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Safe Haven

New rescue shelter in Rockville means that euthanizing homeless animals is a thing of the past.

Leo doesn’t have the best reputation around here. He isn’t always pleasant toward visitors, but on Thursday morning the five year old Catahoula-German Shepherd mix was particularly friendly.

"He’s not usually nice to males, and especially to males in dark uniforms or colors," said Vivy McQueen, a volunteer at the Montgomery County Humane Society’s new rescue shelter.

McQueen suspects that Leo was abused before he was brought to the Montgomery County Humane Society Animal Shelter, possibly by a male who wore a uniform, though she says it is impossible to know for sure.

In a different world, Leo might not have made it far enough to show off his charming side, but thanks to a new animal rescue shelter run by the Montgomery County Humane Society, he is guaranteed a second chance.

On Thursday, Feb. 9, The Montgomery County Humane Society will celebrate the opening of its new animal rescue shelter located at 607 S. Stonestreet Ave. in Rockville. The Montgomery County Humane Society Private Rescue Shelter serves as a foster home for pets that have been abandoned but have not been adopted, particularly animals that are older or whose behaviors hinder adoption efforts, such as Leo.

The shelter has a capacity for roughly 50 animals, including dogs, cats, guinea pigs and birds, said Allan Cohen, a board member of the Montgomery County Humane Society (MCHS). The new facility also features a pet products store with all proceeds going to MCHS, Cohen said.

Animals are transferred to the rescue shelter when the county's main animal shelter on Gude Drive reaches full capacity.

"We’re limited with space here," said J.C. Crist, the president and CEO of MCHS. Efforts are made to find a placement for all of the animals that come to the main shelter Crist said, with the exception of wild or dangerous animals.

"There is no time length" for how long an animal goes unadopted before it must be put down, said Crist. "The county says after six days, ‘Do as you will,’ but I’ve got a dog that’s been here since June 23." Crist said that adoptable animals are not put down. Crist also cited an adoption rate that placed 90 percent of the animals in the shelter with new homes in January.

Since he was appointed as president and CEO of MCHS, Crist has expanded the foster programs that place adoptable animals in temporary care outside of the shelter, Crist said. All expenses incurred by foster families are covered by MCHS until that animal can be placed in a permanent home, Crist said. Crist has also expanded the number of rescue organizations that MCHS uses, including organizations as far away as Connecticut and South Carolina.

The result has been an adoption rate that has nearly doubled in the last year, Crist said. For the remaining animals who aren’t adopted, the rescue shelter assures that they won’t be put down.

"This board [of directors for MCHS] decided that they weren’t going to let walls decide who lives and who dies," said Crist.

THE RESCUE shelter is one of several changes that Montgomery County Humane Society has made in the last year. Wagging Tails Thrifts and Gifts, a thrift store run by MCHS, recently moved into a new space on Gude Drive in Rockville that doubles its old floor space, said Cohen.

"Oh, there’s no comparison," said Dave Landers of Rockville, who frequented the old location. "It’s a warehouse compared to the old store," Landers said.

The store has pet toys, but also a wide array of other items typically found at thrift stores such as second-hand art, jewelry and clothing.

"Kids can come in here and buy a lot of retro [clothing]," said Cohen. "You come in here and our jeans are a buck. You go somewhere else and you’re going to pay a lot more."

With renewed spirit of cooperation with the Montgomery County Police, who oversee Animal Control, Montgomery County Humane Society has streamlined the retrieval process for pet owners.

"It used to be that you would have to wait two or three hours for the officer to come in," Crist said. Crist said that he has worked with Capt. Harold Allan of the police to ensure that Animal Control officers return to the shelter promptly and that owners typically wait less than an hour now to get their pets back.

Roughly 10,000 animals passed through the main shelter last year, Crist said. That number included wild and rabid animals, although the vast majority were domestic pets such as dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and birds. That number will get even smaller with stricter pet-leashing laws and education for pet owners, Crist said.

Of all of the changes that MCHS has made recently, Cohen is proudest of the converted animal hotel that MCHS bought in 2004.

"All these animals, they’re good animals," said Cohen of the animals at the new rescue shelter as he played with Leo.