Humane Society Executive Director Nicky Ratliff and her dog Candie.

Written By Jeffrey Roth

Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms,” noted George Eliot, the author of Silas Marner and Middlemarch.

Unfortunately for many animals, some people do not treat them as friends. Fortunately, those animals have steadfast friends in the volunteers and staff of the Carroll County Humane Society. Every day, they strive to rectify that injustice by treating every animal that comes under their care with the respect and love that they are due.

Nicky Ratliff, the no-nonsense executive director of the organization, has dedicated the last 29 years of her professional life to ensuring that all animals that come through the doors of the Westminster facility are afforded every opportunity to experience a good life. Each animal is given a health assessment, groomed and given food, water and shelter.

Perhaps the most symbolic gesture made to every animal is also the most revealing insight into the hearts of shelter workers.

“We give every animal a name,”said Ratliff. “Every animal deserves a name.”

It is a way to remind staff and all who enter the sanctuary, located north of Westminster on the Littlestown Road, that the dogs, cats, guinea pigs, mice, birds and other critters great and small are individuals with unique dispositions. It certifies that all have intrinsic value and are not just objects or possessions that can be discarded on a whim.

“The Humane Society of the United States is a stand-alone organization and has absolutely no jurisdiction over local humane societies,” said Ratliff. “A lot of times people will leave money to the Humane Society of the United States believing it will help local animals. It does not.”

Carroll County funds the lion’s share of the humane society’s annual budget. The county has a memorandum of understanding designating the humane society as the organization responsible for sheltering animals, investigating animal-related complaints and suspected cases of abuse and for helping find homes for unwanted or stray animals. The remainder of their funding comes from corporate and private donations, Ratliff said.

In fact, many local humane societies, including the one in Carroll County, were founded long before the national organization.

Ratliff said that the Humane Society of Carroll County owes its existence to Elsie Seeger Barton, the activist responsible for establishing the Baltimore Humane Society in 1927.

“A group of Carroll County citizens became concerned about helping homeless animals, roughly around 1943,” said Ratliff, who previously worked for the Howard County Large Animal Shelter and helped write Howard’s animal control laws. “Mrs. Barton helped to start the Howard County Animal Welfare Society and around 1953, the Carroll County Humane Society was formed. She was definitely a benefactor.”

Ratliff said that despite a thorough investigation of county and Internal Revenue Service records, the exact date of the non-profit incorporation could not be determined.

In its early history, the organization only provided animal shelter services. In 1975 or 1976, county officials voted to turn over enforcement of animal control laws to the humane society. In 1979, the original building was constructed on its current, rolling, 13-acre site, overlooking a small pond. Through the years, various additions and outbuildings were added. Most recently, a second cattle shelter was built by inmates serving time at the Carroll County Detention Center. Several metal utility sheds, located behind the main building, are used to store equipment, including a livestock trailer and small boat used in water rescues of animals.

“The center is not large enough for what is needed today,” Ratliff said. “It’s all slopes and streams. It is pretty and there is a lot to be said for the ambiance of an animal shelter. We designed our front office – part of two additions – to be very attractive and welcoming. It sets the tone for the rest of a person’s visit and helps with adoption. The 13 acres are dedicated to the Humane Society, but they are not really buildable.”

The society’s full-time staff consists of a chief animal control officer, three field animal-control officers, an animal-care supervisor and two animal- care assistants, an office manager and assistant office manager, plus one receptionist and several part-time employees who provide weekend coverage. Volunteers also help, Ratliff said.

Ratliff said the shelter accepts about 5,500 animals a year. Records are kept on all lost and found animals within the county. The shelter tries to help locate the owners of lost pets and livestock.

The shelter maintains updated files on all county dog licenses, numerically and alphabetically, so owners can be contacted if their animals are found.

Upon request, animal control officers patrol the county for stray and lost animals. The officers respond 24/7 to emergency calls when animals’ lives are in danger, when they are involved in threatening situations, and when domestic stray animals are injured. The officers also assist when dangerous wild animals are reported within homes, said Ratliff.

“We maintain 32 dog-licensing outlets throughout the county for our citizens’ convenience,” said Ratliff. “We attempt to assist or educate all who call with animal-related problems or questions. We offer an after-hours animal drop-off; provide humane euthanasia with a fee during our regular business hours, and we investigate all complaints of cruelty or neglect to animals.

Ratliff encouraged people who use the animal drop-off service to fill out the paperwork that details the circumstances under which the animal came to the shelter. If that is not done, the staff must classify the animal as a stray. That limits the time the shelter can keep the animal and also negatively affects chances of successfully adopting the animal out to a new home. Stray animals are only kept for a short of time, she said.

“We take action in cruelty and neglect cases if warranted and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law,” said Ratliff. “We maintain an inventory of dog and cat traps to humanely catch and contain nuisance animals, and we investigate all livestock kills committed by stray dogs and we attempt to locate the owners.”

Other services include educational tours and programs conducted for schools and other groups. The animal control officers are trained in the use of tranquilizer equipment that may be used to control loose livestock and nuisance or dangerous animals.

Experienced officers may use firearms in the disposal of injured, possibly rabid or dangerous animals, said Ratliff.

Inspecting and licensing all kennels, pet and grooming shops annually are also part of the organization’s purview. They also inspect and license zoological parks, rodeo, circuses, performing animal exhibitions and catteries. Circuses, animal shows or other performance groups are not allowed to operate within the county without an approved inspection certificate.

“We provide spay and neuter assistance for Carroll County citizens whose combined household income is less that $25,000 per year,” said Ratliff. We also provide spay and neuter assistance to senior citizens adopting a pet from the shelter.”

Ratliff said that the society has e been microchipping animals for the past 10 years.

The microchips are very small – the size of a grain – that are injected under an animal’s skin between its shoulder blades, using a specialized syringe. The microchip contains the name and contact information of the owner. Once inserted, it does not cause the pet any discomfort.

Each new stray animal brought to the shelter is scanned for a microchip, Ratliff said. Nationally, about one percent of animals with microchips are successfully reunited with owners. In Carroll County, the average is two percent.

If the county experiences a major disaster, such as a hurricane, the staff of the shelter has developed an emergency disaster relief program designed to rescue, find and reunite animals with their owners, said Ratliff. The organization’s website offers information about pre-disaster planning for pets. Among other tips, it provides detailed suggestions for preparing a disaster kit for pets.

Ratliff is proud of the organization’s achievements. Each year in Carroll County, about 53 percent of all lost dogs are reunited with their owners. About 2.7 percent of stray cats are claimed, which is above the national average of two percent. Last year, a total of 1,256 animals were successfully adopted: 499 dogs, 436 cats and 321 miscellaneous animals.

Funding is always a concern. The organization welcomes cash donations as well as supplies. Ratliff said the shelter’s wish list can be found on its website.

“There is really only one place [in the county] to look for your stray animals,” said Ratliff. “On our website, we have good basics. One of those sections is dedicated to lost and stray animals. You can see if your cat is here. We get 3,000 cats and kittens here a year. One gray tabby cat looks the same as another to us, but you will be able to recognize the picture of yours.”

The website also features pictures and descriptions of all the animals up for adoption. Ratliff said the focus of the entire staff is to help people and help animals.

For more information, visit the