Two of New Canaan’s highest elected officials are at odds over the condition of the facility that police use to house stray or seized domestic animals.
Selectman Nick Williams said Tuesday that the building New Canaan Police Department long have used as an animal shelter, a non-insulated former incinerator building at the dump, is not “worthy” of the town.
“I think the ‘town pound,’ if you will, is dark and dank,” Williams said during a regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen, adding, “We could do better.”
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said, “I wouldn’t characterize it as dark and dank.”
Williams said, “Have you been in there?”
Moynihan answered, “I went over and looked at it.” He added, “The key is, it’s used very little but it’s humane.”
Williams introduced the topic toward the end of the selectmen meeting, held via videoconference, during a section dedicated to general comments. He referenced a widely discussed neglect case which last month saw police seize 12 dogs from a Butler Lane home following a months-long investigation. The town has petitioned state Superior Court to take formal ownership of the animals. A 48-year-old woman on Sunday turned herself in on an active warrant for three counts of felony cruelty to animals connected to the case (a hearing on the ownership petition is scheduled for Tuesday).
“Unfortunately and tragically, it seems that we have had an illegal puppy farm in town,” Williams said. “Which is a horrible story. Kevin, about a year ago, I had raised the issue of the Animal Control facility at the Transfer Station.”
Williams referred to comments that date back two years, when he said the shelter not suitable to house dogs and other animals, calling it a “dump within a dump.” He broached the issue again one year ago, and Moynihan pushed back on a proposed public-private partnership to create a new shelter, calling for further study as to how New Canaan will operate a shelter long-term.
Williams on Tuesday asked whether that study yielded any results.
Moynihan said that the Western Connecticut Council of Governments—a membership organization of 18 towns known as ‘WestCOG’ that helps municipalities collaborate in areas such as transportation, housing and open space—is conducting a study “about doing regional Animal Control consolidation with towns working together.”
“So that study is ongoing and [New Canaan Animal Control Officer] Allyson [Halm] has been participating in that,” Moynihan said. “But I think what we currently have is humane and it’s not used very often.”
Asked about WestCOG’s Regional Animal Control study, the organization’s deputy director, Michael Towle, told NewCanaanite.com in an email that it’s designed to “identify a variety of potential regional solutions” such as small partnerships, shared facilities and shared resources.
“We at WestCOG perform these studies to understand the extent of the benefits that can be realized (or potential shortcomings) to inform our member elected officials to make informed decisions,” Towle said. “New Canaan is especially active in this process as their Animal Control Officer, Allyson Halm, is a member of the Study Committee.”
The study now is in the data-collection phase and WestCOG is on track to issue a report in March, he said.
The former Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee in its December 2017 report said that the shelter is “adequate, if basic” and that “a location that provided office space for the Control Officers, as well as an outdoor run, would be an improvement.”
Thanks to the generosity of a local Girls Scouts Troop, the facility has seen some upgrades in recent years, including the purchase of a dryer and fencing to create a “meet-n-greet” pen out front. In 2017, a failed heat pump forced a temporary closure of the building.
Public Works Director Tiger Mann when asked about the facility told the selectmen that its roof will need to be replaced.
“We just put in a new heating system in there with temporary heat, yesterday [Monday] to make sure they get through the winter with no problem,” Mann said. “And Allyson was there for the installation as well as the fire marshal, so they were satisfied with what we did to raise the heat through there.”
Williams asked whether there are any other town buildings that could serve as an Animal Control shelter.
Mann said, “We might have other areas where we can place them [animals] temporarily but nothing suitable as of yet rises to the top, where we say ‘Let’s move them in there permanently.’ ”
Williams asked whether all the dogs rescued from the Butler Lane residence are in the shelter now. Mann said, “Some of the dogs are housed there, some are housed elsewhere.”