By George Solis

BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. (WJZ) — Members of an advisory commission working with Baltimore County Animal Services claim that things are not what they seem there, where they have been working with the agency for the past two years.

They are calling for an independent investigation of the agency.

“We thought everything was great,” said Deborah Stone Hess, chair of the commission.

Members applauded and wrote great reviews of some of the strides the BCAS has made including their new shelter and spay and neuter program.

But Hess claims there has been some deception behind it all, which came to light at the end of last year with the death of Oscar the Dog.

Oscar was left out in the cold and died, his owner eventually was charged with animal cruelty and making false statements to police.

“We immediately reached out the county administrative officer and said ‘we need a meeting to know what happened, we need to understand it so we can explain to out commission members and he said there will be no meeting,” Hess said.

This sparked an eight-month investigation by the commission, whose findings were put out in a report.

In short, it accuses animal control management of cutting corners in dealing with animal welfare to reflect a better image and of shifting the bulk of their duties to county police.

The report notes specific cases where responding police were not properly equipped to deal with situations that would have been better suited for animal control, the report claims.

It also goes on to claim that shelter leaders prevented its own employees from pursuing cases of animal cruelty and neglect.

One case depicted a graphic photo of a dog an anonymous animal control officer described was “skin and bones”

Another image details a case of a seriously ill dead dog that was allegedly never investigated.

Baltimore County Police did create an animal abuse team, but the report claims they are meant to handle day-to-day animal control issues.

In a statement to WJZ, Dr. Melissa Jones, a veterinarian and Chief of Animal Services:

“The report is rife with inaccuracies and flawed assumptions and is insulting to the professionals and dedicated animal services staff members who have done a tremendous job establishing our programs as nationally recognized models of effectiveness, and we welcome an independent review by the County Council auditors. The claim that we have reduced our enforcement of animal cruelty and neglect cases is preposterous; in fact the shift to Police-based animal abuse investigations has greatly enhanced the resources and authority with which these cases are pursued.”

“If our information is wrong we would welcome the transparency that should have been given in January when Oscar occurred,” said Joy Freedman, another member of the advisory.

She is asking for an independent audit of the agency, not one done by the county.

“An independent investigation is the only way we’re going to get the bottom of it and the citizens of Baltimore County will know the truth,” Freedman said.

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