Cutie, an 11-year-old black, orange, and white cat relaxing in a large Purina cheddar cheeseburger-flavor food box slowly flips her tail back and forth while the intake staff member at Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS) asks his owner why she was being brought in.
Dan, a tall older man wearing a baseball cap, a T-shirt, and shorts, says the problem is his son, who is supposed to be the cat's owner. "He doesn't take care of it," he says, adding that the cat urinates outside of the litter box as well.
The BARCS staffer transfers Cutie from the cardboard box to a white plastic carrier with a clear front and holes on the side. Cutie cooperates.
"There's going to be something today when he gets home from work," Dan says to a companion with a nervous smile, implying his son is unaware of his cat being surrendered. He continues sharing his struggle and failure to convince his son to feed and clean after Cutie.
"I'm going to say, 'See? I told you,'" he says.
The intake staff member asks for more information as Cutie chills with her eyes barely open, showing little attention to anyone in the room.
"That's all she does all day. Chill out," Dan says looking into the carrier at Cutie, who continues to pay him no mind. "We had the cat since we found her some time ago. It's just getting [to be] too much. We are about to move, too, so she can't go."
He says everyone in his family was close to the cat: "Let's put it this way, no one could bring her but me."
"Does the cat use the litter box?" the staffer asks.
"And you said she's declawed?"
He nods again.
Dan taps his finger on the desk nervously as the staffer types his answers into the computer, seemingly more anxious than Cutie. She finishes her questioning and Dan looks in, knocking the clear plastic front of the carrier.
The process takes just 10 minutes. Soon, Dan is on his way to his new home in California and Cutie will be prepped over the next few days for a new family.
"Before there used to be a long line and people would have to stand out in the cold and heat," says Bailey Deacon, the director of communications for BARCS. "It used to be we wouldn't be given a chance to know everything there was to know about this pet. With managed intake, people call and we try to get owners to answer questions for us ahead of time to see if we can help them."
BARCS, the 12-year-old nonprofit organization that works closely with Baltimore City Animal Control "taking in homeless, neglected, and unwanted animals in Baltimore City," has transformed its operation from a city-run shelter that extinguished the lives of nearly every animal that entered its doors to saving and adopting out thousands of animals. They do this in a building much too small for their needs and with budget restraints that require hundreds of devoted volunteers and creative solutions in order to achieve their goals. Namely, to place every animal where they can be loved—a home.
One such home belongs to Barb and Tim Fawcett, who set out searching for a friend because their last cat, Pablo, passed away a year before. After that, they decided their home wasn't right without a cat. So they went to BARCS and adopted Birdy, a very spirited, 2-year-old, mixed-breed cat who is gray with faint stripes down his back and tail with a white belly and paws.
Barb, a 52-year-old recently retired production supervisor for a direct mail firm, sits on a couch in the sailing-themed TV room of her Canton row home. The sunlight peers through the windows high in the room, imitating the bridge of a ship. Birdy stalks large shiny pieces of blue confetti that dangle from a thin blue plastic stick. He leaps and sprints, the stick held just out of his reach.
"I love having him around," Barb says as Birdy leaps and turns midair. "Especially since I'm not working. He's my friend. I feel like he's a pretty lucky cat. We went to see a different cat. As we were walking in to meet that cat, there were two people walking up to put in an application for him. Then we just looked at other cats."
Barb's husband Tim helped picked him out.
"We liked the tuxedo look," she says. "Tim said there was just something about him. They locked eyes, fell in love."
It's a sunny summer afternoon in South Baltimore and I'm at BARCS, which operates in a 23,000 square foot building on Stockholm Street neighboring M&T Bank Stadium and the Horseshoe Casino between the neighborhoods of Pigtown and Federal Hill. I'm here to see for myself what goes into BARCS' process.
Deacon, the director of communications, meets me and leads me through the back halls of the facility.
"Our shelter is not pretty, but it is the little shelter that could," she says as she walks swiftly through a maze of rooms and hallways.
She is obsessed with animals: "I feel like we're all crazy. We're all obsessed with getting them adopted and out of here and seeing every happy story. I don't have any children. I'm here all day with dogs and cats, and then I go home and spend all night playing with my dogs. They're my happiness. They're my comfort."
