Montgomery County is preparing to take control of its animal shelter from a longtime nonprofit operator, citing the need to improve practices and services as it moves into a new facility this fall.
Officials said the Montgomery County Humane Society, which has operated the shelter since the 1960s, may have a role at the new $20 million Animal Services and Adoption Center in Derwood, scheduled to open in November. But most operations will be performed in-house, according to county Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, whose department includes the Animal Services Division.
Manger praised the society for the job it has done over the years but said the move from the current Rockville shelter is an opportunity to improve operations in areas such as adoptions and licensing. Manger has been working with a private consultant, Renee Harris, executive vice president of the San Diego Humane Society, and the Humane Society of the United States on best practices to incorporate into the new center.
“I think we can do things bigger and do things better and be a very progressive shelter,” Manger said. One major change, he said, will be the hiring of a civilian animal services director, a position now held by a police captain.
The Montgomery County Humane Society (not affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States) runs the current shelter, now nearly 40 years old, under a $1.6 million annual contract with the county.
It arranged 2,747 animal adoptions to new or foster homes, according to its 2012 annual report. Just over 1,000 pets were reunited with owners through a lost-and-found program, the report said.
But the county has received complaints that adoption procedures can be overly time-consuming. Officials said that animal licensing has been lax, with only an estimated 7 percent of the county’s animal population licensed.
Cris Bombaugh, the local Humane Society president and chief executive, said Tuesday that the group’s adoption rate was between 80 and 85 percent of adoptable animals. She also said her organization has enjoyed its long relationship with the county and in no way feels shunted aside.
“The county has told us they’re exploring other options. It’s their facility, and we’ll respect any decision that they make,” Bombaugh said.
With new hiring and a larger facility, the county’s animal control expenses will increase. Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), said operating costs are expected to rise from $1.6 million to $2.4 million. But Lacefield said the county thinks it can close that gap by changing the licensing system, under which the county now splits the $12 fee with the Humane Society. By collecting the full fee and expanding the proportion of licensed animals, Lacefield said, the gap can be closed.
Lacefield also said the county expects to increase volunteer participation at the new Derwood facility.
The county’s decision to bring the animal shelter operation in-house comes in an era when local governments are more often looking for ways to outsource services. But Betsy McFarland, vice president for companion animals at the Humane Society of the United States, said she’s seen a number of local animal welfare organizations get out of the shelter business recently.
“A lot of humane societies say they don’t want the responsibilities,” McFarland said, especially when it comes to tasks such as euthanasia.