ACLU Stands Up for First Amendment Rights of Animal Advocates in Baltimore County

Dog ID #04167 at the Baltimore Co pound, as pictured on Petfinder.
Dog ID #04167 at the Baltimore Co pound, as pictured on Petfinder.

The troubled Baltimore Co pound in MD has banned the public from photographing pets in the facility and the ACLU has written to county officials condemning the ban:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland says Baltimore County officials violated free-speech rights by banning photography at the county-run animal shelter, a move the ACLU describes as an effort to stifle critics.

The letter describes the photo ban as showing “a government agency endeavoring to limit its exposure to criticism and public accountability, and to stifle any perceived criticism that does arise, even where the agency’s purpose of serving the animals of Baltimore County is undermined as a result.”

County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler says the complaint is baseless and stems from a small group of pesky do-gooders:

“This is a story manufactured by a handful of advocates who were disrupting shelter employees from doing their jobs,” Kobler said.

Don Mohler, chief of staff for the County Executive, also has excuses:

“[The animal advocates] wanted to manufacture a crisis, and they would wait around until a dog soiled the cage and immediately take a picture and post it — inferring that the dog had been living in those conditions for a period of time, and that’s not true,” Mohler said.

Such dedication.  Waiting around for a dog to pee in his cage so they could snap a photo.  But in case you don’t buy that, he’s got another good one:

“This is not about photography,” Mohler said. “This is about the fact that there is a group of advocates who really want Baltimore County to release wild cats into the community.”

The county apparently has a kill policy for cats it determines to be feral.  And pesky do-gooders, along with the overwhelming majority of the general public, think that’s wrong.

Not to be outdone, Kobler also offered a back-up excuse for the photo ban to the newspaper:

“For some animals, the shutter click and the flash can frighten animals that are already nervous in a shelter environment. So sometimes, the staff members might ask people not to take an animal’s picture,” she said.

Both Kohler and Mobler said that the public is generally allowed to take pictures of the animals.  Except when they’re not.  But that’s because reasons.

So to recap, it’s not that Baltimore Co is trying to silence critics and violate their Constitutional rights, it’s assorted other things:

  • Volunteers photographing shelter pets are disruptors who prevent the staff from doing their job of killing more than 60% of the animals in their care.
  • They wait around all day for a dog to lift his leg in the cage just to capture the puddle on the floor.
  • They actually don’t care about photographing animals, they just want the county to stop killing feral cats and start doing TNR like other progressive shelters.
  • The flash from the camera scares animals and the county officials just aren’t going to stand by and let shelter pets be frightened.  After all, there’s killing to be done – lots of it.  Calm, friendly killing – not like the flash of a camera.

If for some insane reason you are still not feeling reassured, I got you:

County Councilman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, said the shelter has made strides in overcoming past issues. He trusts it’s being run well.

“Every time there’s a policy, there’s a reason,” he said.

So there you go.  There’s some reason for the photo ban.  This guy apparently doesn’t know what that reason may be but strides have been made and everything is fine, probably.

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

4 thoughts on “ACLU Stands Up for First Amendment Rights of Animal Advocates in Baltimore County

  1. One has to wonder when was the last time that County Councilman John Olszewski Sr. actually walked himself into the shelter in question to see for himself whether or not it’s being “run well”?

    As for “every time there’s a policy, there’s a reason”, this I can tell you is true. In my town, it is illegal to display snakes in public. Our Petco, unlike so many others, carries no snakes at all. The reason? Someone on city council is afraid of snakes. So yes, policy= a reason. It just may not be a reasoned policy.

    *Disclaimer – I am not actually for the selling of snakes, reptiles, mice, guinea pigs, or any other animal that came from a mill supplier in a retail environment. The example was illustrative only, not indicative of endorsement of current retail practices. The truth is that if Petco went into rescue-only animals right now, today, my local store still could not display rescue snakes in need of homes. In fact, no snake rescue group is permitted to have snakes on display in public anywhere in my township. Because policy.

  2. Geez Whiz! NOT the old, tired “they want us to release wild cats out into the comMUNITY” saw? Please?? Okay, here we go, again. No one at all in animal shelter reform, wants animal controls dealing with cats. They simply do not have the skills needed, nor the resources. Best for Mr. Mohler to stick to dogs, if he and his people MUST interact with living beings. No animal group in their right mind wants to put wild animals and suburban families together — much less, to take those wild animals from a kennel facility that was practically designed to make the animals frantic. On the contrary, if what Mr. Mohler is referring to is the public’s overwhelming support for programs IN the community for feral cats, that provide spay/neuter surgery, eartip identification, rabies vaccination to protect the public health, and return to non-breeding, managed colony groups, then what’s wrong with wanting that, exactly? Instead of Mr. Mohler killing the cats? Why is Mr. Mohler so intent on killing, in fact? Is it because community groups are succeeding, with cats, where Mr. Mohler has failed?

  3. And, of course, the FVRCP vaccine, to keep the cats safe from feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia (feline distemper), diseases that are common among cats who live outside. People who are bothered ny the presence of feral cats in their communities often complain about sick cats. The cats are likely sick from the diseases this vaccine prevents, so vaccinating them will assuage the neighbors who are concerned about sick cats. Two FVRCP shots, two or three weeks apart , provide more protection, but even a single shot provides significant protection.

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