Before BARCS, which is a quasi-public nonprofit organization, the Baltimore City municipal shelter processed animals for nearly a century in the very same building. It was essentially a grave for all animals that entered.
"They didn't even take animals out for walks or anything," Deacon says of the previous city-run shelter. "To clean their cages they would just dump bleach and spray the animals down with the bleach and the animals would have sores and all kinds of terrible stuff. . . . The shelter was not built to be an adoption center. It was built to house animals for five days and euthanize them. That's what it was before we turned it into an adoption center."
Things are different now.
Animals come in one of two ways: They can be surrendered by an owner who cannot care for them anymore or they are brought in by Baltimore City's Office of Animal Control.
Then they are given a new home with a family or facility or foster home that can give them the love and care required, or they are euthanized.
The area is clean–no easy task given that it houses up to 250 animal residents that can't flush their own waste or spray air freshener.
It is also busy. A volunteer whizzes by with a box of kittens, and at the end of the hall I see the silhouette of a trainer with a leash wrapped around her hand as she leads a small dog outside. Deacon says although there are only cats and dogs today, occasionally they receive animals that are slightly more exotic.
"The first week I was here we got 66 pythons," she says. "We've had a donkey, a cow. We have an area outside where we keep them. When we get farm animals and exotics, our friends at the zoo and farms in the area and other sanctuaries come down and get those animals as soon as possible."
We begin with the general intake room where pet owners surrender their animals. It's a small room with a reception desk and several corkboards displaying about a dozen "Reward Lost Dog" postings with grainy black-and-white photos of different pets. This room is where Birdy began his new journey that would lead to the Fawcetts. Birdy was surrendered by his original owner—the Fawcetts are not sure why.
Deacon explains that not all pet emergencies require the animal to be surrendered.
"We get people who say 'I can't feed my dog this week because my car broke down. I've been able to feed my dog every other week for 10 years, but this week I have no money. I feel so bad and so guilty. I just have to give up my dog.'"
BARCS does not let that happen.
"We say no. We will give you food so you can get back on your feet, so you can keep that pet because if you love that pet, we're going to do everything so you can keep that pet," Deacon says. "We really love animals, but we don't want to see them come here. The fewer animals that come in, the more time and money we can spend on the animals that do have to come in. We get between 25-30 [people] surrendering [animals] a day."
When BARCS accepts animals from caretakers, staff members collect background information about the animal related to health and temperament.
"The more information we have about the animal, the better chance it has of being adopted quickly, which is the goal here," Deacon says. "We are open admission, which means when we are full here and we are strained and hundreds of animals come in, we can't close our doors like other shelters."
Every pet owner should spay or neuter their pet, she says. It's key to decreasing the animals that need to be given up to the shelter and go stray.
"The most beautiful day in a shelter will be when we see no more homeless animals to come and the shelter could shut down," Deacon says.
She continues to guide me around the busy hallways, which are in some places neatly lined with carts and bins. There are phones, communication charts, and dry-erase boards at nearly every doorway and around every corner. Voices and animal sounds echo from every direction. A trainer walks past us as a golden-colored pit bull pulls at his leash with his feet sliding on the smooth surfaced floor. The pit stops to look in a carrier holding a cat and jumps forward. The trainer pulls him away.
"Let's go, pal. Come on. He failed the cat test," the trainer says now leading the pit past us.
We stop at the cat intake room. The door, decorated with chalk-drawn cat characters and the words "PLEASE KNOCK" and "VET TECHS RULE," is closed. Deacon stops here, pulls out her phone, and shares vital information with a vet tech who briefly comes out of the room.
"They get vaccinated here and get the first examination by our vets," Deacon explains.
We continue to walk and we stop at the surgery room. I look through the door window and see a veterinarian packed in the tiny room with several vet techs, all in medical scrubs and caps.
"This is where mainly spaying and neutering [happens]," she says. "Sometimes we get emergency cases that are so dire the vet will stop what they are doing and save those animals.
I met an example of this case earlier: Diva, a pit bull brought in by animal control a few days before.
