Prince Georges Feral Friends, SPCA
PG Adopt-A-Classroom -- Compassion Watch TV
Holistic Health Care for Pets -- No Kill Prince George's County, MD
November 29, 2011
Rodney C Taylor, Temporary Administrator,
Prince George's County Animal Management
If you see this guy, wish him a warm "Good-bye"!
Most people are compassionate by nature. When another living creature is in need, they reach out and try to help, if they are able. They often consider the less fortunate who might be homeless, hungry or without sufficient means, and contribute to a local food bank or "Warm Nights" program, for example.
Generally, this compassion extends to the non-human creatures around them, as well. Many people find pleasure in feeding the birds, and watching their antics. Some take special care to keep feeders stocked in cold weather or when the ground is covered and food is less available. They might also provide houses for shelter, water, and even transport a fallen one to a veterinarian for care.
|"I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other ... " ~~Barack Obama|
Often compassion becomes action when a person observes a homeless animal and feels that help is needed, as in the case of a freeroaming cat that has been observed in the yard and perceived to be hungry. Although both birds and feral cats are defined by the County's Animal Control Statute and the Maryland State Code as "wild", they are none-the-less living creatures. Even though both can usually survive on their own, they can sometimes benefit from the care of a Good Samaritan.
Those who are sensitive to the needs of others can be of any age, gender, race, or economic status. We have found, though, that caring can come to occupy a central position in their minds, to the point that they will sacrifice even limited resources in order to support their generosity. The daily visit of outdoor friends becomes very important, particularly in situations where a spouse has passed, the human family lives at a distance, or there is limited mobility.
In Prince George's County these caretakers are left to their own devices, since the County's Animal Control provides no constructive advice or assistance. In the case of freeroaming cats, Animal Control could suggest that the caretaker participate in a Trap-Neuter-Return program like that of Prince Georges Feral Friends, SPCA, or at least recommend low-cost spay/neuter and vaccination services. This could help to provide population control, improve the behavior of the cats, and provide a barrier against the transmission of rabies, in addition to natural rodent control - a real asset to the community. Of course, it would be even better if the county were to provide financial assistance, since feral cats, legally considered wild animals, are the property of the county, not the caretaker, and the spay/neuter-vaccinate activity benefits the entire community.
Although a recent Harris Poll found that 83% of the people surveyed preferred to allow homeless cats to live out their lives where they are found, sometimes a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute, generally unrelated to the cats, provokes a call to Animal Control. This is where an Animal Control Officer could provide helpful information. Basic mediation skills could be used to defuse the situation. Instead, however, the caretaker is usually told that feeding of feral cats is illegal and an "Incident/Investigation Report" is issued to the feeder.
Now, we have a very interesting situation. When something is considered "illegal" it means that there is a law prohibiting the activity. But, not so in this case, since there is no law or statute prohibiting the feeding of feral cats. Since the feeding is NOT illegal, the ACO's prohibition of the feeding is a violation of the caretaker's constitutional right to engage in a legal activity. The "Incident/ Investigation Report" form is filled out, rather than a Warning or Citation form, because there is no law being violated and a Warning or Citation requires a reference to the law! In the many instances in which the call to Animal Control is the result of an unrelated issue, this boils down to county supported neighbor-to-neighbor harassment.
The Prince George's County Animal Management Division is temporarily led by Rodney Taylor, who was appointed to the position of Administrator in 1998 by Samuel Wynkoop. Until County Executive Rushern Baker fulfills his campaign promise and replaces Rodney Taylor, county residents must deal with his abusive tactics.
On November 10, 2011, Prince Georges Feral Friends, SPCA won BIG against Rodney Taylor, when the judge read the statute and decided against Rodney Taylor, declaring that feeding is NOT illegal under the Statute. We fully expect the the judge's decision will have no effect on Rodney Taylor, and he will continue to ignore the law until he is relieved of his duties.
