National Animal Shelter Reform Week

Prince Georges Feral Friends, SPCA
PO Box 1036, Bowie, MD 20718
(301) 262-6452 /

Prince Georges Feral Friends, SPCA is the home of:
PG Adopt-A-Classroom     --     Compassion Watch TV
Holistic Health Care for Pets     --     No Kill Prince George's County, MD

November 7, 2011

It's National Animal Shelter Reform Week

There are calls for reform which amount to a chorus. The first to come to mind are ringing out in New York City, Oakland, and a thousand or more places around the world.

Not getting as much attention, however, is the movement to reform open admission municipal animal shelters. There are twenty-two cities or counties in the U.S. which have been transformed by a change in leadership -- five such municipalities in the near-by state of Virginia. Allegheny County in Maryland is another.

These government agencies or non-profit organizations with government contracts, were formerly little more than "dog pounds" where animals would go to die. In this movement, however, they are being transformed into shelters of refuge, positive community resources, from which more than 90 percent of all animals taken in go to homes where they become members of loving families.

It would be difficult to find a "dog pound" that was more ripe for reform than Prince George's County Animal Management.

But, how did we get here?

It was approximately 1981 when Mrs. Sylvia Taylor, an employee of Prince George's County with friends at high levels, found a job for her 18 year old son, Rodney, as a shelter worker. Rodney Taylor progressed through the ranks to be an Animal Control Officer, and in 1998, Mr. Samuel Wynkoop, the then-Director of the Department of Environmental Resources, appointed Taylor to be the Administrator of Animal Management.

Taylor was very zealous when it came to Animal Control, even to the extent of inventing laws that do not exist, charging county residents with actions that are not criminal, and violating their right to due process. He was equally negligent when it came to Animal Care. This obsession with control to the exclusion of care has negatively impacted all aspects of the Animal Management outcomes.

Historically, it would take two weeks for a family to adopt a pet from the facility, while all sorts of criminal investigations were performed. The majority would find a pet elsewhere in the meanwhile. Now, after pressure was recently applied, Taylor brags that the process only takes 5 days (1 week), but this modest improvement has had no substantive effect on the adoption rate. Many dedicated staff members working to save the lives of animals are frustrated by the oppressive management policies and arbitrary restrictions.

During the past decade, the adoption rate has remained consistently flat at about 10% of animals taken in. This amounts to only about 5 animals per business day being adopted from the brand new 37,000 sq. ft. Animal Services Facility. To compensate for this poor performance, Taylor has attempted to off-load the work to non-profit rescue groups. Rescue groups "do a much better job at adopting animals than we do", we are told. Of course, these small organizations are not hindered by a huge building, $3.7 Million annual budget, paid staff, etc. and they have the benefit of being allowed to do their own fundraising from friends and volunteers, many of which are county residents who have already paid for Animal Services through their taxes.

The Proof of the Policy is in the Metrics

During the past decade, of all animals that came into the facility alive, 60 percent were killed (85 percent of cats), on average, amounting to more than 62,000 lives unnecessarily extinguished. Many failures of management contribute to this record, primarily the result of Taylor's lack of initiative, inability to innovate, and reluctance to change. After more than a dozen years as Administrator, Taylor has not been able to establish a foster program to deal with young, sick or behaviorally challenged animals. Most importantly, an effective shelter relies heavily on a vibrant volunteer program, but the high kill rate at the facility makes it very difficult to retain volunteers when they learn that the animal that was cared for on a previous visit to the shelter has been killed.

Yes, Animal Management is desperately in need of reform, but this would not be the first time that it has been attempted.

Enter – A Man with a Vision

In December 2006, Mr. Charles W. Wilson, an employee of Prince George's County since 1976, was appointed Director of the Department of Environmental Resources. Mr. Wilson was not just another county employee, however. Mr. Wilson had previously been the Director of the Office of Information Technology & Communications.

