Thursday, I wrote about blog post, Concerning the Livestock Taken from Woodbridge Animal Control. Friday morning, as I was driving to my cousin's funeral, I spoke briefly with our First Selectman about some of the issues.
My cousin worked with animal rescue and with service animals. Her dog, Lucky, a silver labrador was trained as a service animal and my cousin's friends are busy arranging a proper service opportunity for Lucky. Lucky attended the wake and one of my cousin's friends brought a chihuahua to the funeral.
When I arrived back home, I learned that my blog post had been printed out and passed around at the police commission hearing in Woodbridge while I was up at the funeral in Massachusetts.
Saturday morning, the New Haven Register had a follow up article, Woodbridge livestock issues remain unresolved.
The article said,
Police Sgt. Ed Thomas, who has been assigned to oversee the shelter, said dealing with the animal control officers was challenging….
Woodbridge police said they felt animal control officers would show “resistance” if asked to move the livestock.
This leads me back to my hypothesis from my previous blog post, that something other than the best interests of the animals and the town is what motivated the action by the police. If the challenges of dealing with the animal control officers is too much for Sgt. Thomas, than he should receive proper training, or be replaced with someone who is capable of dealing with animal control officers. It is particularly concerning if police officers act unilaterally, disregarding the recommendations of the experts they are supposed to be working with. It should be a grave concern to all the citizens of Woodbridge if police officers are being asked to perform tasks that are too challenging for them.
Yet there are bigger issues. I've been following animal control topics for several years on my blog. An underlying concern is the role of animal control. In Connecticut, animal control is typically under the auspices of the local police departments. The goal of animal control is often to protect humans from animals with little to no concern about the welfare of the animals. This results in many conflicts between animal rescuers, animal control officers, and the police departments they work in.
My understanding of Connecticut State Law is that dogs, if not all animals, must be held for seven days if they are picked up and the owner does not claim them. This provides an opportunity for the owner to claim the animals, as well as an opportunity to make sure the animals are not carrying any diseases. What happens after that is up to the different municipalities. Some municipalities have made it a practice to euthanize the animals once the seven days are up. A few years ago, Derby had the highest kill rate of any municipality in Connecticut. All of this is perfectly legal if animals are seen simply as a nuisance to be dealt with.
Yet animals also serve as pets, companions and service animals. My cousin's dog Lucky is about to take a new job helping his next charge and there are wonderful stories about therapy dogs and therapy miniature horses coming to aid the people of Sandy Hook.
This brings us to another issue in thinking about animal control. Connecticut law appears to have special considerations for cats and dogs as pets, but not other animals. What happens when a miniature horse or donkey is a pet? What about a pygmy goat or a pot bellied pig? How do we handle service animals, like the miniature horses that came help the people of Sandy Hook.
We need to stop thinking of animals as simply nuisances that the police department needs to control and more as part of the fabric of our lives. Laws and policies need to be rethought as should the reporting structure of animal control.
"Some days it seemed like all there was was gray". With those words, Aaron Swartz started off a blog post about his relationship with Quinn Norton. This morning, I started off my blog post about driving to a funeral with, "It was a grey January morning as I climbed into my black 1997 Nissan Altima and headed north".
It seems appropriate that my RSS feed is full of posts about Aaron Swartz who help with the creation of RSS. The posts are by some of the bloggers I respect most, David Weinberger, Ethan Zuckerman, and Larry Lessig to name a few.
I don't have stories of meeting Aaron when he was 14 or of him staying at my house at some point. I'm not sure if I ever met him, but given our mutual friends and mutual interests, I suspect we probably met somewhere along the way.
Yet Aaron's death hits me hard. Perhaps it is because of the recent death of my mother and of my cousin. Perhaps it is because now, more than ever, we need people like Aaron fighting for open access to information on the internet, in the courts and in our government.
There is not much more to say than I am so sad.
For the past several years, I've been involved with animal rescue, as well as with writing about conflicts between animal rescue organizations, animal control officers and the police departments they are part of. I was very upset to learn about the livestock that were taken from the Woodbridge Animal control and placed at a local farm.
For background, read the two articles from the New Haven Register, Woodbridge cops take heat for removing livestock from animal shelter and Woodbridge police tell their side of livestock story
Let's try to read between the lines of the two stories to get a clearer understanding of what may have happened.
"Tuesday morning, the police placed 21 animals at a Seymour Road farm. The livestock had been kept at the Bradley Road animal shelter between six and 10 months."...
"“They knew Sgt. (Ed) Thomas was looking to move these animals,” Stuart said Tuesday. Thomas directly oversees operation of the animal shelter, which serves Bethany, Derby and Woodbridge. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday and was out of the office Wednesday."...
"Animal Control Officers Karen Lombardi and Paul Neidmann have said they were caught completely off guard by the officers showing up at the facility and announcing they were removing the animals."
The way this reads to me is that Sgt. Thomas was looking to move these animals potentially for quite a while. Yet Animal Control Officers Lombardi and Neidmann who were in regular contact with the animals and people interested in the animals did not believe that this was an appropriate time for the animals to be moved. Sgt. Thomas pulled rank, with the support of his superiors and acted in a way that was not in the best interest of the animals. This would make Asst. Police Chief Stuart's statement about the animal control officers knowing that Sgt. Thomas was looking to move the animals also fit with their statements about being caught completely off guard.
The fact that Sgt. Thomas could not be reached for comment on Tuesday and was out of the office on Wednesday makes me all the more suspicious of his actions. If he was honestly acting in the best interest of the animals and of the town, he should have made himself available and explained why his actions were better for the animals than what the animal control officers believed.
