Animal control shake-up yields new staff, rule changes

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NAUGATUCK — Much has changed in the borough’s animal control department since the shake-up last spring that resulted in the department’s takeover by the police.

The borough last month hired four part-time assistant animal control officers, who are still being trained, and some policies and procedures have changed.

For some residents and animal lovers, the change is not necessarily good.

Officers no longer perform a lengthy application and background check before someone can adopt an animal from the pound at 508 Cherry St. Prospective owners have to pay $50 and get their pets spayed or neutered, licensed and vaccinated, but officers no longer visit their homes or ask for their incomes or details of their personal lives, said Naugatuck Police Capt. Jeremiah Scully, who oversees the facility.

Dave Lowe, 35, of Waterbury, said he has adopted many animals from the borough recently and believes the lack of a background check endangers the animals because officers have no way of knowing whether an owner is responsible.

“Fifty bucks gets you a cheap dog that you can kill,” Lowe said. “You can’t just give a dog to a person because they got 50 bucks.”

Scully said he decided to do away with the background checks after a longtime police dispatcher complained she had difficulty adopting a pet from the borough.

“We were forcing people to jump through hoops to adopt a dog,” Scully said. “Who am I to make a moral judgment about your home or your setting?”

Scully said the time officers took to review applications would be better spent investigating complaints or caring for the animals in the pound.

“We just don’t have the staff or personnel down there on a regular basis to be going through lengthy application processes,” Scully said.

The four new assistant animal control officers work up to 19 hours a week and make about $12 per hour, in addition to longtime assistant Officer Marilyn Weid, who works about 30 hours a week.

Until the new officers are able to handle animal control calls on their own, police have been doing it, which has confused some residents.

Stephen Rimkus, 54, who lives at 505 Cherry St. Extension across the street from the pound, said he and his neighbors are awoken in the middle of the night by dogs barking in the facility. He called Mayoral Aide Ed Carter and the police department, but Scully was on vacation, so a police sergeant told him to call the zoning office. Rimkus said he was eventually told to bring the issue before the police commission.

“Everything got worse since this thing,” said his son, 23-year-old Steve Rimkus Jr. “No one seems to know who to call when there’s an issue.”

Scully said people seemed confused during the first week of the transition, but that improved after he recorded a new voice-mail message at the pound redirecting calls.

Former Animal Control Officer Kristy Sturges resigned in May amid a state investigation into how she ran the facility. That investigation, which concluded that Sturges neglected a sick and injured shih tzu and falsified or did not complete reports, stemmed from an earlier investigation into how she and Assistant Animal Control Officer Adrienne Croce handled a cruelty case involving a pit bull mix that was starving to death.

Croce was fired as a result of that case, and another assistant officer, Jennifer Pacelli, left for another job in the same week that Sturges resigned.

The new assistant officers are working more closely with the state Animal Control Division of the Department of Agriculture, which regulates municipal pounds. Scully said he and borough Officer Carl Schaaf also supervise and train the new recruits.

The animal control department is working to keep more detailed financial and case records than before, Scully said.

“Mistakes were made, and we will learn from them and we will move forward, and hopefully we will never have these issues again,” Scully said.