"She was attacked and when she came in we weren't even sure that she could survive with surgery," Deacon tells me. "It was so extreme we had to do it here. All the tissue on her face was ripped off. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before."
Now, Diva's face is covered in stitches and fresh scars with dried blood all over. She also has a large white cone on her neck, which she doesn't seem to mind, largely because she's recovering from anesthesia.
Diva is what they call an "office dog." Dogs like her rest or recover in the offices to avoid dealing with the bustle of other dogs and people running in and out of the kennel, to minimize their stress and maximize their recovery. Diva is quite gentle and allows the staff to hand feed her. She also needs 24-hour attention. A staff member takes her home nightly to monitor and ensure her wounds don't get infected.
BARCS doesn't only assist homeless animals. At times, BARCS assists pet owners with finding low-cost medical care for their animals.
"We had a poodle that swallowed a sock and it couldn't pass it. The person took the poodle to the vet and their vet said it's going to be $4,000," Deacon says. "She asked if she could make payments and the vet said, 'No. If you don't have the money we're going to have to put the dog down or you have to surrender it to a shelter.' She brought it here and was devastated. We see that she really loves this dog. We hooked her up with one of our partnering vet clinics and they gave her our discount so she only had to pay $1,000 and let her make payments on it so she could keep her dog."
Back at the surgery room, we watch them wrap up the procedure, surrounded by all the stuff I'd expect in a human surgery room—breathing tubes, sharps boxes, and overhead adjustable surgery spotlights—but smaller.
"We need a new surgery room and a shelter that would be about 10 times this size," Deacon says. "This shelter is way too small for what we have here."
They finish and several techs and the veterinarian leave the room. When we enter I notice several lifeless cats and kittens of various ages, sizes, and breeds lying wrapped in towels on the floor. A few of their eyes are half open. Horrified, I ignore them, gather myself, and focus on the tour.
Deacon introduces me to Dennis Moses, a vet tech who started working at BARCS as a volunteer dog groomer. After four years, they took him on as a paid staff member. He introduces himself as he kneels while readjusting some of the blankets around the cats lying stiffly on the floor.
"Now this is our recovery area," he says, pouring a huge bucket of relief squarely on my head as he tells me that the pile of cats are all recovering. "They are all waking up from anesthesia and pain meds. We monitor everything until they fully wake up and then we're going to put them back in [cages] and give 'em some food."
He says they are wrapped up because their body temperature drops during anesthesia. If they get too cold they won't wake up. BARCS spays and neuters about 25 to 30 cats and dogs a day.
"We have one doctor today. Some days we have two doctors." Moses says as he brings us to the operating tables.
"We just got some new lights and a new table," he says.
Most of their equipment is not in their budget. "[It takes] grant money and fundraising to get things that we need in here so we can do what we need to, to save a life."
He says that with limited staff, a small space, and a high volume of animals, things can get hectic. "Sometimes there's two doctors and three techs. Sometimes we are carrying one dog on and sometimes there's a dog on every table and we are in and out and it's very small. So we work very closely together. This building was never designed for this many animals."
They occasionally have to send animals off site for treatment because they don't have space or personnel to handle them.
"[With a new building] we could save money so we don't have to send them out," Deacon says
"The euthanasia rate has dropped big time [recently]," Moses says, proudly. "I'm a Pigtown boy. As a kid, this building, there was no coming down here to adopt. We knew as a kid if a dog got picked up, it checked in and didn't check out. For me to see this [now] is fantastic! There were no vets in here, there was no volunteer program."
"Dennis is world famous because he had a video go viral. It had like 20 million views," Deacon tells me. In February of 2016 many Facebook feeds featured a video of a shelter worker comforting Meesha, a crying pit bull puppy coming off anesthesia. He cradled, kissed, and sang to her.
"That's him!" Deacon says proudly.
We leave the surgery room and move toward one of the main dog kennels.
When dogs are surrendered to BARCS, they spend their first hour or so in a rented trailer fitted with temporary kennels. The shelter has to rent the trailer for lack of space. The dogs are kept here until they are fully vaccinated to prevent the possibility of spreading diseases. Afterward, they are placed in the main kennel with the rest of the dogs.
