has retained the contract.
The current five-year, $650,000 contract is due to expire June 26. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has pledged to increase funding to $700,000, still far short of the $1.4 million the humane society has requested.

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