While there, he had been recognized by his peers at the Tech Council of Maryland as Innovator of the Year for the Public Sector of local government. Throughout his career, he had earned a strong reputation for providing exceptional long-term accomplishments and visions for the future of Prince George's County."
-- DER Dispatch, Winter 2007

After the opening of the new Animal Services Facility in July 2009, Mr. Wilson realized that some changes would have to be made to improve outcomes. He considered the population and pet ownership statistics of the county to determine the supply and demand of pets. He compared the data for our county and observed that other jurisdictions with even less favorable economic conditions and population-to-pet-intake ratios were doing far better than we were in saving the lives of animals. He took special note of the success of Charlottesville/Albemarle County SPCA, which runs the single open admission municipal shelter for both the city and the county, and has been saving 90 percent of all animals presented to them since 2007. He studied the attitudes, policies and programs of several other open admission municipal shelters who were saving the lives of animals, even those who were sick or injured or had behavior issues.

A New Day

On November 12, 2009, Mr. Wilson announced that there would be significant changes in Animal Management. The changes were so significant, in fact, that he changed the name of the "Animal Management Group" to "Animal Care and Control." He said, ...

    "Now that we have one of the greatest animal care facilities in the nation, we are in a unique position ... to initiate the greatest animal care program in the nation.
    "Beginning today, the Prince George's County Animal Management Group will have a new name and a new goal. The Animal Management Group will be known as Animal Care and Control and our goal is to find a loving home for each and every healthy, treatable companion animal, while maintaining a high level of public safety."

This announcement was the beginning of a valiant effort on the part of Mr. Wilson to change the image and the outcomes of Animal Management, but Taylor simply ignored his superior's direction. Mr. Wilson invited Ms. Susanne Kogut, the Director of the Charlottesville/Albemarle SPCA to give a presentation at the Animal Services Facility in which she described the many program changes that they had implemented which resulted in a 90 percent save rate. Afterward, Taylor made no substantive changes. Mr. Wilson provided two days of training at a conference in DC at which were assembled "The 90% Club" – directors of open admission municipal shelters who were saving 90 percent of all animals presented. Taylor obviously didn't learn anything at the conference, or as a result of any of the information and direction that Mr. Wilson provided him, as there was no sustantive change in outcomes at the Animal Services Facility. Mr. Wilson gave many direct assignments to Taylor to change policies and procedures, all of which were ignored.

It seems that friends in high places were more important than performance.

"Good to Great?"

In June 2010, during his campaign for County Executive, Rushern Baker also realized that there was a problem with Animal Management. In a candidate forum, he said ...

    "I am especially interested in reducing the kill rate in Prince George's County, and I know ... places like Charlottesville are doing a great job in reducing ... and I want to see Prince George's County be a model for that."

He knew about Mr. Wilson's announcement. Candidate Baker said, ...

    " ... I am familiar with the announcement that was made ... and I support those, and I think it is going to put Prince George's County on the right path.

He knew what needed to be done. Rushern Baker said, ...

    "What I DO like is that the ... new order that Mr. Wilson said ... but I want to make sure that the philosophy of the men and women, of the people who are going to carry out the policy, right there at the shelter ... making sure that Prince George's County is not only one of the safest places for animal rights, but also make sure that we embrace the philosophy of how we make sure that we are not killing animals at the rate that we are now."

He seems to have also understood the obstacle to success. Candidate Rushern Baker said, ...

    "But, it is going to take a good director and people who are on the ground that understand and embrace the change and that is what I want to see as County Executive.

He was very perceptive when he observed, ...

    "To me the most important thing is to get the right people in there, but also make sure that the staff -- the front line people -- are absolutely the correct people to be running our shelter. Because there are too many complaints that I hear as a candidate, but more importantly when I was a delegate in the House in Maryland, so I want to make sure that we get the right individuals that are working in there and that's what I'll make sure, as County Executive, that we do."

Promises, promises, ...