We enter the main dog kennel. There are 22 booth-like spaces with white brick walls and metal-gated fronts. Each cage has a clipboard with information regarding that particular animal. One cage is yellow with a silhouette of a hand that says "PLEASE GO SLOW. I'M STILL GETTING USED TO MY NEW SURROUNDING AND NEW PEOPLE" posted in front of a black and white pit bull.
"We want to make sure that if animals are nervous, people are aware and behave accordingly," says Deacon.
I can barely hear Deacon over the reverberating barks from dogs cooped in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar neighbors. Some volunteers wear earplugs when they work in this room.
As we walk further we see a white-and-brown pit bull with a rapidly wagging tail. I bend down to greet the dog and the wagging stopped. Deacon points me to the "PLEASE GO SLOW" sign.
"As you saw," Deacon says, "she was happy to see you, but when you crouched down, that was too much. It's alright. When the adoption opens, people are going to be here staring at these animals."
I notice that most of the dogs I encounter in the shelter are pit bulls. Deacon says pits are the most popular breed in Baltimore City. "We do come by a lot of pit bulls. We also get a lot of small dogs and different breeds. The difference is, [non-pit bulls] are adopted almost immediately."
Behind this operation is a staff of 70 and about 450 volunteers who evaluate, care for, and prepare each pet to move on to a loving home through adoption. One of those volunteers is Emily Perez, an English literature Ph.D. student, who volunteers at least once a week. She is a seasoned volunteer of over four years whose time and opinion are highly respected at BARCS.
Perez is preparing to walk Bubbles, a white jack russell terrier. When we exit the building Perez shouts "coming out!" to alert other volunteers with animals that may be outside in order to avoid conflict. I follow Bubbles, Perez, and Deacon outside.
"I started volunteering because I adopted a dog from here. I knew nothing about dogs," Perez says with a long green and purple leash wrapped around her fist as she sits on a curb with bubbles.
Deacon and I keep our distance. Bubbles is not adoptable because of his timidity. His tail is tucked completely under him as he hides behind Perez at the sight of Deacon and me. He seems comfortable with Perez.
Perez adopted a pit bull. She received many warnings about people who would judge her new dog by its breed: "People say they are dangerous, they are only used for fighting, they are bad around children, their jaws lock and other things scientifically proven not to be true. It was very interesting to me because my dog was very fearful and submissive. The huge disconnect made me want to start volunteering."
She wanted to make a positive difference and her years with animals has paid off for dogs like Bubbles, who seems only comfortable with her.
"Animal control picked [Bubbles] up from a vacant lot," Deacon says. "He was left in a lot. If the owner tried to redeem him, they wouldn't be able to since they left him without food, water, and proper care."
Deacon says that Bubbles will likely go to a breed specific rescue. "They will be able to house him for a very long time and work with him until he's ready for adoption," Deacon says. If a rescue is full, BARCS reaches out to people who have offered their homes to host dogs temporarily, giving them time to help them prepare for adoption.
Bubbles pulls Perez across the grass, energized by the sunny sky, fresh air, and space.
"We are maxed out on our funding to hire staff," Deacon says. "We couldn't live without our volunteers here. We just couldn't. We have a lot of volunteers here [that] don't even have pets because they can't, so they come down and volunteer."
Deacon says that signing up to volunteer is easy: "People just fill out an application and come here for an orientation."
After that, people decide what they want to do. "They can be an events volunteer, a front desk volunteer. We have [volunteers] that go through extensive training who are really involved."
Perez plans to continue volunteering indefinitely: "I think I'll do it as long as I'm living."
We take Bubbles back in and the chatter of dogs returns. We pass a rack that seems to hold nearly 100 leashes and next to it, Deacon shows me a behavior chart. Beside Bubbles' name, the words "stressed, fearful" are written with the times of day he was walked.
"[This board has] dogs that we have concerns about so the team can work on those concerns," Deacon says.
These concerns are addressed in "playgroup." The dogs are taken to a large play area outside and introduced to other dogs, allowing them to express their natural behavior so volunteers and staff can make judgments about their temperament and adoptability. They place all of their findings in a database so the adoption counselors and matchmakers can place the dogs in ideal homes. Knowing each dog is imperative to adoption.
