- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2001

A District of Columbia Council member yesterday urged an investigation of charges of excessive killing of strays at an animal shelter operated by the Washington Humane Shelter.
"I really think [Humane Society staff] are dedicated, caring people about their work so it's a question of getting to the facts," Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said.
"I am as publicly committed an animal lover as there is on the City Council, but we are fighting the rat problem," Mr. Graham said, referring to an incident in which one of the Humane Society's animal control officers fished a rat out of a woman's toilet and then let it loose.
Mr. Graham was responding to an article in yesterday's editions of The Washington Times detailing the D.C. Department of Health's frustration with the Humane Society, its contractor for animal disease control.
The Times quoted internal memos at the Health Department that cited contract violations, excessive numbers of animals put to death and complaints of poor customer service.
The disclosures, Mr. Graham said, "merit serious investigation."
The Washington Humane Society's animal-control contract with the city, under which it receives $650,000 a year in taxpayers' money, expires June 26. The nonprofit organization, which is not affiliated with the United States Humane Society, has held the contract since 1980.
Internal memos reviewed by The Times also documented a two-week span in which 13 D.C. residents were forced to undergo postexposure treatment for rabies after animal-control officers set possibly rabid bats free.
"We have a general objection to the things that were stated in the article because we feel our long and faithful service to the District and to the animals over many years of service has been misrepresented," Mary Healey, executive director of the Humane Society, said yesterday.
Mrs. Healey pointed out that under the provisions of the society's animal-control contract with the city, she is prohibited from speaking to reporters about related issues.
But Andrew Weinstein, a shelter volunteer, said he was under no such gag order.
"I'm the biggest dog lover on Earth. I would not volunteer in a place that put down dogs unnecessarily," Mr. Weinstein said. "This place does not make arbitrary, capricious decisions when it comes to dogs' lives."
Mr. Weinstein's sentiments were echoed by a score of other volunteers, who praised the efforts of shelter staff, who they said often work with limited resources.
Department of Health statistics show that the Humane Society puts to death about 72 percent of the animals impounded at the shelter at 1201 New York Ave. NE a high mark but within the national average. Health officials also are concerned that 65 percent of animals that enter the shelter are labeled "unadoptable," meaning they are almost certain to be killed.
But one volunteer, who requested anonymity, came forward with a different story.
"The euthanasia thing is really troubling for us," the volunteer said. "One of the biggest complaints is that there seems to be no room for dialogue about the shelter policy."
The Department of Health said it would be "inappropriate" to comment on its internal memos regarding the society's animal-control practices.
Mr. Weinstein said the problem of holding pit bulls, which are automatically marked unadoptable meaning they can be held for seven days and released only to their owners inflated the shelter's statistics for unadoptable animals.
He said in his experience, at any given time a third of the shelter's 40 cages are occupied by the characteristically aggressive dogs. Those occupied stalls, Mr. Weinstein said, limit the amount of other animals that can be held.
But critics say the Humane Society's breed-specific ban on pit bulls, or any mixed pit bull breed, is largely unnecessary. Pit bulls are not illegal and are adopted out in shelters in surrounding jurisdictions.
Tamara Seluzni, executive director of the National Capital Humane Society, said her group filed a proposal to take over the animal-control contract with the Department of Health because of the complaints it has received about the Washington Humane Society.
She said she doesn't criticize the compassion of the volunteers, only the results.
"They do believe their intentions; I have no doubt about that," she said. "But they're too close to an extreme that is not good for this city. They've had this contract since 1980. What has changed in that time?"


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