Mr. Wilson's appointment ended with the New Year, 2011, as the new administration took shape.

We waited for Mr. Baker to fulfill his promise to reform Animal Management.

Mr. Baker immediately re-appointed Samuel Wynkoop Acting Director of the Department of Environmental Resources. (Yes, the same Samuel Wynkoop who, in 1998, appointed Rodney Taylor as Administrator of Animal Management.) When the poor performance of Taylor was pointed out to Samuel Wynkoop, his response was "I'm fond of Rodney." Taylor's disastrous performance record has not affected his salary, which is currently more than $125,000 per year.

We continued to wait for Mr. Baker to fulfill his promise to reform Animal Management. January ... February ... March ...

In the meanwhile, Mr. Baker designated Mr. Bradford L. Seamon, a very close friend, his Deputy Chief Administrative Officer.

We waited even longer for Mr. Baker to fulfill his promise to reform Animal Management. April ... May ... June ...

In a letter dated July 8, 2011, Mr. Seamon writes, ...

    "Since meeting with Mr. Wynkoop and Mr. Taylor, I am very confident that their dedication and leadership will continue to meet the needs of the citizens and provide for the health and welfare of the animal population in Prince George's County."

We wondered if Mr. Wynkoop and Mr. Taylor would ever begin to meet the needs of the citizens and provide for the health and welfare of the animal population in Prince George's County.

It's official -- "Bad to Worse"

Then the bomb dropped. On August 1, we noticed that Animal Management had posted the Monthly Report for June 2011. The Year-To-Date figures reported in June reflected the entire fiscal year and showed that, although under Mr. Wilson's direction in FY2009 the number of animals killed had dropped 10% from 6,749 to 6,048, during FY2010, after the departure of Mr. Wilson, the killing had bounced back by 12% to 6,773.

Nine Hundred Seventy animals had been killed in the single month of June 2011, setting an all-time record high kill rate.

What Better Occasion?

This is National Shelter Reform Week. What better time to make the changes that Mr. Baker promised in order to improve the image of, and the outcomes at the Animal Services Facility. The current management has demonstrated over and over their incompetence when it comes to improving measurable outcomes. This failure extends from the management at the Animal Services Facility, to the Department of Environmental Resources, to the Office of the County Executive. It's time for County Executive Rushern Baker to live up to his campaign promises and clean house.

Just as Jim Collins found in the research for his book, "Good to Great", Rule #1 is "Get the right people on the bus, get the wrong people off of the bus, and get the right people in the right seats." AFTER you have done this, the bus will go in the right direction.

Mr Rushern Baker, as a candidate, acknowledged the need to get the right people working at the shelter and promised to do so. Rodney Taylor has been Administrator of Animal Management for over a decade and has proven himself incapable of improving the outcomes at the Animal Services Facility, in spite of the successful examples that have been given to him. It's time to make it clear to the Baker administration that we will no longer tolerate Rodney Taylor's failures. Please tell Mr. Baker that it's time for him to live up to his promises.

We have over 800 signatures on our petition.
Please help us reach 1,000 during
National Animal Shelter Reform Week.

While a candidate,
Mr. Baker promised,

that he would
"get the right people
working in the shelter."

Click here to tell Mr. Baker that ...

It's time to "Get the right people on the bus."

Please sign the petition, and then please
follow up with a letter or a phone call
to ...

Rushern L. Baker III, County Executive
County Administration Building, Suite 5032
14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772-3070

(301) 952-4131

County Executive Baker and his deputy can also be reached as follows:

Rushern L. Baker III, County Executive
Phone: (301) 952-4131

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, the author of this column, is President of Prince George's Feral Friends, SPCA, PO Box 1036, Bowie, MD 20718 (301-262-6452,
He is also the producer of Compassion Watch TV, available on the internet at .

P.S. Prince Georges Feral Friends, SPCA is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization supported by donations from individuals. Donations are tax-deductible.

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