NORTH HAVEN – After a hiatus of more than a year, the Humane Treatment of Animals in Municipal Shelters Task Force is once again officially sanctioned and working to improve the lives of pets in shelters.
When the state legislature failed to call the bill to recommission the task force, that didn’t deter its chairman, North Haven First Selectman Michael Freda, who worked with local senators to get the task force recognized again.
The task force was first commissioned three years ago, but both this year and last year the state legislature failed to recommission the task force as the sessions ended without calling the bill as work on the state budget dominated the sessions.
But this year, Senators Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and Martin Looney, D-New Haven, added the task force recommissioning on to an existing bill that passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate. While the task force met informally for the past year, it’s now once again an officially commissioned state task force.
Task force members include Paula Poplawski, chairwoman of the New Britain Commission on Animal Welfare; Dr. Gayle Block, owner of Town and Country Veterinary Associates in Vernon; Sgt. Paula Keller of the New Britain Police Department, who is in charge of that city’s animal control; West Haven Mayor Ed O’Brien; Mark Bailey,CT Votes for Animals board member and the former chairman of the New Haven Humane Commission; Laura Burban, the director of the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter, the municipal shelter for the towns of Branford and North Branford and Cynthia Theran, assistant director of Court Support Services.
“This fine group of people are ready to go back to work to find a forever and loving home for every healthy animal in every municipal shelter throughout the state of Connecticut,” Freda said at its first meeting last month. “I’m very grateful to the members for the time they have spent and the interest that they have in this very important initiative.”
The first meeting was to reassemble the task force and review some of the work that it has done in the past, Freda said, including developing language on a spay/neuter bill that would require all dogs and cats adopted out be spayed or neutered before leaving the shelter.
“The model for this suggested bill is something that has been active in New Haven at the public shelter where they actually do follow this protocol,” Bailey said. “So there is a model for this in the state and in other places as well.”
The task force is also looking at regulations that would end the practice of euthanizing healthy or treatable dogs and cats due to a lack of space, Bailey said. “Some shelters already have this as their own policy for the shelter but it’s not a statewide legislated mandate.”
The task force looked to Delaware state law as a model for a potential here, Bailey said. While space can be a problem, the bill would call for shelters to do its “due diligence” to find space for the animals elsewhere, he said, including with rescues and other municipal shelters that aren’t experiencing space issues, “so a healthy and treatable animal who would otherwise be adopted isn’t euthanized simply because of insufficient space in the shelter.”
Several steps would have to be followed before putting down an animal, he said that would require a search for space elsewhere, including in foster homes, rescues and other shelters and “the officer has no other reasonable alternative.”
“There are shelters in Connecticut that vigilantly follow this that ensure an animal will find space and not be euthanized,” Bailey said, including the Cosgrove Shelter in Branford. “We would like to make that part of the law here as well.”
“This is a very aggressive goal of ours,” Freda said, “and sometimes identifying some of the solutions revolves around identifying some of the problems.
O’Brien said he had supported tracking those convicted of animal cruelty crimes in a way similar to the state’s Sex Offender Registry. That way limits of pet ownership could be placed on those convicted of these crimes. “I think that’s very important, that you can’t adopt another animal from any shelter for a period of time.”
Burban said she supports the formation of an oversight committee to monitor the shelters “so it’s not one person making a life or death decision for the animal.” That’s how it’s done in Branford, she said.
“We are looking at a variety of different issues that revolve around standards for municipal shelters, looking at the rules and regulations regarding animal abuse and its penalties, the establishment of a systems for municipal shelters to use to evaluate potential adopters for animals in the shelters, and to create a network to coordinate the efforts of local humane organizations with volunteer groups, shelter groups and the municipal and regional shelters,” Freda said.
The objective to find a forever and loving home for every companion animal is close to his heart, Freda said. He still tears up when speaking of his own dog who passed away and knows from personal experience what effect adopting a dog has on both the dog and the family.
“My brother Jim adopted a dog from the Milford Animal Shelter, a little Jack Russell Terrier,” Freda said. “He has told me how much that dog means to him and how it has positively affected the family dynamic and helped change his live around because of the unconditional love that dog provides him.
“We highly encourage those looking for a pet to adopt from a municipal shelter,” Freda said, “and what we have found is that when that happens, it not only creates the forever and loving home for the animal that was in the shelter, but has a tremendous positive impact for the family adopting the animal.”
The task force is scheduled to hold its second meeting Friday in Hartford.