Judge rejects arrest warrant for former borough animal control officer

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NAUGATUCK — The state Department of Agriculture concluded in May that former borough Animal Control Officer Kristy Sturges committed cruelty to animals when she failed to bring a severely injured dog to a veterinarian last year, documents show.

The state department’s Animal Control Division applied for a warrant for Sturges’ arrest, but a Waterbury Superior Court judge refused to sign it, said Raymond T. Connors, the division’s supervisor.

Warrants are often denied if judges feel sufficient evidence has not been presented.

The Naugatuck Police Department asked the division to investigate statements that Adrienne Croce, a former assistant animal control officer in the borough, made against Sturges after borough officials fired Croce for mishandling a different animal cruelty case. Sturges resigned in May while under investigation.

According to the investigation report, the pound received a male shih tzu in August 2010 that could not walk properly, had ingrown nails and infected skin and eyes.

Croce and another assistant animal control officer, Amanda Ewchuk, told a state investigator they saw the dog was suffering badly, but Sturges refused to take it to the veterinarian for eight days.

Veterinarian Hyman Litwin, who examined the dog at the Naugatuck Veterinary Hospital, determined the dog was blind, had a dislocated right hip and infected hind nails and skin. The dog had to be put down, Litwin said.

“Upon reflection of this case, I feel the dog was in pain for some time, but it is hard to determine how long,” Litwin wrote in a statement to state animal control.

“In my professional opinion, if the dog laid in the dog pound in this shape for eight days, I feel this would constitute cruelty to animals. I euthanized this dog for humanitarian reasons and I usually don’t recommend euthanasia, but this dog was in very bad shape,” he wrote.

In an interview, Sturges said she did not get medical help for the dog right away because it was eating, going to the bathroom and walking around.

“It was not showing any signs of being in distress or being in pain or anything,” she said.

In the year before she resigned, Sturges often filed incomplete or inaccurate monthly reports to the state, according to State Animal Control Officer Todd A. Curry, who conducted the investigation.

In one case, Sturges allowed Croce to take home a dying dog without the proper documentation and recorded the dog as euthanized 34 days before it was put down, according to the report.

Sturges also allowed Croce to take home one puppy from a litter of 10 without documentation, and did not record its existence in a state report, documents show.

Croce was fired and Sturges was suspended for three days in April after an earlier state investigation determined they had mishandled a cruelty to animals case against Valerie Machnics, who lives at 100 Hunters Mountain Road.

Croce and Sturges visited Machnics’s house in January, when Croce saw a pit bull mix named China who looked emaciated and sickly.

Croce told investigators she wanted to get the dog to a veterinarian immediately, but Sturges said, “No, it’s just an old dog.”

Weeks later, Croce got China euthanized on her own time, which contributed to the police and human resources departments’ decision to fire her.

Sturges was suspended for ignoring evidence of cruelty to animals, failing to supervise her personnel and lying about the incident to investigators, according to borough officials.