"We spend a lot of time on behavior and socialization," Deacon says. "I think it saves the most lives."
Perez says Bubbles and the rest of the dogs on the board are not adoptable until they are further evaluated.
Forty percent of incoming dogs are strays. "Almost half come in and we don't know anything about them," says Deacon.
We leave Perez and Bubbles and head to "Meow Manor," "Cat Flat," and "Kitty Korner"—the cat-only rooms and Birdy's old stomping grounds.
"As you can see they are all sponsored by different companies," Deacon says as she points to a plaque that says "Suites generously donated by Middendorf Foundation."
"There you are," Deacon says to a gray striped kitten with a small green and white Dixie paper plate around its neck. "I knew you were in here with your plate."
The kitten makes her way to the cage door, struggling to navigate her tiny paws past the plate. She meows nonstop.
"She's filing all of her complaints to you," Deacon says in a high-pitched voice. "I want a home! What am I doing in this box!"
Cats need more time to settle than dogs do, Deacon explains. Even our playful friend Birdy wasn't very lively right after leaving BARCS. It's common for cats to experience anxiety and a change in behavior when they are confined to limited space and a new environment.
"He had only been there for four days," Barb Fawcett told me. "Starting out he was a little shy and didn't know what was going to happen. He's really beginning to be more relaxed and doesn't react to certain things the way he used to. He trusts us [and] he likes to play a lot."
"Any personality trait of an animal is either amplified or totally quashed sometimes," Deacon says. "What's difficult about cats in shelters [is] they definitely don't show their personalities. What we do here that's really unique is we have what's called the working cat program. So if a cat comes in here and it hisses, bites, or tries to scratch, we recognize that is not every single cat. Cats like that can be adopted out to barns, nurseries, and companies."
They want the cats to live out their lives.
Just the month before my visit they adopted out 92 percent of the cats. "We are at 87 percent for dogs. For an open admission shelter, that's pretty rare," she says, explaining that "open admission" means they take in all animals in need of a place to go, whether they're happy and healthy or treatable, or nearing the end of their life. A dozen years ago, before the switch to a public-private, nonprofit model, the city shelter euthanized over 90 percent of its animals.
Though the shelter is still in great need of space, people, and resources, Deacon say the public is generous to BARCS' animals: "It can be monetary donations, but we have people dropping off linens, blankets and towels, pet food, which go to our foster homes so they can feed pets without having to dip into their own budgets, toys for our pets. . . It seems like no matter what people donate, we find a use for it. Though we are the largest animal shelter in Maryland, we are always on a shoestring budget. I'm always amazed at how we accomplish everything here."
Though the budget is shoestring, BARCS is rich in ideas. One day a volunteer noted their close proximity to M&T Bank Stadium.
"During Ravens season our whole street fills up because it's the tailgating area. What we do is take as many adoptable animals as we can and dress them up in Ravens stuff and walk them around and get them adopted and collect donations," Deacon says. "We've had people who fall in love with a dog so much that they skip the Ravens game. It really does work. A lot of them get adopted."
At the end of our tour of the building, Deacon takes me to the edge of BARCS property, where the outskirts of the Inner Harbor extend.
"People always say, 'Can't you expand your shelter?'" Deacon says. "We are on a marsh. We can't go anywhere. We're going to have to move eventually."
Behind the BARCS building near the elevated light rail tracks that rumble every 10 minutes or so sit several white pickup trucks each with a large compartmented white cab in the rear and a "City of Baltimore" logo on the side. These trucks belong to the Office of Animal Control.
The next day one of these trucks is operated by Officer Thomas and Officer Novak, Baltimore animal control officers who are mid-call, cruising slowly down a tight alley between a set of old row homes. They are looking for feral cats.
They equip themselves with a net and gloves and hop over a fence at the site of kittens. The kittens' mother zeroes in on the officers and runs off. Officer Novak sees the kittens retreat into the basement steps under trash and buckets. She roots through the trash.
"We're trying to save you!" she shouts at the kittens. They run between her legs and into the next yard.