After the initial unconstitutional enforcement of a nonexistent statute, an ACO often continues by threatening that if the caretaker does not stop feeding, there will be forthcoming charges of "failure to license", "failure to vaccinate", and permitting "running at large". This requires a leap of logic which also has no basis in the statute or any other law. "If you feed it, you own it" they say. Can you imagine preventing a bird that you feed from "flying at large"? As wild animals, neither the feral cats nor the birds, can be owned by individuals. The potential charges mentioned are all failures to comply with the responsibilities of ownership. In fact, since wild animals are the property of "the state" held in trust for the citizens, if it is illegal for the wild animals to be "running at large", it is the County who is the responsible party.
Given that very few people spend any time at all reading the Prince George's County Code, Subtitle 3, Animal Control, most people are not aware of its contents, so they do not know that what they have been told by the Prince George's County ACO is not accurate. Nevertheless, most people find that the instructions to stop feeding conflicts with their nature to be compassionate, and they will continue to provide food to the outdoor creatures in spite of the prohibition.
Another suggestion that is often given by the ACO to prevent the forthcoming charges of "running at large", is that the cats should be taken into the caretaker's house, otherwise, the feral cats can be trapped and removed (or, more accurately, "taken to Prince George's County Animal Services Facility where they will immediately be killed").
At this point, a few people will resist their nature to be compassionate and stop feeding. Some others will do some research, find Prince Georges Feral Friends, SPCA, and learn that they have been given false information. Without the benefit of accurate information, others will feel so compelled to save the animals' lives that they will give in to this really bad advice, and take feral cats into the house.
Most citizens react with anger and resentment when they learn how county agents have misled them about the law.
If you have ever had a squirrel come down the chimney, or a bird fly in through an open window, you probably learned that wild animals really don't belong in the house. A properly trained Animal Control Officer should know this. Typically, feral cats that find themselves in a house will spend much of their time under a chair or bed, or in a closet. They may become more friendly over time, but it could take years.
Without information, training, and assistance, dealing with the situation can be difficult. Providing spay/neuter procedures could be prohibitively expensive. Indoors, the cats rely entirely on the caretaker for food. It is easy to see how a person's nature to care about others, mixed with the misinformation provided by Animal Control, could create an unmanageable situation.
In the meanwhile, the space in the outside environment that was once occupied by the feral cats, is now vacant. Rodents which were previously kept under control, now have fewer predators, so their population increases. Feral cats from the surrounding area now are free to move in to take advantage of the abundance of prey. The increased population of rodents will now support an even larger number of cats than were originally in the area. This is known as the "vacuum effect".
At this point, the compassionate person has a group of cats that were taken into the house, at the suggestion of Animal Control, so that they would not be killed, PLUS another group of cats that moved in to fill the empty space outside.
Sooner or later, the Animal Control Officer will return and point out that the outdoor cats must ALSO be taken into the house to prevent a charge of "running at large", or they will be trapped and removed (killed). Under pressure exerted by Animal Control, and to save the lives of the cats, the person feels compelled to take this group of cats into the house, and the problem worsens.
The next step in the downward spiral is often when a Prince George's County Animal Control Officer - possibly the same one who misrepresented the law and provided inaccurate information and bad advice in the first place - returns to find a house with 10, 15, or more cats. Invariably, cries of "Hoarder!" ring out.
Now, let's keep some facts straight. There is a psychological condition known as "hoarding". It is a mental disorder which requires a diagnosis by a professional. Most Animal Control Officers do not hold a degree in Psychiatry. The symptoms of the condition are the reluctance to separate from certain things, which might be a collection of newspapers or magazines, paper cups, tin cans, etc. When a person who actually has the disorder directs their attention to animals, there are often sick or dying animals, even corpses, with feces and urine about. The hoarder often sees nothing wrong with the situation.
Generally, this is NOT what the Animal Control Officer finds. Most often, the Good Samaritan is very conscientious, the cats are well fed, and vetted to the best of the ability of the caretaker, even if this requires great personal sacrifice. Cases in which there are large numbers of cats in the house are most often created by Animal Control, not a psychological disorder.
For example, we see messages on internet discussion lists like ...
|Please help place a large number of cats that have been confiscated from a hoarder. All of the cats are in good health, and up to date on their vaccines. The cats had regular vet care and records are available for each cat.|
Obviously, this was NOT a hoarder. This was simply a caring person who unfortunately was misled and abused by Prince George's County's Animal Control.
