Thursday, July 9, 2009

RI - Council panel to review Providence Animal Control Center

Council panel to review Providence Animal Control Center

By Philip Marcelo

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — The dog pound is being investigated by the City Council after questions were raised about the quality of care it provided to animals and the adequacy of its management staff.

In recent months, the state Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Agriculture, which licenses and inspects animal shelters, kennels, municipal pounds and pet stores, received a complaint of animal cruelty at the Animal Control Center that was ultimately dismissed, and the director of animal control, Peter M. Brown, stepped down in March amid accusations that he sexually harassed a volunteer worker and others at the dog pound, according to members of the City Council.

“The City Council needs to hear from other people what is happening down there so that they can make the right decision. These animals don’t get hurt in their kennels by themselves,” says Dennis Tabella, director of Defenders of Animals, an animal rights group.

Councilman John J. Lombardi, who submitted the resolution calling for the commission, said that the center, which is under the jurisdiction of the Police Department, would benefit from a review of management practices in light of recent events. “As far as I know, there are no policies and procedures in place for how animals are cared for once they are captured,” said Lombardi.

Lombardi’s resolution, which was approved by the council Thursday, calls for the formation of a five-member panel consisting of two council members and representatives of the Defenders of Animals, the Humane Society of Northwestern Rhode Island and the Warwick Animal Shelter.

Maj. Steven Melaragno, head of the Police Department’s Administrative Division, said the department welcomes the oversight, but questioned the validity of the concerns being raised. “The animals are being well cared for. The facilities are clean,” Melaragno said.

The DEM came to a similar conclusion when it inspected the city pound in February 2008, noting in a report that the “animals appear healthy and content” and the “facility [was] clean, free of odor and in excellent repair.”

Then came a complaint in March 2009 from employees at Big Daddy Taxi. Coty, a Great Dane that became a sort of office mascot for the city taxi service, was picked up by a city animal control officer after he ran away.

According to company employees, the otherwise healthy dog came back from a 13-day stay at the pound (all captured dogs are quarantined as a precaution) seriously ill.

“I was alarmed due to his appearance of major weight loss to the point that I was able to see his ribs and spine, his eyes were red, was coughing, and when I took him out to the bathroom I noticed that he was having a nosebleed,” said Suzanne M. Burns in a letter to the state DEM.

Coty had apparently developed an infection as a result of an injury sustained at the pound and spent two days at an animal hospital to recover, according to documents from the DEM.

Still, an investigation into the matter by state Veterinarian Scott Marshall, who works under the Division of Agriculture, said there was no evidence that the dog’s condition was the result of negligence or cruelty by pound workers.

“It’s not unheard of for a dog to develop a cough or an illness after being in a pound. It’s a stressful situation for the animals. With Providence Animal Control, we have not received an inordinate amount of complaints, in fact very few, considering the volume of animals that they handle,” said Marshall. The veterinarian’s office urged the pound to better document the condition of animals prior to their impoundment and the care the animals receive from the staff.

Animal Control is housed in a low-slung concrete bunker on the city’s industrial waterfront on Allens Avenue. It’s well kept, with spotless floors, brightly painted walls and clean kennels. But it’s also clearly dated and awkwardly placed right in the center of the Narragansett Bay Commission’s wastewater treatment complex.

It’s for these reasons that the shelter will soon be getting a new home, fully paid for by the Bay Commission, which has taken the shelter by eminent domain to build a new administrative office building, according Melaragno.

The $1-million shelter will be built on vacant NBC land about a block away on Terminal Road, where the Port of Providence is situated. When it is finished, the facility will be a vast improvement over the existing one, with expanded areas for cats, more dog kennels, including some larger dog kennels for larger breeds, according to Richard Souza, a longtime animal control officer.

Meanwhile, the Police Department is looking for a replacement for Brown, who served for five years as director. Police Inspector Luis Del Rio, who managed the department’s mounted division, has been temporarily placed in charge.

Tabella, of the Defenders of Animals, suggested that the commission look into the possibility of placing the pound under the watch of another city department or an outside agency. “The Police Department,” says Tabella, “has enough to do with real crime.” Shelter numbers

•Number of dogs taken in annually: 1,000

•Number of cats taken in annually: 700

•Annual budget: $400,000

•Full-time staff: 10

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