The Death of Jeter and Jezzebelle

Everyone knows Jeter is a lady’s man. That was the joke amongst the animal rescue community in Connecticut until the executioner had the last laugh. At approximately 11:20 Monday morning, Jeter and Jezzebelle, two dogs from the New Britain dog pound were put to sleep at the Animal Hospital of Berlin.

Jeter was brought to the New Britain shelter around a week and a half ago, about the same time as Jezzebelle. He always played nicely with the female volunteers that would come visit the shelter. However, Animal Control Officer James Russo reportedly claimed that Jeter was dangerously aggressive around him. Was the aggression because Jeter had been mistreated by a male? Had Officer Russo done something to rattle Jeter’s cage? Unfortunately, we will never know.

Volunteer rescuers contacted professional dog trainer Mark Renick to come evaluate Jeter to determine if there were serious aggression issues. Unfortunately, the city decided to contact state officer Dean Gates, whom rescuers had already filed a complaint against concerning previous actions in New Britain.

The rescuers were also told that another dog, Jezzebelle had suddenly developed aggression issues.

Various people contact the Mayor’s office about the issue. To one of them, Mayor Steward responded,

Please do not threaten bad press as we have made tremendous strides over the past year in the dog pound operation. I have personally allowed the volunteers to get involved with the city operation and have worked with the group to make some positive changes in the way we operate there.This has and continues to be a contentious issue for the Police Department as they are specifically charged with that operation and sometimes volunteers do not understand their limitations when involved in government functions.

He goes on to say, “Officer Russo handles hundreds of dogs and other animal calls during the course of his work week, to say that he would rather kill dogs instead of finding homes for them is a false statement.”

According to data from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, for the most recent annual reporting period, New Britain reported 1579 complaints, or an average of thirty complaints a week. From these complaints, 249 animals were impounded. 153 were redeemed. 17 were dead on arrival. 71 were ‘sold as pet’ and 87 were euthanized. New Britain is one of a few municipalities that euthanize more of the animals impounded than they sell as pets. In fact, the only other municipality in that category that kills more animals is Waterbury, which impounds three times as many animals as New Britain.

On a statewide basis, about 13% of animals that get impounded end up being euthanized. In New Britain, that percentage is 35%.

Rescuers seem to agree that over the past year, New Britain has made tremendous strides, and it will be interesting to see what the numbers for the reporting period ending this June will be. However, some continue to question the city’s commitment to reducing its kill rate.

A volunteer who helps at the New Britain Shelter wrote a poignant email to friends after Jeter and Jezzebelle were put to sleep.

I want to let everyone know that I just got home and I stayed with both until they passed.

By the time I got to the pound..he informed me he had already dropped Jezzy off at the Vet. Jimmy asked me if I wanted to take Jeter out to which I replied yes. I wondered if Jeter would let me and hoped the cage frustration hadnt got the best of him. To my surprise, once I lifted the handle and opened the kennel, he ran out wagging his tail:) We ran around the yard together and I fed him cheeseburgers and chicken fingers(we had to save some for Jezzy though) He wagged his tail the whole time(this made things much harder). Jeter willingly got into my car a 1/2 hour later and sat in the back like an angel. Poor boy had no idea where he was going. We walked into the vets and waited. NEVER once did he snap or growl even when held to get the injection-the Dr and tech can attest to that too. He was an angel. I whispered "Good Boy" in his ear until his last breath. I then did the same for Jezzabell. She wasnt so thrilled to get the tranquilizer but I rubbed her belly and she calmed down pretty quick. I do believe staying with them was the best as they seemed comforted when they heard my voice and I held them-Im glad they werent dropped off alone with strangers.

Were Jeter and Jezzebelle too aggressive to be adopted or was killing the dogs just the simplest way of dealing with an immediate problem? We will never know. Were these dogs killed because of their size or breed? There continues to be a lot of unwarranted breed discrimination by animal control officers, veterinarians, and others. Is the City of New Britain doing the best it can to address animal problems, or are there other things that can be done?

I sent a request for comment to both the Mayor’s office and the Chief of Police’s office, but neither replied. Whether or not the City is doing all that it can, it is clear that we can all do better. Other cities have well funded non-profit rescue organizations that work closely with animal control officers to make sure that dogs are spayed and neutered and that they are adopted to families that are least likely to abandon the dogs. Some cities make strong use of sites like Petfinder and Dogs in Danger to get the word out about dogs needing adopting. By reducing the number of dogs that come into our cities’ shelters, we will reduce the number of dogs that get killed.

Until a nonprofit rescue organization that works closely with the City of New Britain gets established, people can still help out visiting the New Britain Pound page on Petfinder. They can contribute to the The H.O.P.E. Spay/Neuter Clinic in Waterbury. If you are specifically concerned about dogs in New Britain, they can tell them that the donation is to offset spay and neuter costs of dogs brought by volunteers from New Britain.

New Britain isn’t the only municipality with very high kill rates in Connecticut. Each year, between two and three thousand animals get killed by municipal shelters in Connecticut. Hopefully, the story of Jeter and Jezzebelle will help more people understand the issues of animal control in our state.

Update 5/27: Since writing this article, there have been lots of comments, emails and I'm sure various discussions. One person provided me with updated partial information from the Department of Agriculture for the period July 2008-March 2009. During this period, New Britain only killed 11 dogs, and adopted out 81 dogs. The kill rate dropped to 7.7%. This is a substantial improvement and New Britain should be recognized for its progress in this area.

Let us hope that the death of Jeter and Jezzebelle where anomalies and not a signal of a return to the old days when the would kill more than 11 animals a month.

Currently, there are 14 animals listed at the City of New Britain Animal Control, including nine that are listed as urgent. If you know anyone looking for a pet, please have them check out the New Britain shelter, as well as other shelters in Connecticut.

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