"They're feral. They have never been handled, so normally we can't catch them with our hands," she tells me while replacing items back on the basement stairs. "They're afraid of humans and they don't want anything to do with us."
The kittens have disappeared for the moment.
"Even that young they would be hard to adopt out because they've got that wildness in them," Officer Thomas says while taking his gloves off.
"There's an organization that works with us called Best Friends; they do the trap, neuter, and return for the cats," Officer Novak tell me. "We'll let them know there are some issues in this area and they'll come out with traps. Because they are feral, they'll just bring them back."
The officers are chatting as if the mission is over.
"Look at him," points Officer Thomas as a couple of kittens boldly walk out into the next yard, likely looking for their mother.
Then Officer Novak ninjas her way behind a kitten with her large black net and—SMACK!—the net slaps the concrete. The kitten, unable to escape, becomes a blur of resistance.
"Calm down, calm down," Officer Novak tells the kitten as she grips it by the nape of its neck.
She decided to go at the cats gloveless, saying she can't get a good grip with them on. Atop both of her hands are tattoos, a dog paw on her right hand and a cat paw on her left. She places the kitten in a small cage in one of the truck's many compartments. They bring the kitten food and stop to catch their breath.
Officer Thomas, who previously worked in corrections for 23 years, has been working with animal control for seven years.
"I love animals. Personally, I have 14 parrots that are my babies," he says with a big smile.
"I've been doing this for 16 years. It's my career," says Officer Novak. She has one dog and one cat and worked in a boarding kennel in high school.
"I really want to save animals that have no—" she begins to say when she spots another kitten and bolts away in pursuit—"no one to love them."
The officers run through three different backyards, coordinating with each other and eventually capturing three more hissing and unhappy kittens before placing them together in another cage. The mother cat observes the action from a neighboring porch. The officers wrap everything up at this scene and we head out to the next.
Animal Control is called when animals are stray, intrusive, abused, or neglected. They operate 24 hours a day and remain busy in this city of thousands of pets and countless wild animals.
They begin their shift with a list of non-priority calls they respond to in order. But officers frequently interrupt their schedules to respond to dispatched emergency calls that take priority. In the span of no more than two hours, we respond to the following calls: an emaciated pit bull that will not leave the stoop of her now boarded-up and condemned row home; a cat reported to be tied to the screen of a convenience store by a string; the surrender of a herding dog; the impoundment of an unauthorized chicken coup within city limits; and the pursuit of a dog we named Peekaboo.
Dispatch calls for a response to a street in the Poplar Grove neighborhood, where a dark gray pit bull with a spiked collar is roaming the sidewalks, frightening some of the residents. When we arrive in the area we see the dog, Peekaboo, trotting down the sidewalk of a side street with ribs on full display. Since he is obviously not well-fed, Officer Novak slowly stepped out of the car with dog treats and tossed one in Peekaboo's direction. She hopes to get close enough so one of the officers could capture it without incident.
Peekaboo lowers his tail and dips his head, approaching the treat with caution. She throws out about seven treats over the span of 45 seconds, but Peekaboo has had enough of the officer's proximity, so he walks away. Officer Novak watches him walk away, gauging his next move.
Seconds later, a young woman walking down the street spots the dog, screams, and runs—she might as well be qualifying for the Olympic 100 Meter Sprint and American Idol simultaneously. Peekaboo turns down the street, following the woman.
Officer Novak hops back in the truck and they follow him around a block on a residential street. There are about a half a dozen people across the street watching today's action which, up until this point, was a peaceful dog retrieval. But the pit bull is on to the officers. He becomes spooked and rushes up on a porch, forcing two women to dash into their house to hide.
Officer Thomas slowly approaches Peekaboo with a pole with a snare attached at the end. Peekaboo is now barking incessantly, defending his corner of the porch. He lunges and snaps as Officer Thomas repositions himself, hoping to gain an advantage. However, it was a stalemate for the time being. The women who ran in their house slid their porch window open in order to get a front row view of the duel between human and canine on their property. It only took about five seconds for them to realize cheap seats don't pay.
