By Katie V. Jones

 A proposed no-kill shelter in the city of Laurel received a show of support as more than 20 people spoke in favor of the idea during the mayor and city council meeting on Jan. 23.

In 2019, the mayor and council established a task force to examine the possibility of creating a no-kill shelter in the city. The task force was directed to study several issues, including what type of shelter was needed, what type of animals to accept, funding options, staffing requirements and operational guidelines. As chair of the 10-member task force, Bruce Dodgson presented the council with its final report at the Jan. 23 meeting.

no kill
A full crowd attended Laurel’s Mayor and City Council meeting on Jan. 23.
Photo Credit: Katie V. Jones

“The committee, of course, had a number of options, and we weren’t  in a 100 percent agreement on what to do,“ Dodgson said. “The first and obvious one when you do a study, is do nothing, leave things just as they are, and of course the other extreme, spend millions and build this huge, wonderful shelter that does everything for everybody everywhere, and something in between.”

The task force decided, Dodgson said, that the city should at least start a shelter that would be large enough for six dogs and 12 cats, as the city routinely deals with a relatively low number of animals that need shelter, including strays and lost or displaced pets.

The committee also recommended the mayor and council select a site that could easily be expanded.  with additional buildings so the shelter could grow. Funding for proper ventilation and cleanliness would be necessary, too, he said. Separate ventilation systems for areas with dogs, cats and quarantined animals are required  by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, and certain building materials, specifically materials that are easy to clean and maintain, should be considered.

“Fresh air is one way to keep down the spread of disease. It is also cheaper and easier to bring in fresh air,” Dodgson said.

The no-kill shleter, he said, could be run on a volunteer basis, by a nonprofit group or the city.

Councilmember Martin Mitchell (At Large) asked Dodgson about the full range of animals who might need shelter services, should the city consider expanding the facility and care it might provide.

“There is a whole bunch of them,” said Dodgson, who rattled off turtles, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, rats, snakes and birds before noting that larger facilities designate  separate areas for these animals.

Mitchell also asked about the Prince George’s County legislation governing ownership of  specific breeds of dogs. A bill enacted in 1997 banned ownership of three specific breeds commonly grouped as pit bulls and additional breeds that share certain characteristics with these dogs.  Prince George’s County is currently the only jurisdiction in the state that has a breed-specific ban, Dodgson said; he spoke adamantly against the ban.

“If you are running a no-kill shelter, it is inconsistent to have a breed ban,” Dodgson said. “It is just not a good thing to do.”

The benchmark to qualify as a no-kill shelter, Dodgson said, was a 90% survival rate of animals being sheltered. He noted that some animals have to be put down for health or behavioral issues. Three key elements of  a successful no-kill shelter, he said, are a minimum standard of care, a robust adoption program and low-cost spay and neuter services.

The city currently has a small animal holding facility for a single animal. Dogs are held for less than 24 hours and are then sent to the Prince George’s County Animal Services Facility and Adoption Center, in Upper Marlboro. Locally, Laurel Cats Inc., a volunteer-run nonprofit, provides temporary housing for strays in  the city.

Helen Woods, president of Laurel Cats, was thrilled with the attendance at the meeting in support of the no-kill shelter and its purpose.

“Any time the mayor has to go get more chairs, it is a good thing, and he did. Twice,” Woods said. “I’m curious to see what the next steps are. What’s the time table?”

Mayor Craig Moe said after the meeting that the city would have to select a site and that he had several options in mind. He noted that a number of details would have to be sorted out, as well.  A resolution will now go before the council to formally accept the report’s findings and allow the administration to move forward with the plan.