BOWIE, Md. – A large box sits at the end of Connie Carter’s driveway each weekend. Inside, people drop off anything from shoeboxes and tennis balls to jars of creamy peanut butter and bags of white rice.

Once a week, Carter drives the box to Upper Marlboro, Md., where she delivers her supplies to the Prince George’s County Animal Services Facility as a part of the “Essentials for Animals” program that she helped found.

Venia Cleaveland, the shelter’s groomer and temperament evaluator, then mixes the rice and peanut butter into the animals’ food and treats, and gives out the shoeboxes and tennis balls as toys.

“It’s just something for [the animals] to stay sane,” Cleaveland said. “They’re cooped up in a cage 24/7, and they start to crash.”

Carter teamed up with Cleaveland to coordinate an enrichment program that would provide the animals with items that are outside the shelter’s budget.

“Just about anything you have in your house, the county can use,” Carter said. “I never turn anything down because you’d be surprised what they use.”

This is just one example of Carter’s extensive work for animal welfare. In addition to her Bowie cable television show “Cause for Paws” and her “Adopt a Friend” blog on the Bowie Patch website, she is also president of Bowie Citizens for Local Animal Welfare (CLAW), a frequent volunteer at the county shelter, and a member of both Maryland Votes for Animals and the Bowie Animal Welfare Committee.

Carter said that her goal through all of these programs is to get every animal in the facility adopted and eventually drop the euthanasia rate to zero.

“This is a can of worms”

Carter became involved with these organizations several years ago when she noticed that people were having trouble feeding their pets because of the economy.

“People, I find, are embarrassed first to ask for help with human food,” Carter said, “but they feel or have been made to feel that their pet is just an animal, and it doesn’t need the attention. And I disagree so firmly.”

Despite Bowie CLAW’s efforts to help animals in the Bowie area, Carter said people still find themselves unable to care for their pets and must surrender them to the Prince George’s County Animal Services Facility.

“I kept seeing other areas that the pets really needed help,” Carter said. “I thought, ‘Wow. This is a can of worms. I did not know that pets were in such dire need all over.’”

Because Bowie does not have its own shelter, pets without homes are taken directly to the Prince George’s County facility, which, according to Associate Director Rodney C. Taylor, can house anywhere from 175 to 200 animals daily.

Carter said the average animal intake for the entire county is 80 to 90 animals a day, and because there is not enough room to hold all of them at the facility, the euthanasia rate is between 35% and 50% each month.

“The hardest part is actually going through the kennels and seeing a dog pulled and taken to the euthanasia room,” Carter said. “It’s heartbreaking. They’re all wonderful animals.”

Educate and adopt

Carter has made it her mission to educate the public about the need for a short-term shelter in Bowie that would house animals for five days before sending them to the county facility.

“[Bowie CLAW] believes very strongly that we need to protect Bowie animals,” Carter said. “Once they are in the care of the animal shelter, they will be able to find another forever home.”

Additionally, she advocates for microchipping to identify pets if they get lost, and spaying or neutering to cut back the animal population. Cindy Sharpley, a representative from the Spay Spot clinic at the county shelter, agrees.

“Animals breed exponentially,” Sharpley said. “If we can stop the breeding, there won’t be so many animals entering the shelter here and it’ll be a beautiful thing.”

Carter also believes that potential volunteers have an aversion to the county facility because they know any unwanted animals will eventually be euthanized, a fear she shared before becoming more active at the shelter.

“I saw such a need for things I could do there,” Carter said. “I said, ‘I’m gonna have to suck it up and help them.’”

Volunteer Coordinator JoAnn Brown hopes that other people will learn to feel the same way. She said she receives a lot of criticism about the way the facility is run, which is why she began engaging more volunteers.

“Becoming a part of the solution is better than complaining about the problem,” Brown said. “Let’s make them a part of solving the problem."

“We need more public participation,” Carter said. “What I’m trying to do is educate and adopt, educate and adopt. Find homes. Drop that euthanasia rate.”

Connie Carter's dog,Timmy, kisses her face affectionately. Carter saved Timmy from being euthanized at the Prince George's County Animal Services Facility.




PG County Animal Shelter Fall Festival 2012 from Dani Dredger on Vimeo.

The Prince George's County Animal Services Facility hosted its annual fall festival in October 2012. More than two hundred people attended and dressed their pets in Halloween costumes for the contest. Interviews with Associate Director Rodney C. Taylor and Volunteer Coordinator JoAnn Brown.




Interview with Spay Spot Representative Cindy Sharpley about the importance of spaying and neutering animals.




Interview with Venia Cleaveland, a groomer and temperament evaluator at the Prince George's County Animal Services Facility. Cleaveland describes the different tests she performs to ensure that animals in the facility will be good fits for their new families.