We are told by Animal Management that it's imperative.
But first, let's consider some actions which are NOT violations of the law.
NONE of these activities are violations of any statute or other law. The Animal Control Officer who makes these statements is misrepresenting the law.
So, consider the actual violations of the law which created this problem. Some of them are ...
There are other potential violations of the law ...
Plus, there are failures to perform as County employees should be expected ...
The most basic problem, and likely the hardest to correct, is the attitude that the County's mission is to "get" people, rather than to "serve" them. In any given situation, the approach that is currently used is to ask "Is there a violation that I can cite?" rather than "How can I help?" This is very difficult, if not impossible, to correct because this requires a change in mindset. This adversarial attitude on the part of Animal Control actually leads ACOs to create imaginary violations where none has occurred and to commit violations of the law themselves. In most cases this can only be corrected by a change in personnel, starting at the top.
Taking the adversarial approach has measurable results. Strict and even imaginary laws, over-aggressive enforcement, hasty confiscation and impoundment, stiff fines, pet ownership limitation or even prohibition, all have the effect of bringing more animals into the facility which results in the already high kill rate growing even higher. People are deprived of their animal companions, and the majority of those animals are killed.
During the past decade, on average, 60% of all animals that entered the Animal Services Facility alive have been killed. The record for cats is worse -- 85% have been killed. During the time that Rodney Taylor has been Administrator of Animal Management, approximately 70,000 animals have been killed.
The trend is clear. The Animal Services Facility set an all-time high record kill rate, when 970 animals were killed during the single month of June 2011, and only 40 of them were actual euthanasias.
There are jurisdictions where Animal Control has been transformed from the adversarial approach to being a positive community resource. These successful open admission, municipal shelters have implemented a set of policies that, when combined, result in the saving of 90% or more of all animals presented to them. But, because the behavior of those who are in charge is dependent on their mindset, it is very difficult to simply institute new policies. In every case, the successful transformations began with a change in leadership. This attests to the truth of Jim Collins' Rule #1 in his book, "Good to Great" -- "Get the right people on the bus, get the wrong people off of the bus, and get the right people in the right seats."
When a candidate for County Executive in 2010, Rushern Baker realized that the County's kill rate was too high and promised change which would be the result of "a good director" and "the right people working at the shelter". So far, County Executive Baker has not made either of these promised changes. As a result, the kill rate which had been trending downward under the direction of Mr. Charles W. Wilson, has bounced back and reversed those gains to set a record high, since the re-appointment of Samuel Wynkoop -- the same Samuel Wynkoop who originally appointed Rodney Taylor.
Candidate Rushern Baker, in June 2010, promised to "get the right people working at the shelter", and we need to let him know that, as County Executive, it is time to live up to his promise. It is obvious that Rodney Taylor must be fired or at least transferred out of Animal Management. Samuel Wynkoop is apparently more interested in preserving long-time friendships than improving outcomes at the Animal Services Facility. He must be fired or moved out of the way. Bradford Seamon must be replaced if he does not begin to manage based on performance rather than membership in the "good old boy" network.
We have over 800 signatures on our petition to ask Mr. Baker to "Get the right people on the bus." We would like to present him with a petition with 1,000 signatures on it. Will you please help us reach that goal? If you have not signed the petition, please do so. If you have already signed the petition, send an email message, make a phone call, or write a letter to the addresses below. Please forward this message to those that you know would prefer to see more animals saved, rather than killed at the Prince George's County Animal Services Facility.
While a candidate,
Please sign the petition, and then please
follow up with a letter or a phone call
Rushern L. Baker III, County Executive
Bradford Seamon, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer
Phone: (301) 952-4547
County Administration Building, Suite 5032
14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772-3070
Timothy W. Saffell is President of Prince George's Feral Friends, SPCA, PO Box 1036, Bowie, MD 20718 (301-262-6452, www.PGFerals.org)
He is also the producer of Compassion Watch TV, available on the internet at www.CompassionWatch.org .
Prince Georges Feral Friends, SPCA is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization, working to protect the people and animals of Prince George's County. It is supported by donations from individuals. Donations are tax-deductible.
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