“I have adopted many animals from there, including chickens, and every time, even though they know me, I had to fill out an adoption application. Why wasn’t that done for more than 20 animals?” she asked….
Several residents raised concerns that the animals were not adopted legally, which would include filling out forms. But Thomas said livestock are not adopted, they are simply placed, and no forms are required….
Thomas said paperwork is only required by the state for the adoption of cats and dogs….
Ray Connors, supervisor of the Animal Control Division of the state Department of Agriculture, confirmed there is no required paperwork for livestock…
He said there should be something in writing concerning the animals’ new owners….
Thomas said Woodbridge police have recorded the new owner’s contact information….
The way I read this is that it is not a requirement of State Law that when animals other than cats or dogs are adopted that paperwork be filled out. That doesn't mean that it isn't a best practice that the Animal Control Officers in Woodbridge has followed and should continue to follow. Again, it seems like Officer Thomas was acting within the letter of the law, but not in the best interest of the animals or of the town.
This raises another issue that should be considered. There seems to be this view that 'livestock' are some how less of a pet than cats or dogs. Yet, with more and more people having pot bellied pigs, pygmy goats, miniature donkeys and other 'livestock' as pets, this needs to be reconsidered. Perhaps the State Laws need to be changed to reflect changes in the nature of pet ownership in our state. Lacking that, clear policies agreed upon by the Animal Control Officers, the Police Commission and the Board of Selectman should be made available which recognize that 'livestock' often are pets and should be afforded similar protections.
This brings up another problem with some of the police response.
Officer Rich Monaco said the farm’s owners can “absolutely care for the animals.” He said police visited the farm before and after the animals were relocated.
“This farm is an animal’s dream,” Monaco said. “These animals have a good home. They went from a temporary shelter environment to their more natural environment.”
If you are thinking of a pot bellied pig as a farm animal, that might be right. If you are not paying attention to any specific health needs of the animals, that might be correct. However, if you are thinking about pets that need special care, this may be the furthest thing from the truth.
This gets to my penultimate point.
Police said their general orders require animal control officers to find homes for all animals, including livestock, “as soon as practicable.”
From all that I can see, the decision of when it is practicable should be made by Animal Control Officers and not by bureaucrats with an ax to grind acting arbitrarily and capriciously.
Because of all of this, and in light of
Sheehy has the power to order the livestock returned to the animal shelter, but he said Thursday he plans to attend today’s police commission meeting with an open mind.
I have called First Selectman Sheehy asked him to order the livestock returned to the animal shelter. In addition, I strongly encourage the Police Commission to carefully consider if Sgt. Thomas has acted in the best interest of the town and of the animals, and if there is doubt about that, to find a chain of command for the Animal Control Officers that will better serve the town, its citizens and its animals.
Wednesday, January 9th, the 2013 regular session of the Connecticut General Assembly convenes. People who have been reading my blog regularly will recall that I ran for State Representative last year, and if I had been elected, I would be getting sworn in on Wednesday.
Yet when I tell people about my campaign, I often tell them, that while I didn't get elected, I did win. I won by getting a chance to discuss important issues that our state faces. I won by giving voters a choice, even if they didn't end up choosing me. I won by having an opportunity to encourage people to become more involved in their government.
In one of my final campaign pieces, I encouraged people to stay involved. To start attending school board meetings, events at their places of worship or social clubs in their community, perhaps even attending town halls talking about what is going on up in Hartford.
Since election day, a lot of things have gone on and there are many things that the people in our community should be talking about, so I've set up an event that will take place at a local restaurant.
The first Citizen's Town Hall in the Woodbridge, Orange, Derby (and perhaps Hamden, Bethany, etc), will be Thursday 1/10 at 6:30 at Wheelers. Join us. Let's talk about the legislative agenda and what you'd like to see happen.
People often warn high school kids about social media. Those pictures you post may end up affecting which schools you get into or which jobs you get offered. It is a valid point. There is still stuff I posted online over thirty years ago that, if you know what you're looking for, you can find. This is different than some of the posts from my written journal thirty years ago that I started posting online.
About twelve years ago, I went to a group relations conference in Holland. There was one moment I particularly remember. The group consultants changed roles and became members of the group. One of them made a comment about being able to just blurt things out, without thinking about the effect their comments would have on the group.
It seems like many adults on Facebook don't post material that they will be embarrassed about when they are looking for their next job, but they still blurt things out, without thinking about the effect their posts will have. I've been thinking about this a lot since Sandy Hook.
I've tried to post more positive material; highlighting compassion, cooperation and creativity, and trying to avoid the more polarized posts. One blog post that I wrote about video games started a bit of a discussion on Facebook, and one hyper-partisan individual resorted to 'argumentum ad ridiculum'. Unfortunately, it made him look ridiculous and did nothing to move forward the discussion at hand.
Perhaps this becomes even more important if you are a public figure, as Rep. Hovey discovered this weekend.
Yet does sharing positive stories make a difference? Yesterday, I shared a post about the Orange Lions Club Annual Wine and Beer Tasting. It is a fundraiser helping the Lions combat blindness. One of the organizers thanked me for sharing it and I appreciated her kind words. Hopefully, it will get a few more people to attend the event.
Now this is not to say that all posts need to be promoting the public good. It is important to be real, to be authentic online. I've set up a Facebook List of CT State Legislators were I get a sense at what those legislators who have friended me on Facebook or have public figure pages are writing about. Sometimes, they root for football teams. Sometimes they play Farmville. Sometimes they post pictures of having dinner with friends and sometimes, they share posts that can have a positive impact on their friends and constituents..
I hope everyone tries to have at least some of their posts make a positive impact on the people around them.