ACLU: Baltimore County Animal Shelter Pic Policy Muzzles Criticism

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photo via ACLU
photo via ACLU

Cute pet pics may fill up Facebook walls, but the images aren’t allowed at the Baltimore County Animal Shelter (BCAS). Joining a group of current and former members who have raised concerns about animal welfare practices at the shelter, the American Civil Liberties Union alleged Thursday that the shelter’s “No Photography” police is a violation of the First Amendment.

In a letter, ACLU Maryland Legal Director Deborah Jeon writes that members of the shelter were barred from taking pictures and denied entrance to the Baldwin facility after they raised concerns about the “adequacy of BCAS efforts to find homes for abandoned animals, and high euthanasia rates.

The claims were “partly disputed” by BCAS, but that is no excuse for limiting free speech rights,” Jeon wrote. According to the Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore County spokeswoman said the county’s lawyers were reviewing the letter. She added, “This is a story manufactured by a handful of advocates who were disrupting shelter employees from doing their jobs.”

“The volunteers and advocates say they are being chilled in their free speech rights through retaliation, or threats of retaliation, when they raise concerns about shelter practices,” Jeon’s letter states. “In addition, the photography ban keeps volunteers, advocates, and the general public from being able to help the shelter find homes for the animals and document conditions at the facility.

According to the ACLU, the no-photography policy was posted in June by Don Mohler, Chief of Staff to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. In July, two “ACLU volunteers” went to the shelter to test the policy. They were “confronted by a BCAS official who said she investigates whenever members of the public try to take pictures, because many people try to take ‘inappropriate’ pictures, aimed at making the shelter look bad, the ACLU states.

Another volunteer, Sarah Hardy, was “removed from her position” after she took pictures of animals at the shelter. She was taking pictures to spread information about the animals available for adoption, the ACLU states.

“My goal in going to the shelter was to make sure the animal left the shelter alive,” Hardy said in a video released by the ACLU. Here’s the full clip:


 (Updated 10/17, 10 a.m.)

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