Peekaboo looks back, hops on the lawn chair on the porch, and busts through the screened window into the family's home. Within a split second the front door swings open and both women barrel out of the house screaming, one running down the steps full speed and the other leaping as if she had springs in her soles. "Oh shit! Oh, my fuckin' god," the woman, called Pretty Black, yells. She is now standing in the middle of the street, ironically the safest place from the frightened dog, who was now himself seeking refuge in Pretty Black's home.
"Get it out! Oh my god I'ma have fleas and ticks in my house," Pretty Black shouts as Officer Thomas enters the house.
Officer Novak follows and I am behind her. When we enter, Officer Thomas has Peekaboo cornered in the kitchen behind an island and is speaking calmly to him, "Good boy. Sit." Officer Novak approaches the dog from the other side. Peekaboo, now snared around his neck, lets out high-pitched cries. "She's just scared," says Officer Novak. They guide him out. As Peekaboo cries and resists, Pretty Black, who was previously screaming in fear, shares comforting words with Peekaboo, "You alright duggie." They struggle outside with Peekaboo for nearly five minutes as she fought tooth and paw not to be brought to an unknown fate that begins in the dark compartment of a truck, but they get her in.
It turns out that Peekaboo has been a fixture in the neighborhood recently. A Baltimore Gas and Electric worker pulls up in his truck after the coast is clear and says he'd narrowly escaped being bitten earlier that day. Pretty Black says neighbors were feeding him and just the week before kids had beaten him badly. No one knew where he came from.
A young woman named Breezy approaches the officers. "If they want to kill the dog," she says, "you can bring him back to me."
Officer Novak explains that she needs medical treatment. She tells Breezy to call BARCS daily and follow up with Peekaboo to show that she is interested.
"I want it. It's a dug," Breezy tells me. "If you was homeless, wouldn't you want somebody to take you in? They goin' to kill her!" Another neighbor disagrees. "Yes, they is! I know what's gon' happen," Breezy says with her arms crossed.
Breezy, we learn, was the person feeding Peekaboo.
After an action-packed couple of hours and a truck full of animals, we head back to BARCS.
Here is a rundown of what happened to the animals collected: All the kittens were spayed and neutered, given medical treatment, and taken back to the neighborhood where they were found. The emaciated dog was treated and was eventually adopted out to a family in Catonsville within a few days—they named him Loki. The chicken was given to the zoo for an agricultural program. And Peekaboo?
"Peekaboo was humanely euthanized," Bailey Deacon told me over the phone a week later. "Our behaviorist tried to work with him every single day he was here and his behavior got more aggressive and more dangerous. So, we had to make the call for public safety that he could not be adopted."
Euthanizing an animal is a simple process: They take the animal to a room and give them an injection of anesthetic that takes effect as quickly as 15 seconds to a minute. The animal becomes unconscious and its heart and breathing stop.
"We do public requested euthanasia for very sick animals [also]," Deacon says. "We take the animals to a room and we come back with a paw print. We use a cremation service and a few days later they come back and pick it up."
This is not a frequent occurrence at BARCS. After all, they have built their organization on the most preferred way for animals to leave: adoption.
When an animal is healthy and suitable for companionship and when there is a person or family who has space in their for a new addition, adoption is the ideal option. The process is easy: "If you wanted to take a dog home today that you loved, you could take it home today. When people want to adopt they fill out an application. We do a small background check through Animal Control's database and that's really it. A lot of times our adoptions fees are waived. We don't do home checks. It's called progressive adoption and it saves lives. We believe the people that come to our doors and want to save and adopt animals are good people."
Birdy found good people.
"It'd be so lonely without him," Barb Fawcett says as Birdy continues to whirl around, now furiously chasing a zebra-printed toy hanging from a stick. "If there's a lot of birds outside, he'll join me in the kitchen where the back door is and I'll open the blinds and I lift him up so he can see the birds outside and we'll sit and look at the birds together."
Barb rises from her couch toward Birdy.
"He's pretty acrobatic. He's fun to watch and fun to play with. I think I get as much from him as he gets from us," she says picking him up. "He's soft. He lets us kiss his belly. Not many cats let you give belly kisses. He does."
Birdy rests in Barb's arms softly flicking his tail, enjoying the attention.