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Maryland Dog Magazine

BARCS - Then and Now

Jan 27, 2015 08:04PM
BARCS – Then and Now

By Karyn Spellman


Jennifer Brause would walk into the deplorable conditions at her new job and be reminded of the work ahead of her: To help save the lives of those who could not help themselves.

The cages at the Baltimore City Municipal Animal Shelter had holes big enough for dogs to wedge their heads through and become stuck. Roaches crawled across the ripped-up floors, which were also missing necessary drain covers.

That was in 2005. Baltimore City’s underfunded and understaffed Bureau of Animal Control was still in charge of the shelter. Adoptions were minimal, and the euthanasia rate was 98%.

The shelter is now the non-profit organization Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS), with Brause as its executive director since spring 2006.

Brause remembers walking into the city-run shelter after accepting the position and thinking, “No way.” Then she thought of how many animals she could help and how many lives she could save, and she decided to take “a leap of faith.”

Before coming to BARCS, Brause was a dolphin trainer at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.  She became involved in rescuing cats and wanted to get more involved in helping animals in the city, which led to her eventual job as executive director.

Under Brause’s leadership, BARCS has hired new staff, created new programs, and changed the shelter’s everyday operations.

“These changes have helped us dramatically increase adoptions and rescues, and significantly decrease euthanasia,” Brause said.

BARCS’ mission on its website states:

“The Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, Inc (BARCS) is a

nonprofit shelter that accepts and cares for all animals in need and

promotes responsible pet ownership for a more humane community

in Baltimore City.”


Adoptions rose from 90 in 2004 to 738 in 2005, the year BARCS was created,

according to the organization’s website. The number climbed to 4,696 in 2012.

Part of BARCS’ mission is also to save all healthy and treatable animals. Since BARCS opened, the euthanasia rate has dropped to 22%.

Baltimore reorganized its Animal Control operations in 2005 in response to public pressure to provide better care for the animals. The organization was split into two divisions: the Bureau of Animal Control, which would remain a city-run agency, and the non-profit BARCS, which would receive a grant from the city and function independently.

The two divisions still operate out of the same building on Stockholm Street, but each have distinct jobs.

Animal Control handles all issues outside of the shelter: bringing in strays, investigating complaints of animal neglect, cruelty, and bites, impounding vicious animals, and all other health code enforcement.

BARCS oversees all animal care at the shelter, including: housing, adoption, fostering, spaying and neutering, low-cost vaccination clinics, tracking lost pets, and pet licenses.  All incoming animals, including those from Animal Control, BARCS assumes responsibility for the care of that animal.  In addition to the housing and care for animals held for hearings and investigations.

The reorganization is considered a success. A large part of this success is attributed to donations.  Without the needed donations BARCS would not exist, only 45-50% of their budget comes from a city grant. The city grant is used to cover the very basics like staff support, and general office supplies.   The remainder needed comes from donations and goes directly towards saving animals’ lives.  These donations cover medical treatment, spay and neutering of animals, adoptions, foster program, food, all animal care, supplies, and the over 25 tons of laundry a year.

“It takes a community to make BARCS successful. We need people to come to the shelter and adopt, get involved in our foster program, make donations, and volunteer,” Brause said.

BARCS takes in about 12,000 unwanted, abused, surrendered, and stray animals of all kinds each year. No animal is turned away, accepting all animals in need—that means cats, dogs, and probably any other kind of animal you could think of.

An estimated 250-300 animals are living at the shelter on any given day, with an additional 400 living in foster care. An average of 33 more come in every day when the shelter opens its doors from 2-5 p.m. for its scheduled “surrender” time.

JoAnn Goldberger, BARCS’ director of development, calls that time of day “controlled chaos.”

Many of those in line are giving up their pets for financial reasons, because they’re moving, or because a landlord won’t allow the animal.

“It’s a very emotional scene,” Goldberger said.

If the shelter is full, staffers are calling partner rescues, other shelters, and foster volunteers to ensure that each animal has a place to go, she said.

BARCS has about 500 active volunteers and, of course, can always use more to help care for more at the shelter and by fostering.

Treating sick and injured animals is another priority for BARCS. The Franky Fund was created to provide specialized, emergency care that is too expensive for BARCS to fund. Many area veterinarians also volunteer their time and provide low-cost surgeries to help these animals in need.

Brause said BARCS hired the shelter’s first veterinarian in 2007 and built a new surgery room in 2008. BARCS performs about 5,000 surgeries a year.

Her hopes for the future and planned improvements include a new building, more staff, expanding educational programs, and most importantly, to expand life saving.

BARCS states this as part of its vision:

“BARCS is aiming to become a model animal rescue facility and a true resource

for the people and animals of Baltimore. …With the support of the Baltimore community, we can find homes for even more animals, improve our operations and the facility to meet the needs of the animals better, and work to prevent animal abuse and abandonment.”

Karyn Spellman is a freelance writer based in Reisterstown, MD, and a longtime owner of Chocolate Labs.