Pregnant dog euthanized at shelter hours before pickup

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. (WUSA9) -- Only on 9, a sad story out of the Prince George's County Animal Shelter. Last week, the shelter euthanized a pregnant dog, hours before a rescue group volunteer says it was coming to pick her up and take her to a foster home.

"I was devastated," said rescue group volunteer Lisa Marie Czop. She was devastated to learn a healthy, pregnant dog was euthanized hours before she could be picked up by a local rescue group who had found her a foster home.

"There are so many animals in shelters that need to get out. Rescue groups can't save them all but we could save this one. We were going to be able to pick her up the next day," said Czop.

Described as a boxer mix, she was surrendered by her owner and euthanized one day later. Most shelters, including this one, hold a healthy dog or cat for at least 24 hours before putting them down—depending on space, an animal's age and behavior.

"It's hard to stomach that it wasn't just the life of her, it was the life of however many puppies were in her, and she was pretty far along," said Czop.

The Prince George's County animal shelter has one of the highest 'kill rates' in the DC area. Last year, the shelter euthanized 45 percent of the animals that came in. And that doesn't count animals that owners request to euthanize.

In contrast, records show last year the Washington Humane Society took in 10,474 animals and had to euthanize 20 percent of them.

The Fairfax County Animal shelter had 3,747 dogs and cats and euthanized 8 percent.

The Animal Welfare League of Arlington took in 1,618 and also had to euthanize 8 percent.

Prince George's County attributed this sad case to a paperwork error in which someone failed to note on the pregnant dog's file that a rescue group was trying to place her. She was selected to be euthanized because of a lack of space, and her condition.

In an email, County spokeswoman Linda Lowe said: "This incident has been a lesson learned for us and we are sure we will not make this mistake again."

The Animal Services facility averages as many as 25 owner surrenders of animals every day. The County says it hopes to find forever homes for as many as possible.

This isn't the first time this has happened at the Prince George's County shelter. The same woman we interviewed went to pick up a dog in 2008, but again, it had already been euthanized.

On a related note, it's especially challenging to find homes for pitbulls or any dog that resembles one since Prince George's County has breed-specific legislation that makes it illegal to own a pitbull.

Here are the County's answers to our questions about this incident, in their entirety:

Question: How long was this dog kept at the shelter before she was euthanized?

Response: The owner brought this particular dog and another dog to the shelter to relinquish custody on Feb. 8, 2014. She was euthanized on Feb. 9, 2014.

Question: What does the law/regulations require in terms of days held before euthanization?

Response: When an animal is surrendered by their owner, they become the immediate property of the County. The County does not have a legal requirement to hold owner surrenders for any period of time and owners are advised that there is no guarantee of placement. Decisions to hold owner surrender animals at the Facility are made based on available space, age, behavior and condition at the time of surrender. Our internal policy has been that we hold owner surrenders at least 24 hours unless we have no available space or the age, behavior and condition of the animal does not allow us to do so.

Question: Why is the PG shelters kill rate higher than other shelters that have similar intakes?

Response: There are many factors that influence adoption, transfer and euthanasia rates, however, our goal of the Prince George's County Animal Management Division is to increase our adoption rate, develop rescue partnerships and transferring of animals to other shelters and create meaningful programs for the public such as our Foster Pet Family Program as a means to decrease our euthanasia rates. So far this year, our live adoption rate has increased to 61 percent over 56 percent at this time last year which indicates that our strategies are working to help decrease our euthanasia rates.

Question: Anything else you'd like to clarify?

Response: This incident has been a lesson learned for us and we are sure we will not make this mistake again. Our team met with all staff involved in this case to determine if our rescue coordinator had sent out an email blast to some of our rescue partners trying to place the dog, which in fact did occur. However, before a rescue group could confirm space for the animal, the rescue coordinator made an error in not noting on the paperwork that the animal was trying to be placed in a rescue group. Due to this lack of notation, the animal was selected for euthanasia due to the lack of space at the Facility and her condition. The Animal Services Facility averages at least 20 to 25 owner surrenders daily and it is our goal to try to find forever homes for all of them. Unfortunately, due to human error, this did not happen in this particular case. We deeply regret this oversight and will review our procedures and work to ensure that this error does not happen in the future.

Linda Lowe
Public Information Specialist
Department of Environmental Resources


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