After surviving ordeal, Leo in Naugatuck gets national notice

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BY ANDREAS YILMA

REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — A borough dog that went through a tough ordeal a few years ago is now with a new family and is the official 2023 National Justice for Animals Week representative.

Every year, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, founded in 1979 by attorneys active in shaping the scope of animal law, selects an animal to be the representative for National Justice for Animals Week.

This year it was Leo, a dog from Naugatuck.

The tribute took place from Feb. 20 to 26, in order to raise public awareness of crimes committed against animals.

The whole ordeal began in 2019 when the female friend of a Naugatuck dog owner reached out to Naugatuck Animal Control about a dog that didn’t appear to be in a healthy condition.

When part-time Naugatuck Police Officer Steven Rupsis, who is also a part-time Naugatuck Animal Control officer, arrived at the home of the dog’s owner on Dec. 5, 2019, he seized the canine and police arrested the owner on animal cruelty charges.

“This guy (dog owner), I don’t think he intentionally did this. I think he didn’t have the funds,” Rupsis said. “(He) didn’t have any way to get the dog treatment. If we can be reached out to before it gets bad, we’re there to help,”

The dog, a mutt mixed breed with terrier who is now 7 years old, was found to have worms or other parasites, which was resolved with medication. He also suffered a broken front leg, most likely as a puppy, that was never taken care of, Rupsis said.

Rupsis said the dog’s owner, who was cooperative, was originally from another state and moved to Naugatuck with the dog.

When Rupsis went inside the man’s home, he felt he couldn’t leave Leo there and the dog needed immediate attention.

“The number one priority is the dog,” Rupsis said.

The animal advocate organization, which is nationally headquartered in San Francisco, provided grant funding to cover the cost of Leo’s care at the animal shelter as well as veterinary exams, lab tests and medication, according to the organization’s website.

Rupsis said the organization spent about $5,000 over three years for costs. He added the cost of treating dogs has skyrocketed as of late.

The previous owner was ultimately convicted but not before he reluctantly signed over the dog to Naugatuck Animal Control. The owner didn’t have a job and was afraid to reach out for help, Rupsis said.

“He was fighting it to sign over,” Rupsis said. “He truly wanted to keep his dog.”

Rupsis said this is the first time Animal Legal Defense Fund selected a Naugatuck animal. The advocacy group helped borough officials in court and made things run more smoothly.

“It’s an honor for us to be able to be helped like that,” Rupsis said. “Animal investigations are very difficult and time consuming.”

Leo, who had been given a different name by his previous owner, was adopted by a Naugatuck family last November.

That family also has another dog. The family was prescreened before a meet-and-greet and Naugatuck Animal Control officials determined they were a good match for Leo, Rupsis said.

Rupsis said animals cost money to house and raise.

“We would appreciate everybody in town is at least vaccinating and licensing their dog,” Rupsis said. “It’s not a cheap endeavor. It’s like raising a child. It’s not cheap to maintain a dog in proper health.”

Since December, Naugatuck Animal Control has adopted out five dogs; however, they also received two or three dogs that have no owners, Rupsis said.

Without the support of Naugatuck police captain and animal control supervisor Antonio Bastos and the rest of police department placing animals would be a challenge, Rupsis added.

Rupsis said Naugatuck Animal Control is staffed by part-time employees who give up a lot of their time to get many things done.

“We try to do everything possible to help every person and animal in town,” Rupsis said.