- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Rats and rabid bats picked up by District of Columbia animal control officers have a good chance to regain their freedom, but a dog or cat captured on the street probably will be dead meat fast.
Certain animal control practices like these are endangering the health of D.C. residents and unnecessarily destroying adoptable animals, internal documents obtained by The Washington Times say.
Memos inside the D.C. Department of Health indicate growing frustration among city officials over practices and policies at the Washington Humane Society, which receives $650,000 a year in taxpayers' money to handle animal control in the District.
The Humane Society's contract violations, "abysmal customer service" and aggressive policy of putting lost or abandoned pets to death some dogs and cats are killed the same day they're picked up also leave the city vulnerable to lawsuits, according to the documents. In 1998 and 1999, about 72 percent of all animals taken to the shelter were destroyed.
Among the problems detailed in the Health Department documents reviewed by The Times:
A June 9, 1998, memo from Peggy Keller, chief of animal disease control, describes how 13 residents had to undergo precautionary rabies treatments at city expense because a Humane Society worker released bats that had been removed from a house a violation of Health Department orders that the bats be killed and tested for rabies.
A June 30, 1999, memo from the District's preventive health administrator, M. Ricardo Calderon, complains that the Humane Society "often ignores instructions from our contract monitor and 'thumbs its nose' at directions from our general counsel's office."
One resident was told by a Humane Society employee last June that rats are wild animals and "have rights, too." The resident, a wildlife biologist, had complained to the Humane Society after reading a news report about an animal control officer releasing a rat that was fished out of a woman's toilet.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams made eradicating rats a major promise of his 1998 campaign for the city's top elected office.
Mary Healey, director of the Washington Humane Society, would not talk to The Times about the incident involving the bats, the release of the rat or any other questions concerning her organization's contract with the city.
Mrs. Healey also declined to comment on the shelter's policy of destroying animals, citing negotiations with the city. The Humane Society wants to renew its animal-control contract, which expires June 26. The organization has held the contract since 1980.
Other Health Department documents detail complaints including one case currently being litigated that accuse Humane Society workers of illegally taking dogs, cats and other pets and demanding fees for their return, and of being rude to those seeking to adopt animals.
A 1997 memo from Mrs. Keller, who as chief of animal disease control is responsible for monitoring the city's contract with the Humane Society, cites difficulties in dealing with the organization. "They resent any monitoring," wrote Mrs. Keller, who says she was evicted from her office in the shelter at 1201 New York Ave. NE because the society wanted the space.
The Washington Humane Society, a private, nonprofit group that is not affiliated with the United States Humane Society, also owns and privately operates a shelter on Georgia Avenue.
Ingrid Newkirk, cofounder of Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) helped the society obtain the contract with the District. Mrs. Newkirk was once manager of the Georgia Avenue shelter and later worked at the New York Avenue shelter when it was under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health. She started PETA in 1980 with Alex Pacheco, a volunteer she met at the New York Avenue shelter.
Mrs. Healey, Humane Society director since 1993, previously worked for PETA as did chief animal control officer Scotlund Haisley and New York Avenue shelter manager Pam Chapman.
Personnel from PETA's headquarters ride along on animal-control missions in the District.
"I think people are trying to draw a connection between [the Humane Society] and PETA where none exists," Mrs. Healey said in an interview. "The Washington Humane Society is an independent organization. We have no affiliation with any other national organization or local organization."
PETA's tax returns from 1996 show that it contributed $2,000 a month to the Washington Humane Society.
Mrs. Healey said the shelter is happy to accept donations from anyone and offers ride-alongs to any interested parties, much as the Metropolitan Police Department does.
But the Washington Humane Society and PETA have one other thing in common: Each faces increasing criticism from other animal-welfare groups over their policies on putting pet animals to death.
PETA, which has garnered worldwide attention for efforts to protect laboratory animals and improve farm conditions for livestock, is an unabashed supporter of "mercy killings" for abandoned or unwanted pets.
The group insists that companion animals like dogs and cats can't survive on the streets and that death is often "the most compassionate option."
Mrs. Keller said it would be "inappropriate" for the Department of Health to comment on the problems detailed in the agency's internal documents.
Some critics of the Washington Humane Society argue that the shelter's policies reflect PETA's influence.
Maddie's Fund is an independent organization that supplies resources to shelters that adopt a no-kill policy. The group says any shelter that destroys more than 70 percent of the animals that come through as is the case here is on the high end of the scale.
PETA, which operates a shelter in Norfolk, destroys 63 percent of the animals brought there. But both shelters are within the range of national averages.
"It's ugly, but it's not uncommon," said Richard Avanzino, president of Maddie's Fund.
What is uncommon is the New York Avenue shelter's willingness to label about 65 percent of its animals as "unadoptable" a tag that puts them on the fast track to death.
That number is too high and raises questions about workers' judgment, Maddie's Fund contends. Nationally, the average number of animals labeled unadoptable is 20 percent.
A 1995 memo to the Humane Society from Martin Levy, the Health Department's epidemiology and disease control chief, details a complaint from a woman who called the shelter on a Tuesday about a dog that was advertised for adoption.
She wanted to see the dog the next day, but was told the shelter would be closed. When she got there Thursday, the dog had been destroyed.
Mr. Levy wrote: "I wish to take this opportunity to reiterate our policy that healthy, adoptable animals should be held as long as space is available."
He went on to advise that the Humane Society should lengthen the stay of animals that it advertises.
Susan Nelson, who volunteered for 18 years at the Washington Humane Society, said her concern about how animals were labeled unadoptable was one reason she decided to leave. She formed her own nonprofit, no-kill animal adoption agency, Feline Urban Rescue Inc.
Ms. Nelson said that in 1997, near the end of her tenure at the local shelter, she claimed a healthy mother cat and its eight newborn kittens. When she went to pick the animals up, three of the kittens had been put to death. She was told that a shelter official thought the kittens were more than the mother could handle.
"It was done with no concern for the kittens and no concern for me," Ms. Nelson said, "and that's the way it's always been done."
A veterinarian examined the mother and kittens the next day, she said, and pronounced them in perfect health.
"I'd always made excuses for them," Ms. Nelson said of the Humane Society, "but I knew in my heart their attitude toward adoption wasn't right."
Mrs. Healey defended the shelter. She pointed to the society's record in animal-cruelty investigation, a low-cost spay and neuter program and education efforts as evidence of benevolence.
"Our philosophy is we care about the animals and we care about the community," Mrs. Healey said.


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